Rachel & Eliyahu expands the movement to revive our understanding of Jewish song
What happens when a creative partnership develops into a romantic one? What happens when they take their background of world music and focus it on producing an album together which focuses on rich vibrant music of Jews indigenous to the Middle East?
Rachel and Eliyahu first saw their creative passions intertwine with their music and then their lives when they tied the knot. It was around that time that they recorded, Eastern Wind. The day before their wedding they received a call from Billboard saying that the album was #7 on the World Music charts. Now they are back with an album devoted to what brought them together, titled, Open the Gates which came out today!
Eliyahu Sills and Rachel Valfer, a highly popular duo among Bay Area world music enthusiasts, are now excited to release Open the Gates on January 31st. The album, a collection of Jewish Middle Eastern music both contemporary and timeless in approach finds its inspiration in the historic and mystical melodies of antiquity.
Mizrahi music, or music of immigrants from Arab lands, was long deemed inferior by Ashkenazi (European) Jews. But now as young Jewish people around the world seek connection to their ancestral origins through music, Rachel and Eliyahu’s Open the Gates couldn’t be more timely. They found their love for the music and each other as they explored music from around the world as The Qadim Ensemble.
“Jews in Israel with ancestry from far-flung regions such as Azerbaijan, Bukhara, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, are coming together to play ancient tunes in new ways,” Rachel Valfer says. “These songs are being fused and recreated in so many original and exquisite combinations. There is a turning towards the East to incorporate its ancient musical traditions to create the new.”
Valfer studied the oud (Middle Eastern lute) and vocal traditions at the Center for Classical Middle Eastern Music in Jerusalem when this revival was first blossoming. Valfer was a leading voice in this new generation of groundbreaking musicians including Yair Har’el and Yasmin Levy.
Sills instrument of choice, the ney, is said to be the oldest melodic instrument known to humanity, played across the Middle East, from Iran, to Turkey and all across North Africa. Many Sufi (Islamic mysticism) traditions regard the ney as one of the most spiritual instruments. Sufis and Jews often collaborated on developing spiritual teachings throughout the middle ages, so its fitting that Sills brings the instrument into full focus on Open the Gates. The 13th century poet Rumi (Jalaludin Rumi, now one of the most famous poets in the West as well as in the Muslim world) wrote about the ney as, “the sound of the human soul”.
Open the Gates presents traditional songs in Hebrew and Ladino along with piyyutim, Hebrew liturgical poems sung or chanted during religious services and community gatherings.
“Piyyutim were normally sung at festive events such as holidays. But for the past 20 years these melodies are no longer relegated to the shabbat (sabbath) lunch table,” says Valfer.
Rachel and Eliyahu, the founders of the acclaimed Qadim Ensemble and The Ladino Project, produced this album after spending much of the past decade interpreting and building bridges between musical styles from multiple religions and cultures, including Jewish, Arabic, Turkish and Persian. Joining them on the recording are several long-term Qadim Ensemble collaborators from Iran, Morocco, Syrian and the US, (including Hamid Saeidi, the first Persian musician to win a Grammy Award,) playing instruments such as the Turkish ney, Arabic oud, Persian santoor, and Arabic percussion. Western musical elements, subtle harmonies, and some Western instruments (upright bass, and drum kit,) offer a vibrant color palette, making an organic blend of ancient and modern without losing nuance and timelessness.
Eastern Wind (their last album with The Qadim Ensemble from 2019), which presented music in multiple languages from around the Middle East, received rave reviews for its musicianship, soulfulness, and authenticity, reaching #7 on Billboard’s World Music charts.
“With Open the Gates”, says Eliyahu Sills, “we wanted to focus specifically on our Jewish heritage from the Eastern Diaspora. Open the Gates is a personal tribute to our love for each other, our love of our own Jewish musical heritage, our ancestral connection to the Middle East and all peoples of that region. And above all to the power of music to break open the gates of our hearts.”
STREAM/DL Rachel & Eliyahu’s album, “Open The Gates” now – SPOTIFY