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George Robinson, GRComm@ writes for the Jewish Week. His book, "Essential Judaism," was published in hardcover by Pocket Books, March 2000. You can find out more at his website.

Articles by George Robinson, available on the KlezmerShack, are:

2004 Chanukah Roundup, by George Robinson, sent 2 Dec 2004.

The Year's Best: the annual "best of" column, by George Robinson, sent 25 Nov 2002.

A Religious Experience: A roundup of recent Jewish liturgical music, by George Robinson, sent 26 Aug 2002.

More Than Klezmer: A sampler of Yiddish vaudeville, folk music and even art song, sent 9 Aug 2002.

Spring Sephardic Music Roundup, send 3 May 2002.

The Spring Roundup, part 1, sent 9 Mar 2002.

The Spring Roundup, part 2, sent 9 Mar 2002.

The Best of 2001 - Hanukah suggestions, sent 7 Dec 2001.

Isaac Stern: Beyond the Fiddle to the Heart of a Man, sent out 5 Oct 2001.

Sounds for the Jewish New Year, sent out 23 Nov 2001.

Slobin on Beregovski (and the survival of Klezmer Music), sent out 30 Aug 2001.

Women of Valor, sent out 15 Aug 2001.

Shabbat, for Starters, sent out 3 Jun 2001.

From Liturgical Rock to the Postmodern, sent out 15 May 2001.

A Sephardic Passover, sent out 25 Mar 2001.

Oh, Klezmer, sent out 18 Mar 2001.

Jewish Classical Music, sent out 1 Mar 2001.

Best of 2000, send out 23 Dec 2000.

Holiday Music for Hanukkah, 6 Dec 2000.

Kidding on the Square, 9/29/00, from the Jewish Week

From the Catskills to Canada, 6/15/00, from the Jewish Week

Sephardic Survey, 05/00, from the Jewish Week

1999 Klezmer Wrapup, from the Jewish Week

Sisters in Swing, 12/15/99, from the Jewish Week

Bending the Genres, October 1998, from the Jewish Week

The Klezmer Drums of Passion, September 1998, from the Jewish Week

Drums of Passion, summer, 1998, from the Jewish Week

Other klezmer articles
on the Internet

A Sephardic Passover

from the author, 25 Mar '01.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

by George Robinson,

Note: Don't click on any links until the entire file loads, or else the links won't work. I apologize for the inconvenience. webmaster

Gaon, Yehoram / Ladino Masterpieces, Vol. 3; Scetbon, Alain / Haggada de Pessah -- Rite Tunisien"; Zerbib, Elie / Haggada de Pessah -- Seder Algerois
Amar, Jo: / Le Piout Marocain & Zrihan, Emil / Le Piout Marocain
Lewitová, Jana and Vladimir Mekta / Sephardic Inspiration
The Music of the Mountain Jews
La Yave -- The Key to Sephardic Music
The Yemenite Jews
Za'atar / Mizrah -- Music of the Jews of Arab and Muslim Lands

When I taught in the Hebrew School at my synagogue and Passover approached, I would explain to the kids the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi minhag regarding khametz, that Sephardic Jews eat rice and legumes, while Ashkenazim do not. Every year, the kids would reply the same way: "Can we be Sephardic Jews for Passover?"

Well, what you eat is between you and your conscience, but in one important respect, we can all draw on the richness of the Sephardic heritage at our family seder. For the second year in a row, my April column is devoted to Sephardic music, this time with a special emphasis on Pesakh songs and liturgy, courtesy of Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah Music, who is the exclusive American distributor for these recordings. Hatikvah Music can be reached at 1-323-655-7083 or on the Web at

Let's start with the Passover recordings, then it's alphabetical order as usual.

Gaon, Yehoram: "Ladino Masterpieces, Vol. 3" (NMC Gold). Scetbon, Alain: "Haggada de Pessah -- Rite Tunisien"(Ness). Zerbib, Elie: "Haggada de Pessah -- Seder Algerois" (Ness). The Gaon set is a repackaging on CD of two mid-1970s sets, "Sabbath Songs in the Sephardic Tradition" and "Songs for Passover in the Sephardic Tradition." The other two CDS are from a French label and include French narration by the artists putting the musical selections in the larger context of the seder. Gaon is a polished professional singer backed by professional musicians and an often overbearing chorus on the Sabbath set. He does very perky "Adir Hu" that I'd love to try at my own seder, and a Ladino version of "Who Knows One" that your kids will delight in. The Scetbon and Zerbib sets have the intimate and slightly rough feel of an evening at a friend's home. The music on both is quite interesting, very reminiscent of Arabic music from the Maghreb, and will be unfamiliar to most readers. Which to buy? How much does professional slickness matter to you? I would opt for the two French sets for authenticity and kavanah; at their best they have a tremendous power.But if you are looking for tunes you can sing with, the Gaon is probably preferable. Ratings: Gaon, 3½ stars; Scetbon, 4½ stars; Zerbib, 4½ stars.

