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Israeli Hip-Hop Duo Explores Ethiopian-Jewish Connection in the Dirty South

America’s deep South is well known for the fried chicken, hospitality, and being the birthplace of the blues, but it’s also known for the KKK, segregation, and Lynyrd Skynyrd: not exactly a place you’d expect to be tolerant towards an Israeli/Ethiopian/Moroccan hip-hop group.

Axum, will soon be heading down south for a two month residency at university Hillels, Jewish day schools, and Jewish centers throughout Georgia and the South as part of The Schusterman Visiting Artist Program. The duo’s name is a tribute to their heritage, the legendary African kingdom of Axum, where Ethiopian Jews believe the ark of the covenant is hidden (although, Indiana Jones has proven otherwise). Teaming up with reggae group DubConscious, they are hoping to educate southern Jews and non-Jews alike about the difficulties and rewards that Ethiopians encounter while trying to mesh into Israeli society.

Judah (Gilor Yehuda) and Tedross (Reuben Aragai), the two members of Axum, write music that reflects their unique heritage and the obstacles they have overcome. They both grew up in a poor area of Netanyahu, dealing with the hardships and discrimination that immigrants receive when living in a foreign country. Yet while their heritage is unique, their laid-back attitude and diverse musical influences relate to a wider, universal audience.

Touring in America is nothing new for Axum. They are already familiar with the American music industry, having worked and toured with great Israeli artists such as Soulico. The South, our bastion of intolerance, may prove to be a bigger monster to overcome. Yet I’m sure that if they can find success here with such a positive attitude, being successful in Georgia should be easier than finding a Jew at an Idan Raichel concert.

I hope that we American Jews will appreciate and support this influx of diversity in an otherwise predominantly, eastern-European culture. Anyone who went to Hebrew school knew of that one token black kid, the closest thing to diversity at our otherwise gefilte-fish-eating high school parties. We need the home-grown diversity that is such a rarity in American Judaism. It would be nice to be part of a broader culture that goes a little beyond Woody Allen, AIPAC, and bagels with lox.

The best part about Axum coming to Atlanta is that they are going to be at Emory University’s Hillel Passover Seder. It is likely to be the most badass Seder of the century, nay, the past 2 millenium (sorry Jesus, but yours didn’t end too well). The music itself sounds alot like a Middle-Eastern Sean Paul, with equal (if not greater) amounts of sex-appeal, and I hope that more liberal universities decide to endorse this unique, culture-blending hip-hop duo. Axum just may be the music musical anchor for our wandering Jewish culture since Barbara Streisand. And maybe, just maybe, Jews can finally be hip again.

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