A short bibliography of Sephardic Music
by Judith R. Cohen
[This article was requested in an attempt to tap Cohen's expertise and help guide KlezmerShack readers who are just beginning to explore the wealth of other Jewish music. The author updated it in February 2003. ari]
Here are some short reviews which I've basically adapted from: my "Sonography of Judeo-Spanish Song, Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review" from my update notes, and from my brief reviews in "the Rough Guide to World Music ", and the Journal of American Folklore. More recordings show up constantly, and, while I try to maintain up-to-date information, it's not always possible, and would be impractical to include it all here. Here, the focus is on documentary recordings rather than arranged ones by non-Sephardi artists, as this way one learns about the actual source material. After that, I look at semi-documentary recordings, i.e. by people who know the tradition very well, and have worked directly with it, and change very little; and a few selected examples of other recordings, including a very few important new non-Judeo-Spanish ones from the Sephardic and Eastern traditions. I include comments on Gerineldo (my Moroccan Judeo-Spanish group) and my own recordings because we're actually important in the repertoire, but don't say anything aesthetically evaluative about us.
Bunis, David, 1981, Sephardic Studies, a Research Bibliography, New York, Garland (includes discography of the old 78 rpm recordings)
Cohen, Judith R. "Sonography of Judeo-Spanish Song", in Jewish Folklore and Ethnography Review 18/1-2, 1996 , update of JFER 15/2, 1993, 17, 1995, V.20, 2000; and V.18, 2001. (always being updated: if you have a recording to be included, please send in info! and, if you want commentary included, a copy of the recording)
"Sephardic music: Judeo-Spanish ('Ladino') Recordings" Rough Guide to World Music. (ed. S. Broughton,1999: V.I:370-4) Not comprehensive, but provides more commentary, and is updated from the 1996 discography; n.b. the subtitle in the book is editorial, NOT my idea.
Also, see, though it was published long after it was submitted so needs updating, my review-essay of Judeo-Spanish recordings, Journal of American Folklore (1999: 112/446:530-539).
Bresler, Joel. Forthcoming discography and union catalog of Sephardic 78s (in Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew) and discography of LPs, cassettes and CDs containing at least one song in Judeo-Spanish. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need further information. I'd like to thank Joel Bresler for his frequent help.
Most important recent documentary recordings:
Hazan, Victoria. Todas mis Esperansas, 1940's Recordings of Judeo-Spanish, Greek and Turkish Song, Global Village CD115, 1998.The long-awaited re-issue of 78rpm Victoria Hazan songs, a real treasure, unfortunately without any background notes, and with various mistakes in the listings; the briefest of biographical information and nary a mention of how so many singers and researchers learned from her, including, for a brief afternoon whose memory I treasure, myself...
Jagoda, Flory (about): The Key from Spain. Directed by Ankica Petrovic and Mischa Livingstone. VHS, 40 min. National Center for Jewish Film, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454. Moving documentary about Flory Jagoda, the much-loved "nona" of Judeo-Spanish song, see my review in Ethnomusicology 46/1:194-6.
Weich-Shahak, Susana, Judeo-Spanish Moroccan Songs for the Life Cycle, Jerusalem, Jewish Music Resource Center, AMTI 5 CD0101, 2001. Welcome reissue of the cassette issued in 1989, but the book should have been re-issued and sold together, at least as an option, with the CD: without the book, there are no adequate notes for the recording and only those already familiar with the repertoire will understand what it is about (see my review of the original set in Ethnomusicology 7/3:442-5, 1993, and of this CD, Ethnomusicology 46/1:194-6, 2001.)
(Not Judeo-Spanish but in this section for their importance):
Bowles/Seroussi. Sacred Music of the Moroccan Jews, collected by Paul Bowles, edited with notes by Edwin Seroussi, Rounder Records 82161-5087-2, 2000. A very important reissue of Bowles' 1959 recordings in Moroccan Jewish communities, more than competently (as always) edited and annotated by Edwin Seroussi.
Levy, Solly, Cantata Yamim Noraim: 2 Vol. and CD. Toronto, self-produced. Entirely different from the above CD is this surprising combination of old and new: the neglected piyyutim tradition of Tangier-in this case, for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur-, sung by Levy (a founding member of Gerineldo), accompanied by synthesizer arrangements which might alienate purists, but which Levy deliberately chose for a number of reasons based on his own life-long, profound knowledge of the tradition, and his respectful consultations with experts. One volume contains scores-in some cases, reflecting the rhythmic interpretation problems described, and solved in different ways by Kol-Oud-Tof (see below); the other is a trilingual (Spanish, English, French) presentation of song texts, background notes and explanations. It has been my privilege to help a very little on this and forthcoming publlications of Levy's work.
