Natan Yonatan, Nahum Heiman's friend and writing partner says about his friend (in the opening of Heiman's song collection): "The name Nahche sings in the ears of thousands of Israeli singing fans. The Israeli folk song (Zemer Ivri) is the soul of our life in this country. It is the mirror of time, spirit and history of our life as human beings and the life of the nation. Nahum Heiman has won the right to become one of the priests of Hebrew music." It is not for nothing that Natan Yonatan calls Nahum Heiman a priest. His name, Heiman, is from the Torah, and Heiman elaborates: "In The Book of Chronicles I, chapter V, it says that the families of Heiman, Asaf and Yedoton were the musicians of the first and second temple."
Nahum Heiman composed hundreds of songs. Many of them became part of the Israeli Folk Song classics, and are known and sung by every Israeli. In addition, he composed music for many movies and television series, and guided choirs and singing groups.
Heiman was born in Riga, Latvia on May 6, 1934. His father was an amateur balalaika player and the grandson of a skipper who played harmonica and violin. Since his parents and grandparents all spoke Hebrew, Heiman grew up in a Hebrew speaking house as his mother tongue. He moved to Israel at age six. After a few months in an immigrant camp (Sha'ar Ha'aliya) his parents moved to Magdiel and then to Tel Aviv. As a child, Heiman began studying the piano, but after three lessons he contracted Polio. He recovered at age 11.5, but his right hand was left partly paralyzed and only three fingers remained functioning in his left. Heiman returned to playing only when he was seventeen. He took up the accordion due to his nearly paralyzed hand. In time, he recovered from his hand paralysis.
After his parents divorced at age 14, Heiman stayed at Kibbutz Na'an where he was influenced by the composer David Zahavi, one of the Kibbutz's members. He then moved to Kibbutz Kefar Maccabi with friends from his youth movement, where he became the student of the composer Matitiyahu Shalem and the dancer Tirza Hodes. He began playing in Hodes's folk dancing classes, but instead of playing the tunes regularly, he would improvise. Hodes didn't like it, and one day, after a few instances where Haiman ignored her pleadings and continued to improvise, she kicked him to another room. In this room, there was a Bible on the table. Heiman opened it randomly, and saw the book Song of Songs. A few minutes later, Nitzanim, a song that later became a hit and a folk dance, was composed. Nahche ran back to the dance class, and taught his song to the dancers. Then he said to Hodes: "I don't write notes, but if I won't teach this song to someone I will forget the tune." This is how his first song was created, in the year 1951 when Heiman was 17.5. Later on, Heiman continued playing as an accordionist in folk dance classes and took part in the first "Mehulut Ha'am" dance festival in Kibbutz Dalia. During his military service, he served in the culture department of the Nahal Division as a coordinator of Hebrew folk singing courses. Additionally, he played accordion in the Nahal band.
After his military service, Heiman moved with his wife to Kibbutz Bet-Alfa. He was sent by the Kibbutz to The College for Music Educators ("Midrasha Lemhanhim Lemusica") for three years. Apart from college, he studied with the composer Paul Ben-Haim and the conductor Gary Bertini. When he came back to the Kibbutz, Heiman began working as a shepherd. In 1963 he left the kibbutz for half a year, went to Helsinki and from there to Lapland, where he lived for four months with a Lapi Tribe. After this journey he came back to the Kibbutz. One day, Ze'ev Havatzelet (Poet, folk dance choreographer and film director) asked Heiman to go to Kibbutz Geva to check its local band and form a small orchestra to accompany them. This project brought forth two bands: The Givatron and The Gilboa Quintet, with whom he worked for 14 years. Heiman went to Kibbutz Geva, listened to the band and then recruited youngsters recently dismissed from the army who could play. Their recruit was for a specific show which Havatzelet produced. Heiman received from Havatzelet the lyrics for the tune "Le'an Noshevet Haruach," and was asked to write three compositions to this tune. Only one is still known today. Under Heiman's management, the Givatron in the sixties turned from an amateur to a professional band (The band won the Israeli Award in 2007). This is how Heiman remembers his first meeting with Z'eev Havazelet while he was still a shepherd: "I will never forget the minute when he burst into the room of our Swedish shack. I was still asleep when he entered, and Ze'ev said: 'Listen laddy, I'm a wolf ("Ze'ev" in Hebrew), you're a sheep, let's work together. Here's a song I wrote, compose it.' Proclaimed, and went away!" The song was "Stav." It was sung and put on record by Nechama Hendel. Later, the French singer Maxime le Forestier, with whom Heiman met in coincidence, translated the song into French and recorded it (under the name "Madame"). Maxime le Forestier also wrote the French words for Heiman's song Little Fugue, and sang it as well.
