Sephardic Music Fest on NPR WNYC

Photobucketthe Sephardic Music Festival was just featured on NPR’s WNYC Morning Edition. It was amazing and we wanted to make sure you got to hear it as well. To listen, click Here is what they wrote on their website, “Our Hannukkah-side suggestion is the annual Sephardic Music Festival curated by NY Sephardic DJ / musician / electronica artist Erez Safar a/k/a Diwon. The festival coincides with that not quite high holiday, December 21-28.

What is Sephardic culture? The Sephardic Jews most purely are those who trace their roots to the Iberian peninsula before Jews were expelled by Spain in 1492. But of course once they were expelled they spread out, to the Middle East, Africa, Asia etc., and the lines blur between those with direct links to pre-expulsion Spain and Jews simply from the places the Iberian Jews wound up.

Another way to look at this festival is as the un-Ashkenazi festival. (Ashkenazi being the Jews of Eastern European roots who are the majority Jewish population in New York.) With, um, a few Ashkenazi ringers among the musicians for sure – but NOT a whole lotta klezmer which of course is the Ashkenazi go-to party music.

While there isn’t exactly a Sephardic music “scene” in New York, there are many artists either from Sephardic backgrounds, or who have chosen to explore Sephardic themes in different ways within their music. The idea of this festival is to raise public awareness about this minority-within-a-minority. And of course put on some good shows.

And in doing so there is quite a range of music. From the bombastic “Hasidic Hendrix” Yossi Piamenta – now that’s a Jewish wedding!

to the more sublime Sarah Aroeste, whose specialty is to sing in the ancient Ladino language of the Iberian Jews:

But you see the point of the festival is not really to make one specific musical point – there’s a wide range. But the emphasis will be on groups operating in the Sephardic realm and by extension something a little different from the usual klez / East European orientation of Jewish music in New York.

One project that’s especially noted to for its academic, historical / research based approach to the music is Asefa. The group is led by Samuel Thomas, a New York-based musician and ethnomusicologist of Moroccan-Sephardic heritage. In addition to performing at the festival, Thomas will curate a concert and discussion at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St on Sunday afternoon Dec. 21 featuring two of the more purely Sephardic groups in the festival: The Victor Esses Tarab Ensemble, of Syrian Jewish background; and Elie Massias Flamenco-Ladino. Thomas has a website dedicated to his musical explorations: “Jewish Awareness Through Music.

Thomas told me that for him, perhaps the strongest way to create musical work with a true Sephardic root is through the texts: Through links to the work of certain poets of Sephardic Spain who were active (of course) before the Jews were expelled at the end of the 15th century. So he bases many of his texts on surviving texts from those poets, some going back as far as 1000 years – or, texts from poets after that period from places the Sephardim moved to, like North Africa, who followed the stylistic guidelines of those poets. But he makes musical connections too – for instance by incorporating elements of Moroccan Gnawa music. Jews and Gnawa rubbed shoulders in Morocco generations ago much like Jews and Roma did in Eastern Europe. Below you can see (well, barely – but definitely you can hear) Asefa exploring the Gnawa-Jewish musical connection.

The Hannukkah peg of the Sephardic festival provides a special bonus: Something to do on Christmas Eve! The star-studded “Midnight Mess”, which will be the first public event at the City Winery, 155 Varick St. Featured on the bill: Anthony Coleman’s Sephardic Tinge, Todd Barry, Leah Siegal, Jackie Hoffman, Diwon, and Rebetzin Hadassah Gross.

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