Musical Traditions in Israel: Treasures of the National Sound Archives, Hebrew University/Jewish National and University Library/The Jewish Music Resource Center 1999. More than welcome CD reissue of the rich anthology of the National Sound Archives holdings, which originally appeared on cassette.
Spagnolo, Francesco, ed. Italian Jewish Musical Traditions from the Leo Levi Collection (1954-1961). Jerusalem, National Sound Archive and Library/Jewish Music Research Centre, 2002 (Anthology of Jewish Musical Traditions in Israel 14). This very important recording represents the only documentary collection of Italian Jewish music, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi. The songs are unpublished material from the little-known Leo Levy collection; with full texts and translations, and thorough notes and background information by Francseco Spagnolo (in Hebrew and English). Most selections are in Hebrew, with a few in Italian, including two delightful versions of the cumulative Passover song "Had Gadya" (One Kid).
Aguado, Berta (Bienvenida) and Loretta (Dora) Gerassi. Chants judéo-espagnoles, ed. & notes Edwin Seroussi (Inédit W260054, France), 1993. Inédit, 101 Raspail, 75006 Paris. A wide range of songs -- unaccompanied -- from the Ottoman and Bulgarian Judeo-Spanish traditions: ballads, life and calendar cycle, recreational and topical songs. Two elderly women, among the last of their ilk; Aguado is an especially subtle performer of the old Ottoman Judeo-Spanish tradition; extensive notes by Seroussi.
Algazi, Rabbi Isaac. Mezimrat Qedem: The Life and Music of R. Isaac Algazi from Turkey, edited; with book, by Edwin Seroussi. Renanot (Jersualem) 1989. Renanot: 58 King George, Pob 7167, Jerusalem 91071. Tel. 2-248761. Turkish Sephardic singer, revered for his virtuoso performances of synagogue singing, Judeo-Spanish songs and also Turkish classical music. Died in Uruguay in the 1960s. Seroussi has rescued old 78s of Algazi, on two cassettes including all three aspects of his virtuoso singing, accompanied by a serious book of background, transcriptions, and analysis. Middle Eastern stringed instruments provide an appropriate but unobtrusive accompaniment.
Azen, Henriette. Desde el Nacimiento hasta la Muerte (From Birth to Death) (Sacem/Vidas Largas SC703, Paris, 1991)Raised in Oran, Algeria, in a Moroccan Sephardic family and living in Paris for many years, Madame Azen has a prodigious memory, and has put considerable time and thought into her family's repertoire and traditions. All a capella.Thanks to Dr Haim Vidal Séphiha for bringing out these recordings.
Sánchez, Miguel (editor; notes). Es Razón de Alabar: una aproximación a la música tradicional sefardí. Comunidad de Madrid 1997. CD; book with introductory essays by Spanish musicologist and performer. In Spanish. Samples from documentary recordings, mostly unaccompanied, except some early recordings with oud, of Judeo-Spanish songs, from various field collections. Various song genres, regional styles, and male and female voices. Some of the songs have been anthologized before, others are rarer. The book includes essays, and transcriptions, and identifies the sources for the songs, but has no general list of the selections, while the list on the CD jacket does not credit the sources. This is a welcome addition to the relatively few documentary recordings available to dispel common misconceptions of Judeo-Spanish song.
Saltiel, David. Jewish-Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki (Oriente Music, Berlin, Germany, 1997) David Saltiel is probably the last of the old-style Judeo-Spanish singers from Salonica, though even his generation no longer included the romances as part of their regular repertoire by then. This is a very valuable recording, with extensive background notes: the only reservation is that the Greek ensemble, while musically excellent, is a little on the heavy side for this type of Judeo-Spanish singing.
Shiloah, Amnon, ed.: Greek-Jewish Musical Traditions, (Folkways 4205, U.S.A., 1978). Important documentary field recordings from the Greek Sephardic tradition, in both Judeo-Spanish and Greek, some in Hebrew. Booklet with serious notes by this senior musicologist.
Weich-Shahaq, Shoshana, collector/editor:
Since the late 1970s, Dr Weich-Shahaq has collected, analyzed and disseminated Judeo-Spanish songs, recording them mostly from elderly traditional community Sephardic singers in Israel, where she lives, and in Spain. She selects a representative repertoire, sung by competent, often very fine, singers, and includes extensive notes. Most selections are in traditionala capella style except for some percussion on wedding songs.