Many of Heiman's songs which became inalienable assets in the Hebrew folk singing were composed to words of poet Natan Yonatan. Their cooperation, which brought forth about 100 songs, began in 1957 with the song Hofim. After Hofim came: Shir Ahava Yashan (Anita Vehuan), a song performed countless times; Tivei Hazman, one of the first Israeli Blues songs; and many others. Heiman wrote for many artists during their first steps. One example is "The Parvarim," for whom he wrote two songs: Ilu Kol Ha'ohavim and Ma Sheyesh Li Lomar Lakh. These songs were recorded in their first premier album where they used mostly Latin-American rhythms. Heiman said he was surprised when he heard their arrangement which was far from what he imagined. He says they insisted, and were right after all.
The song Ilu Kol Ha'ohavim was written a short while before Sinai War. Heiman received the lyrics from Yossi Gamzu. He says: "I liked the lyrics very much, which talk about dialogue and discussion between people, also the love to life that rises from the song, so I composed it." Heiman says that the song Ma Sheyesh li Lomar (lyrics by Yossi Gamzu) is some sort of a twin brother of the song Ilu Kol Ha'ohavim. Both of them were recorded by "The Parvarim" to their premier album. Another song Heiman wrote to "The Parvarim" which is interesting in its own right is the song At Ani Veharuach. In the recording of this song, "The Parvarim" whistled in the passages. This was the first time someone dared to whistle in a song, and the media had gone nuts over it. This song was translated as well, this time to English, by the English singer David Bowie when he was a young cleaning employee in the studios of England. The song was called You and Me and The Morning Wind, and was recorded by the duo Jimmy Macgregor and Robin Hall. Heiman had contact with this duo thanks to their friendship with the Israeli Duo "Hadudaim."
In 1968, the composer Michel Legrand came to Israel and promised to help Heiman. Heiman took advantage of the offer and went with his family to Paris. His song Rak Hed Kolech (lyrics by Eitan Peretz) was famous in Israel at the time, and Heiman decided he must have the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri to sing it. This is what he tells of the song: "I settled in a Bistro under the building where her record company was and I waited the opportunity that would come. While I was waiting, I got to know Paris Police's traffic inspector. With his cooperation I located her address through her license plates' number. Then in one morning, wearing improvised clothes including my red paratrooper boots, I went with the inspector to my destination. While he and his car were hiding in the street's corner, I walked in the pathway, through the gate and knocked on the door. Nana Mouskouri opened the door, and asked in French, "who are you?" Before I finished saying "Israel," she started closing the door. Without thinking too much, I used my red paratrooper boots and put my left leg firmly between the door and the doorpost. While her lovely smile turned into an angry look, I switched to English, and quickly told her about the ten thousand kilometers and the dreams I went through on my way to her. Meanwhile I asked for ten minutes of her life to play my song to her. I guess there was something so pathetic in me, and Nana couldn't resist it. In the same evening, she took me to meet Eddie Marena who wrote the French version, and in two weeks she recorded the song. The song became a symbol of the fight against the Regime of the Colonels in Greece. Nana Mouskouri later became the minister of culture affairs of the UNICEF." Several international famous artists recorded Heiman's songs. In France, Nana Mouskouri; Serge Lama; Marie Laforet; Maxime Le Forestier; Mike Brant; Rika Zarai and Tony Bennett in the USA. Heiman studied a course in copyrights for three years in the Sorbonne's Law Faculty.
Heiman's long-held dream was to write music to cinema. His childhood friend Chaim Topol found him an apartment in London. Heiman moved there and subscribed to the Academy of Cinema. There he worked in the Jewish Agency. After a few years, Heiman met with a Swiss investor who let him establish and run a cinema music business. He ran the successful company for 9 years.
