Zohar Argov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Zohar Argov
זוהר ארגוב
Zohar Argov (1980s).jpg
Background information
Birth nameZohar Orkabi
Born(1955-07-16)July 16, 1955
DiedNovember 6, 1987(1987-11-06) (aged 32)
GenresMizrahi, rock
Years active1977-1987

Zohar Argov (Hebrew: זוהר ארגוב‎, born Zohar Orkabi on July 16, 1955 – died November 6, 1987) was a popular Israeli singer and a distinctive voice in the Mizrahi music scene. Argov is widely known in Israel as "The king of Mizrahi music".[1][2]


Zohar Argov was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, to Ovadia and Yona Orkabi, Jewish parents who immigrated from Yemen. He was the eldest of ten children.[3] He displayed a talent for singing in childhood, and his classmates nicknamed him "nightingale". All his siblings also displayed an interest in music. As a result of Argov's disinterest in any aspect of school except music, which was exacerbated by his family's financial problems, he dropped out of school at age 14 to work at a construction company. In 1972, he married a neighbour, Bracha Tzabari, and a year later, she gave birth to their son Gili. Argov's father Ovadia, with whom he had had a stormy relationship over the latter's authoritarianism and alcoholism, died on the day of Gili's bris.[4] Gili would later follow in his footsteps and become a singer as well.[5] Due to his family situation, he was exempted from mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces.


In 1977, at age 22, Argov published a single with two songs written and composed by Moshe Nagar. When releasing this single, in consultation with his wife Bracha, he changed his last name from Orkabi to Argov. He felt that the name Orkabi would not "sound good" to the media and establishment, and chose the name of one of the greatest composers and musicians in Israel at the time, Sasha Argov. The single was unsuccessful, airing only once on a radio broadcast featuring "musical oddities". Nonetheless, he began working as a singer full-time, giving live performances. His pay was meager, and within months, he had incurred huge debts, all of his property was repossessed, and he could no longer support his wife and son. The family's poor financial status and the pressure of late-night club appearances put a strain on his marriage, which ended with Bracha moving back in with her parents and taking Gili with her.[4]

In 1978, Argov was arrested for rape after he had offered a woman a ride home from a Bar Mitzvah performance, then forced her into his apartment and sexually assaulted her. At his trial, which was presided over by future Supreme Court justice Dov Levin, when it was still not clear to the court whether the incident had constituted rape or consensual relations, Argov commented "there is no girl who doesn't want it, she just needs to learn how to take it."[6] He was convicted of rape as a result of this comment and sentenced to three years in prison. His wife filed for divorce during this time.

Argov was released in 1979, after which he returned to his work as a musician. At first, he joined a band which appeared at clubs and family events. During an event in Beersheba, Argov asked to sing and the band members agreed. He then performed two songs live.

Argov's debut album Eleanor (1981) featured the title track, "Sod HaMazalot" ("The Zodiac Secret"), and "Mah Lakh, Yaldah?" ("What's With You, Girl?"), a tribute to his ex-wife, Bracha, who remained the love of his life.[7] With the success of the album, Argov became a popular singer, and performed live throughout Israel. He was among the first singers to achieve commercial and nationwide success in the sphere of Middle Eastern-Mediterranean/Oriental (Mizrahi)-style music, despite the fact that his music was not mainstream at the time and radio stations gave predominance to pop music from overseas.[8]

In 1982, Argov toured the United States, and was invited to parties and clubs. It was there that he was first exposed to hard drugs and began to develop his heroin and crack cocaine addiction. He claimed that he was first introduced to hard drugs at Club Halleluyah in Los Angeles. He developed an addiction to crack cocaine and heroin, which from 1983 began to affect his functioning. By the end of the year, his drug abuse coupled with his demanding performance schedule was beginning to visibly affect his health. In late 1983, three associates took him to Eilat and locked him in a hotel room to dry out. This was unsuccessful[4][9]

Although he was still able to sing in live performances under the influence of drugs, his drug abuse caused him to miss performances and recording sessions. By this time Argov was a wealthy man, but was spending his fortune on drugs. After deciding that he could not overcome his drug addiction, the Reuveni brothers ended their contract with him and chose to sign a contract with a promising new star, Haim Moshe, instead. Argov was stung by what he viewed as their betrayal, as well as the realization that there was no hope of reconciling with his ex-wife Bracha after she remarried at around this time. After his break with the Reuveni brothers, Avigdor Ben-Mosh became his producer. Although he continued recording music, he displayed dysfunctional behavior during recording sessions.[4]

