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Israeli radio host Ahinoam Baer in the city of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 2.Oren Ziv/The Globe and Mail

Every Tuesday morning, the playlist committee gathers at the Jaffa offices of Galgalatz to debate what songs should be added to the radio station’s rotation. In normal times, it’s where the country’s hits are made.

The military-owned pop-music broadcaster is by far the biggest station in Israel, commanding 28 per cent of the country’s daily listeners. It can take seven hours for the weekly meetings to settle on a half-dozen new songs to add to the station’s rotation.

The debates can get “very heated. I cried one time,” said Ahinoam Baer, 28, the host of the station’s afternoon drive-time show.

“It’s really all of Israel’s inner conflicts – they come out through the songs.”

But over nearly seven months of war, the radio hosts, executives and soldiers on the playlist committee have found themselves grappling with more profound concerns – gauging and shaping the mood of a country grappling with the latest prolonged return to violence.

Galgalatz maintains close ties with Israel’s army, but operates largely as a standard music station – and the questions for the playlist committee were not military matters so much as cultural and spiritual ones.

Would, for example, the cheery banality of pop music ever return? “And if so, how? Are we ever going to be happy? Can we be normal again?” Ms. Baer asked.

“We ask a lot of these philosophical questions through music and our work. We have to not only convey the spirit of the people, also help lift the spirits sometimes.”

On the air and on the playlists that have sustained individual listeners, music has traced the emotional arc of a country that has been stunned, sad, furious, bloodthirsty and, now, increasingly eager for an escape from the misery.

Grief has brought a shattered country new reasons for song. Families burying their dead have reached out to artists who their deceased once loved. Soldiers, too, have sought a lift as they prepared for battle. Across Israel, musicians have performed hundreds of free shows.

At Galgalatz, those on air knew what to do when the first reports came in on Oct. 7, the day Hamas-led militants smashed through the walls around Gaza and killed 1,200 – sparking the conflict in which authorities in Gaza have now counted more than 34,000 killed by Israel.

Israel is no stranger to loss, and each year, the country marks Holocaust Memorial Day and, a few days later, a day of national remembrance for its own soldiers.

“So we have a regular drill where we bring down the music for a few hours and we play more sad music,” said Nadav Ravid, the managing director of Galgalatz. The Nova music festival was one of the first targets for the bloody Oct. 7 rampage, and the station quickly shifted to songs that were comforting, funereal, slow.

“We were all in shock. What even is music in times like that? You don’t even understand,” said Gal De Paz, a singer and songwriter.

Some musicians turned their own lives quiet, shutting off the lyrics and melodies they once inhabited. Completed albums went unreleased.

Singing felt incompatible with the intensity of war. Some “saw music as something that would make them feel good,” said Eyal Davidi, a rapper and music producer who performs under the name Shekel. “I remember telling them that music can make you feel all kinds of ways. It can also just resonate with you, and make you feel not alone.”

On Galgalatz, it wasn’t long before requests began arriving from listeners who wanted tunes that would lift them from the grimness. The station found itself treading a fine emotional line, caught between listeners who would dial in angry over a joyful tune, even as other callers asked for a morale boost. “You don’t want to play the wrong song at the wrong time,” Mr. Ravid said.

To accommodate, Galgalatz opened itself to more listener requests. When it learned that hostages could sometimes listen to its broadcast, it began to dedicate songs at the top of each daytime hour to those held captive.

War has forged new musical connections, including to the country’s own soldiers, who have been stripped of phones in combat. In Gaza, radio has become their only link home. Some have called the station to report getting a tattooed image of a radio receiver.

“I could actually visualize a platoon, sitting having a little break, sweaty and sad and tired and missing home and listening to songs,” Ms. Baer said. “I had an enormous sense of meaning and purpose for the first time.”

Music has brought consolation and motivation.

Ms. De Paz recalled one performance for soldiers who requested Disney songs, from the movies Moana and Frozen. “Some of them have children,” she said. “It was so adorable.” Other military shows took a rowdy turn. In November, 15 men were disciplined after pop singer Avihu Pinhasov stripped down to his underwear and dove into a crowd of troops, while some in the crowd held their assault rifles.

Some songs, however, have no longer felt right. Galgaltatz struck from its rotation tracks like Sing Hallelujah! the 90s pop hit, and the station has played down once-popular Israeli tracks sung in Arabic.

“Since Oct. 7, we really think about whether it will be triggering for some people to hear Arabic,” said Ms. Baer. She doesn’t play songs with sirens that might trigger panic from people frightened by regular air-raid alerts.

Exuberant Mizrahi tunes were replaced by songs like Getting Out of Depression, a Yagel Oshri track released before the war whose plaintive lyrics made it new kind of anthem: “I promise there will be good days, even in the dark hours of the night.”

In the early days of the war, folk singer Uri Ronen assembled a personal Spotify playlist to salve a wounded heart, with Israeli songs such as Let Light Enter and Healing is Necessary, alongside foreign tracks such as John Lennon’s The Luck Of The Irish. It was the lyrics from that song, written in another age and another country, that Mr. Ronen performed at a 24-hour concert in Hostage Square in Tel Aviv: “A land full of beauty and wonder, Was raped by the British brigands.” Rain pounded down as he sang.

He recalled that moment as “something magical.”

For Mr. Ronen and others, war has reshaped music. He is preparing to release a new song, called Burning Out, accompanied by a music video filmed in Be’eri, the badly damaged kibbutz where more than 130 people lost their lives on Oct. 7.

Rapper Jenny Penkin penned a song about a woman who fled with her daughter after her husband was killed. It’s “a sad song, a ballad, which I never do,” Ms. Penkin said. Writing it was part of her own attempt to navigate life in a time of death, with a sense of gratitude “that we’re still here,” she said.

More recently, she has felt defiant. Ms. Penkin was on stage April 13, the night Iran launched a massive strike at Israel, first dispatching a fleet of drones that would take hours to reach their targets. The music at Ms. Penkin’s concert went on. When it finished, she went out to find a drink.

“I wanted to celebrate life,” she said. “We’re sick of suffering.”

They are sick, too, of those protesting in support of Palestinians on foreign campuses, many of whom belong to the same generation as Shaked Shalom, a 24-year-old singer from Tel Aviv. “I felt for the first time what my grandma and grandpa told me about what being Jewish is,” she said. “That was absurd for me. I was really angry.”

She channelled her fury into a song she has dedicated to “antisemites,” with angry lyrics decrying those “calling rapists freedom fighters.” Its lyrical refrain “never again,” was chanted by hundreds who came to a recent performance.

“It was powerful,” she said.

For the music programmers at Galgalatz, another powerful sign came with the release this year of Nadi Badi, a Hebrew song about women hitting the clubs. It is “a nonsense pop fun song,” said Ms. Baer, the afternoon host. Initially, the playlist committee rejected it as still unsuitable. They changed their minds when it began to go viral on social media.

“People are thirsty for non-war-related songs,” Ms. Baer said.

Major concerts, too, have begun to return.

In late April, Mizrahi pop star Omer Adam sold out the largest music venue in the country, with VIP tickets selling for more than $2,300.

Music producer Guy Yaari, 23, crafted the opening arrangement, eight minutes that sonically threaded the intense emotional currents still buffeting the country. It begins with a pulsating beat that evokes passing helicopters, moves into a riff from an upbeat song that quickly melds into a mournful chord interspersed by martial drumbeats. A xylophone taps out a happy beat before giving way to one of Mr. Adam’s saddest stanzas.

“We want to make people feel like what they have been through,” Mr. Yaari said.

It is “super weird,” he said. But “this is Israel.”

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