Zohar Argov (1955-1987) is considered one of the greatest Eastern and Mediterranean singers to have been active in Israel. There are various approaches among scholars of Israeli song and Israeli culture regarding the definition of the musical-cultural field that Argov was active in. The terms "Eastern" and "Mediterranean" need to be clarified in order to justify these approaches since the terms themselves are nebulous, especially in an Israeli context: what is an "Eastern" singer? What is "Mediterranean" music? Zohar Argov dealt with a variety of indigenous Israeli material as well as material from both Jewish and non-Jewish cultures that were adapted into Hebrew. However, despite his tremendous range, Argov remains strongly associated with his Yemenite roots.
Argov, whose original surname was Orkabi, was born in "The East" housing project in Rishon LeZion to Yemenite parents. Even at a young age his singing voice stood out and he started performing at celebrations and family events. He absorbed the traditional music of the Yemenite community in his parent's house, and throughout his whole career as a singer and the brightest star of Eastern (or Mediterranean) music he continued to perform traditional Yemenite songs. This type of music was called "cassette music" since it was distributed via cassette in protest against the recording authorities who did not welcome it and wouldn't feature it.
Especially prominent is Zohar Argov's version of "Ahavat Ra'aya Retzoni" (I wish for the beloved's love), a poem by R. Shalom Shabazi, one of the greatest poets of Yemenite Judaism in the 16th century. The tune was composed by Aharon Amram and in his performance, Argov annunciates the words of the poem in a perfect Hebrew-Yemenite accent, naturally and effortlessly. The poem revolves around the yearning for love; the longing for the beloved. The beloved, in the original sense of the poem, was most certainly the Torah and the connection between God and the people of Israel, however, the first and last verses leave room for a double meaning- two objects of longing, folded into the words of the poem:
"I wish for the beloved's love
Precious of my soul and heart
I will ask my rock and master
Let Him send a balm for my sadness"
"I will be joyous, forget my pain,
I will stand in my mornings and evenings,
For in the grace of my thoughts
I will forget my yoke and offense"
Love as a redeeming power. Love of God and of a person of flesh and blood, precious of the heart and soul, who sooths sadness. Love that heals pain and offense-all of this is expressed by Zohar Argov, perfectly, with exact pronunciation on all the vowels and stresses, using words from the 16th century and a modern tune, in the traditional Yemenite style and with the captivating energy of huge star.