His first song for the cinema was Mirdaf, which he wrote to Chava Alberstein in her early years. Heiman was then in his first years and Micha Shagrir who made the 1968 movie "Hamilhama Le'ahar Hamilhama," gave him Yaron London's lyrics. Heiman was asked to write a song that would be without a break and give the feeling of a chase ("Mirdaf" in Hebrew). Another song is Kemo Zemach Bar, one of his most famous ones, which was written to the TV serie "Dodi Vere'i". Heiman composed as well for a series about the Bible that was produced by John Heiman and Chaim Topol. The music was performed by London Symphony Orchestra. Heiman composed a number of poems of Alterman, his favorite poet, among them are: Shderot Bageshem,Tevat Hazimra Nifredet and Od Hozer Hanigon. The three of them are from the book "Kochavim Bahutz."
Heiman participated regularly in folk singing festivals, and the songs he wrote for them are sung and played until today. Among them: Hagavia, Re'ach Tapuach Odem Shani, and Megadim. Some of his songs are called "Mediterranean Songs." their specialty is the 7/8 rhythm. One of these songs, Reach Tapuach Shani, won the second prize in The Singing Festival of 1966. In 1971 Heiman wrote another song in the same rhythm, Ufi Yona, this time to the Eastern Singing Festival.
One of Hayman's most famous songs that is also set to a Mediterranean rhythm (only more complex) is called Eretz Shiv'at Haminim, with lyrics by Dudu Barak. This song also played in the soundtrack for the movie Hamilhama Le'ahar Hamilhama, like Hamirdaf. In 1984 "Eretz Shiv'at Haminim" was given to the conductor of the singing group of the west Galilee who looked for complex rhythms. The song was recorded but wasn't published. It was later recorded by Hani Livne, who made the most well-known performance of the song. In this version, the song was published and became a part of the Israeli singing repertoire.
In 1977 Heiman recorded a radio show which became a record that consisted of his new compositions for the songs of Natan Yonatan and Natan Alterman. Among the songs included in the show were Hahol Yizkor and Zemer Lebni, which were later recorded by Chava Alberstein. This is what Heiman relates about Hahol Yizkor: "People tended to associate it with the disappearance of the Dakar submarine or with the death of Natan Yonatan's son, Lior. Either way, in its words and music, it is a song that mourns the loss of youth." It was adopted as a memorial song for the dead soldiers of Israel.
In 1984, Heiman produced the spectacle "Hofim," which stayed on stage for two years. Among the songs used in the show are: Tefilat Dayag and At Shoma'at, sung by Meir Banay; Anshey Hageshem; and At Ro'a Zoanit, sang by Moshe Datz. Both singers were then taking their first steps in music. Hani Livne participated as well in the show "Hofim." Heiman later produced her first Album and the "Vocaliza" album which constituted entirely out of his compositions ("Erev Al Gagot," "Eretz Shiv'at Haminim"). One of the songs included in the show was Shirim Ad Kan, perfomed by the show's participants (originally performed by "The Dodaim").
In the end of the eighties Heiman organized folk singing evenings with his accordion and guided folk singing groups. In addition, he was the artistic manager of the Hebrew Folk Singing Festivities in Arad for three years. This is what Heiman told about the beginning of Arad's festival: I met Bayga Shohat (then the mayor of Arad) in the office of Yossi Prost (then the manager of "Omanut La'am"), and they assigned me to bring Arad's Festival to the highest level of the Hebrew Folk Singing."
In 1996 Heiman recorded a first solo album made up of his songs. From this album, two songs were successful: Hof Aher, and the new version for Yemina Smola Vehal'ah, originally sang by Chava Alberstein.
Heiman lived in Mitzpe Hila (in the Galilee) for five years, there he managed four singing groups. After coming back to the center of Israel, he stopped guiding singing groups and began writing music to cinema, TV shows and children's videocassettes.
Heiman has a unique love affair with the city of Jerusalem, to which he wrote a number of songs. The first song was Zot Yerushalayim, with lyrics by Eitan Peretz. Another famous song about Jerusalem is the song Shuvi Bat Hasholamit. Heiman tells that this song originated in a bet with Dudu Barak about how many Jerusalem neighborhoods could fit in one song. Dudu won. All of the neighborhoods that existed back then are mentioned in the song.
In recent years, Heiman is occupied with rescuing early recordings of Hebrew Folk Singing. He produces the show "Nostalgia," which is constituted of old albums from between the late fifties and early seventies. In October 2003, the city of Petah Tikva held a tribute evening in honor of Heiman. Yizhar Cohen, Meir Banay, Avi Peretz and etc all participated in the evening. The evening was recorded and made into an album published in 2004, next to Heiman's 70th birthday.