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- Published on Monday, 19 December 2011 06:07
- Category: Artist Profile
To many New Yorkers, and others across the country, "Jewish music" typically encompasses one style: Ashkenazi, a style of music from Eastern Europe. Think klezmer, Fiddler on the Roof, even the Driedel song. That is the dominant face of Jewish music.
The trend has slowly been changing, thanks mostly to the New York and Los Angeles- based Sephardic Music Festival, presented by Erez Safar (Yemeni descent) and his Jewish music record label Shemspeed. Now in its seventh year, the festival celebrates Hanukkah by bringing New Yorkers closer to the wide range and cultural diversity of Sephardic and lesser-known Jewish communities: Judeo-Spanish Ladino, Mizrahi from the Middle East and North Africa, Yeminite and Judeo-Arabic. Its artists are multi-generational. Some are not Sephardic or even Jewish. Many of the musicians blend traditional tunes with modern-day styles such as Electro, Hip Hop, Funk and Dance.
Loosely defined as "Jewish Middle Eastern music," Sephardic styles encompass a wealth of songs and stylings dating back to the original settlements of Sephardi Jews in modern-day Spain and Portugal and extending to surrounding countries Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and others in the Middle East and North Africa, where many Sephardis settled after exile in 1492. What makes the music of this specific sect so unique is that it seamlessly blends traditional Jewish songs with musical styles of the lands they settled in, a living representation of what it means to embody multiculturalism, assimilating heritage's past with the sounds of where you are. It’s an integration that “is actually quite symbolic of the Jewish people,” Nuriya told The New York Times. “We started in one place and had to move and go to other places, picking things up along the way.”
The same can be said as a parallel with other communities and their Diaspora groups, as a melding of cultures has only gotten more pronounced with the expanse of globalization. It’s what makes the Sephardic Music Festival one to follow not just for Jews, but for all cultures. The language may sometimes be Hebrew, but Sephardic music is as much about the Middle East and Arabic culture as it is about the Jews who settled there. Rather than wailing about exile, Sephardic music looks forward, celebrating where Diaspora are now with the same importance as where they came from.
Not only is the music an outcome of assimilation, it’s also a product of how far reaching Middle Eastern culture can be in both its breadth of diversity and its flexibility. With news streams dominated by reports about the odds between Jews and Arabs, Sephardic music offers an enduring perspective that shows where the two cultures can not only coalesce, but harmonize in a way that brings people together rather than split them apart.
The Sephardic Music Festival is meant to showcase Sephardic and Jewish music as not only diverse, but also fun. Over the course of eight days, events spread all over Manhattan showcase the medley that is contemporary Sephardic music. The festival kicks off this Tuesday, December 20, with the psych-folk ensemble Pharaoh's Daughter and the Iranian-Jewish songwriter Haale alongside Mexican-born singer Nuriya, who integrates Latin, Middle Eastern and Arabic-Flamenco music.
Other highlighted couplings include Ladino duo Aviva & Dan with Drory Yehoshua, a hazzan of Kurdish-Jewish descent (Dec 21); Moshav, an LA-based group of Israeli expatriates, with rising Hasidic hip hop sensation DeScribe (Dec 22); and Morocco-born Gerard Edery with Asefa and Middle Eastern Balkan blues sextet Oudblues (Dec. 26).
Headlining this year's highlighted event is Miki Gavrielov, an Israeli music legend of Turkish background, performing with fiddler Lily Henley and the ISRAMERICA House Band (Dec. 24). The festival closes on December 27 with a Sephardic Story Slam, which will unite stories about "Middle Eastern upbringing, exotic travels, [and] family traditions from Morocco, Persia, Tunisia, [and] Yemen."
Previously featured artists include Israeli expatriates Electro Morocco, Yemeni descendant Michal Cohen, Syrian-born Saadi, Israel's leading hip hop band Hadag Nahash, Israeli-Moroccan singer Smadar, Arab and Israeli band Raquy and the Cavemen, Persian descendant Galeet Dardashti and her Mizrahi/Judeo-Arabic group Divahn, Palestinian-Muslim hip hop artist Saz, the Arabic-funk group Shusmo (previously profiled here at Aslan Media) and Uzbekistan-born Ezra Malakov.
The Seventh Annual Sephardic Music Festival begins on Tuesday, December 20, and runs through December 27 in various places throughout Manhattan.By Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, Aslan Media Arts & Music Editor