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Amar, Jo: "Le Piout Marocain" (Koliphone Azoulay). Zrihan, Emil: "Le Piout Marocain" (Koliphone Azoulay). The piyutim, liturgical poems, were originally written to enhance the prayers of the siddur. Set to music, they gradually took on another life beyond the walls of devotion. The Moroccan tradition is a particularly rich one musically, as these two recordings generously attest. Amar and Zrihan are both tenors with powerful instruments and astonishing breath control, well-suited to the complex ornamentations and melisma of the genre. Zrihan, in particular, has a breathtakingly, heartbreakingly pure voice and a sure sense of musicianship. In addition, the musicians backing him are better players and better recorded than their counterparts on the Amar set. Both sets are marred by heavy echo on the vocals, but the music, with its powerful passions comes over unscathed. Ratings: Amar, 4½ stars; Zrihan, 5 stars.

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Lewitová, Jana and Vladimir Mekta: "Sephardic Inspiration" (Arta Records). Last year I gave Lewitov´ an enthusiastic review, and I haven't changed my mind. Here she even manages to put her slight Slavonic wobble to good use in a breathless rendering of "Una matica de ruda," and her plaintive rendering of "Casada con un viejo" is one of the most heart-rending pieces of music I've heard in years, aided immeasurably by Merta's sensitive guitar backing. Merta also contributes some rough and ready vocals. For listeners who like their Judeo-Spanish song in a classical vein, a low-key, moody album. Rating: 4½ stars.

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The Music of the Mountain Jews (Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel). Extraordinary field recordings from eastern Caucasus, a region that is painfully familiar from the headlines -- Chechnya, Daghestan, Azerbaijan -- but whose Jewish traditions are little-known in the U.S. The majority of the Jews of this region have made aliyah, no doubt to their great relief, and it's possible that this recording will be one of the last examples of their musical legacy, drawing on folk, liturgical and dance tunes. From brusquely chanted versions of "L'Kha Dodi" and "Yigdal" to a songs by Genady Sosunov that could pass for klezmer recordings from the '20s (if it weren't for the hauntingly unfamiliar microtonal intervals), some wild accordion improvisations and frenzied drumming, this is a highly unusual collection, well worth investigating. Rating: 5 stars.

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La Yave -- The Key to Sephardic Music (Hatikvah Music). A useful sampler that offers listeners new to Sephardic music a balanced introduction to some contemporary artists: Flory Jagoda, Emil Zrihan, Alhambra and Judy Frankel are all here. As one might expect from an anthology of this sort, the quality is uneven, although there are no real clunkers, except for the risible "Ladino Medley" by Eli Mellul, who sounds like the Sephardi equivalent of a bar mitzvah singer. One regrets the absence of liturgical music and the underrepresentation of the piyutim, but otherwise an excellent place to start. Rating: 4 stars.

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The Yemenite Jews (Anthology of Traditional Musics). This recording, made originally for UNESCO, is a selection of Yemenite diwan; the diwan is a collection of poems meant to be sung or chanted. Perched between the sacred and the profane, the Yemenite diwan are composed in medieval meters and rhyme schemes. The musical settings, to judge from this collection, are spirited, impassioned and filled with the complex melismatic phrases that one associates with Arabic music. This anthology is full of thrilling performances, ranging from wedding and Sabbath songs to settings of Judah Ha-Levi. The recordings are a cappella or feature a simple percussion accompaniment (some as stripped-down as handclaps) that sets off the vocals beautifully. A gem. Rating: 5 stars.

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Za'atar: "Mizrah -- Music of the Jews of Arab and Muslim Lands" (Hatikvah Music). Za'atar is a Berkeley-based band that specializes in performing the music announced in the title of this, its first, CD. These guys are great fun, playing Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian and Andalusian tunes in a style that is at once authentic and funky. Everybody in the septet sings and the result is driving, throbbing, exciting music. A must. Rating: 5 stars.

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Contents copyright © 2001 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.