Teddy Neguse and Anan Hafaga are best friends with two different personalities and backgrounds. They form a rap duo called Zoolod.
Growing up in Lod, where the group gets its name, Teddy was from a Jewish Ethiopian family and Anan from a Muslim Arab family. They met in high school and bonded over a shared appreciation for music.
“We were a group of young people that loved hip-hop and I think it all started there,” Hafaga tells ISRAEL21c.
“My family and friends at school drew me to music. It’s the environment we grew up in,” adds Neguse.
The 22-year-old rappers have been making music under the group name Zoolod for several years, each writing their own lyrics and appearing as guests on each other’s tracks. However, now they are creating and performing songs together.
“They were always known in the underground scene, but in the past two years they’ve become more popular outside,” says Tal Bekerman, who has been managing Zoolod for several months and working in Israel’s underground hip-hop scene for many years.
While they haven’t had a “big break” moment yet, Bekerman says Neguse’s release from the IDF last year allowed the duo to focus more on music together.
“They make music and they don’t care about politics and all of that other stuff. They’re like any other young men who want to succeed. They care about girls, about friends. You don’t see that he is Jewish and he is Arab,” says Bekerman.
Zoolod’s lyrics are written in Hebrew, which Hafaga says is because he grew up around more Hebrew speakers than Arabic speakers, and it is the language that he feels more comfortable writing in and speaking in.
As part of the underground hip-hop scene in Israel, the duo performs at live shows almost every week in Tel Aviv and venues around the country.
“When you go to an underground hip-hop show, you can really see every personality. You can see Ethiopians, Arabs, parents and children. It’s a warm community, like a family,” Bekerman says.
According to Bekerman, the underground hip-hop scene in Israel is growing.
“Hip-hop in the last few years has become very mainstream, especially in the US, and now it has crossed over to Israel. At every party they’re playing hip-hop and rap, it’s becoming not so underground anymore,” says Bekerman.
The growing popularity of hip-hop in Israel has helped artists like Nechi Nech, Tuna and Peled become regulars on radio playlists, and Bekerman hopes Zoolod will find similar success.
“The success of each of those who represent the movement is a success for everyone in the present,” says Neguse.