In 1984, Argov toured the United States and France. On July 16, 1984, after returning to Israel from a performance in Paris, Argov was arrested for drug dealing. He was released on bail two week later but prohibited from leaving the country for the next six months. By this time, his drug addiction was ruining his career and draining his wealth. Promoters began to take advantage of him by underpaying or pretending to pay him. In 1985, he released another album. In February of that year, during a Paris tour, he nearly overdosed on drugs. In June 1985, he was arrested for possession of heroin and received a one year suspended sentence.[4]

In late 1985, he signed a 15-year contract with Jerusalem producer Nissim Ben-Haim. He released his seventh album in 1986. It was a commercial success, but Argov performed rarely that year, until he had himself committed to a drug abuse rehabilitation program. Upon completing the program in 1987, he appeared on a talk show and declared he was clean and ready to start a new chapter in his life.[4] Two months later, he lapsed back into drug abuse. In April 1987, Argov released his eighth and final album.


Zohar Argov's grave

In the early morning hours of July 23, 1987, Argov, his brother, and another man entered the Magen David Adom station in Rishon LeZion and demanded drugs. Shortly afterward, Argov was arrested on suspicion of stealing the purse of a doctor in the area, but was released after it was determined he had nothing to do with the theft. During his release from the police station, Argov stole a pistol that was lying on a desk. After an extensive manhunt, he was arrested with the pistol in his possession, convicted, and sentenced to one month in prison, which was extended to six months upon appeal.

Three weeks before he was due to be released, Argov was granted a furlough to allow him to go home. He initially stayed in the home of singer Yishai Levi in Holon before he and Levi's girlfriend and future wife, Iris Gabbay, stayed alone at Argov's mother's house in Rishon LeZion. Afterwards, Gabbay filed a police complaint claiming that Argov had attempted to rape her. Upon returning to prison, Argov was arrested and taken to a police station in Rishon LeZion for interrogation.

On November 6, 1987, Argov died in his cell in an apparent suicide by hanging. He was 32.[8][4] He was found dead at 4:00 AM, hanging from strips torn from a blanket wrapped around his neck. Chief Superintendent Aharon Tal, who was appointed to investigate Argov's death, concluded that Argov had not intentionally committed suicide, but rather wanted to make it appear as if he was attempting suicide to get concessions from the guards. He had died after the strips had tightened around his neck and he was unable to save himself due to the effects of drugs he had taken.


After his death Argov continued to retain his status as "HaMelekh" (the King) of Mizrahi music.[10] From 1990, three years after his death, the Israel Broadcasting Authority organized a series of annual memorial concerts at Binyanei HaUma convention center in Jerusalem and a fundraising campaign was launched to establish a drug rehabilitation center named for him.[7]

A mainstream label, Hed Artzi, released a double album of his music, "Zohar Argov: The Best." Argov was the subject of a play mounted at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, and a feature film on his life, "Zohar," enjoyed commercial success.[11]

His songs, among them "Perakh BeGani" ("Flower in My Garden"), "Mah Lakh, Yaldah?" ("What's With You, Girl"), "Ba'avar Hayu Zmanim" ("In The Past") and "Badad" ("Alone"), are now Israeli pop classics and an integral part of national culture. Proposals to name streets after him in Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv were discussed in 2007 but sparked a controversy due to his conviction on rape charges, for which he spent a year in prison.[12] When he committed suicide in 1987, he was in a jail cell after again being charged with rape.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry: from the Golden Age of Spain to modern times. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  2. ^ Suicide in the entertainment industry: an encyclopedia of 840 twentieth century cases. 2002. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  3. ^ Popular music and national culture ... Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Mediterranean Israeli Music and the ... April 15, 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  5. ^ Popular Music and National Culture in Israel
  6. ^ http://jpress.org.il/Olive/APA/NLI_Heb/SharedView.Article.aspx?parm=96EjESVLnuL0fFJbC5Y8Av8lIf3PtOK6KvmG8VaT9ElC6WKfvdhCyDUZBfuo7lA1Yw%3D%3D&mode=image&href=MAR%2f1987%2f11%2f08&page=16&rtl=true
  7. ^ a b Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic. 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Zohar Argov's flower that launched a million cassettes
  9. ^ We look like the enemy: the hidden story of Israel's Jews from Arab lands. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Israeli film: a reference guide. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  12. ^ Saar, Tzafi (July 26, 2007). "Zohar Argov on the corner of Tupac Shakur". Haaretz. Retrieved October 6, 2007.
  13. ^ Asher Zeiger, "City may name street after troubled singer," Times of Israel, September 13, 2012.