Music, Ethnicity, and Class between Salonica and Tel Aviv-Jaffa, or How We Got Salomonico
This article explores the articulation of class, ethnicity, and cultural orientation in the popular music taste cultures of Salonican Jews in two different ethno-class contexts—interwar Salonica and post-statehood Israel—in which theynegotiated their identities in national cultures then being formed. In interwar Salonica the imperative of Hellenization and the increasing presence of Western popular styles came together in shaping a youthful middle-brow/middle-class taste group that favored Western-style music. At the same time, the proletarization of large portions of the Jewish community and the arrival en masse of refugees from Asia Minor reinvigorated a (predominantly) working-class taste culture, wherein late Ottoman styles and their Greek-language successors were still preferred. These divergent tastes persisted in many ways among those who immigrated to Palestine/Israel and were absorbed and “translated” into the Israeli ethno-class system organized around the discursive binary of Ashkenazim vs. Mizrahim. That the category of “Mizrahim” was from the outset overdetermined by ethnicity, class, and geography meant that working-class Salonican Jews and their descendants, unlike the well-to-do, were subject to both symbolic and real “Mizrahization.”The character of the working-class “Greek” Jew from the 1972 film Salomonico represents a culmination of this process of Mizrahization, wherein the working-class Salonican immigrants were installed in a ready-made cinematic blueprint for depicting ethno-class tensions between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, using Greek music as a suggestive symbol. In tracing the formation, negotiation, and representation of these taste cultures (both real and imagined) across two national contexts, I seek to highlight that continuities are the result not just of a sense of tradition or stable transmission but rather of similarities between the national projects of the Greek and Jewish states, and the Sephardi Jews’ precarious position within them.