Dimona is a small city in the middle of the Negev desert in Israel. It’s home to a community of Black Hebrews: a group of African-American émigrés who left Chicago, followed the revolutionary leader Marcus Garvey to Liberia, and ended up immigrating en-masse to Israel in the late 1960s. They brought with them their worldly possessions, their culture, and their music.
In the 1970s, Dimona’s music scene was remarkably vibrant. Groups such as the Soul Messengers, the Tonistics, the Spirit of Israel, and the Sons of the Kingdom played soul and funk music, influenced by their old and new worlds.
The best of these songs have been collected on the 2008 album Soul Messages from Dimona. At first, it sounds like a standard Motown album–with gospel singing and horn charts–but soon, its Jewish influence emerges in a big way. On a cover of the song “Na Na Hey Hey, Goodbye,” you’ll recognize the music at once–but the chorus, sung in Hebrew, goes, “Hoshieinu, Adoneinu!” or “Save us, Lord!” And the song “A Place to Be” is possibly the best advertisement that the Israel tourist bureau could ever wish for: “I want to live in Israel,” a smooth, Curtis Mayfield-like voice croons, while chorus girls chirp, “It’s a place of peace and freedom!”