Cantares y Romances Tradicionales Sefardíes de Marruecos, Tecnosaga, Saga KPD 10889, 1991.Traditional Sephardic songs and ballads of (northern) Morocco.
Cantos Tradicionales y Romances Judeo-españoles de Oriente, Tecnosaga.(C,CD); 1992. Traditional Judeo-Spanish songs and ballads from the Eastern Mediterranean (mostly Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria)
La tradición musical en España V11: Variantes gemelas en la tradición oral sefardí del Mediterraneo oriental y occidental. Tecnosaga WKPD10/2026, 1998. Includes selections from earlier recordings, paired to show differences betwene Moroccan and Eastern Mediterranean versions of the same ballads (romances).
Yurchenco, Henrietta, ed. Alegrías y Duelos de la Novia -- the Bride's Joys and Sorrows Songs and Ballads of the Moroccan Jews as Sung by the Women of Tetuán, Morocco, Global Village Music CD148, 1994. This is a revised and expanded version of Yurchenco's 1978 LP on Folkways (the women's repertoire is expanded and the selections by the Tangier cantor S. Siboni are omitted). The recordings are rare and very fine examples of Moroccan Judeo-Spanish women's singing, particularly older romances and wedding songs, recorded by Yurchenco in Morocco, in the late 1950s, long before the Judeo-Spanish "boom". Global Village Music: 245 West 29th St., New York, NY 10001
Semi-Documentary and Non-Documentary recordings
Gerineldo: Oro Anahory-Librowicz, Kelly Sultan Amar, Judith Cohen, Solly Levy
The only ensemble specializing in the Moroccan Judeo-Spanish repertoire and performance style; all but one member are Moroccan Sephardim who grew up with the tradition; Anahory-Librowicz and Cohen are also recognized scholars of Judeo-Spanish song; Levy works intensively in haketía , Moroccan Judeo-Spanish. Based in Montreal. Mostly Moroccan repertoire; "En Medio" includes several from the Eastern Mediterranean as well. A number of rarely heard ballads from group members' own field recordings or families, traditional life and calendar cycle songs, recreational songs. Very traditional singing style and instruments: a capella; oud; percussion; violin (Charly Edry) on "En Medio"; and the occasional use of the medieval fiddle. The Tecnosaga CDs are re-issues of cassettes recorded in Montreal in the 1980s. Cassettes available from Judith Cohen; CDs from her or, I and II from Tecnosaga (cassettes 1,2 and 3 are on CDs 1 and 2).
De Fiestas y Alegrias (Tecnosaga, Madrid KPD10.897, 1994)
Me Vaya Kappará (Tecnosaga, Madrid, KPD10.941, 1996)
En Medio de Aquel Camino (Gerineldo, Montreal, 1994)(available from Judith Cohen)
Video: Ya Hasrá -- Qué Tiempos Aquellos, 90 minute videocassette; by Solly Levy (Gerineldo) produced by Claude Beaulieu, Université du Québec à Montréal. Gerineldo's video of Levy's original folk theatre vignettes of Moroccan Judeo-Spanish family and domestic holiday scenes, with songs. All in haketia (Moroccan Judeo-Spanish/"Ladino").
Pasharos Sefardíes (Los), Karen Gerson (director), Izzet Bana: vocals; Selim Hubes, Yavuz Hubes, instrumentals. Istanbul.
Very little of the older repertoire of romances and wedding songs, but they work in the popular Istanbul urban style and are lively and engaging as performers.
La Romanza de Rika Curiel (Gozlem001, Turkey)
Kantikas Para Syempre, (Gözlem, Turkey) 003 (and earlier cassettes)
Various Artists (tip of the iceberg):
Alcalay, Liliana Melodie di un Esilio-percorso storico musicale degli ebrei e marrani spagnoli Giuntina 2000.
The fourth in the author/singer's series of recording-book sets on Judeo-Spanish and Yiddish songs, focusing mostly on the former. This volume (like the others, in Italian only) ambitiously approaches the history and traditions of the Portuguese Crypto-Jews. There is some useful historical and ethnographic information, but Crypto-Jews, in my several years' direct experience, must be visited slowly and repeatedly, to gain (and deserve) their confidence and any approach to understanding their lives and traditions. That this has not been done here is evident in several confused, romanticized notions about musical traditions of the Crypto-Jews in Portugal. As well, for formerly Jewish regions of Spain, the author has been led astray by local, often tourist-oriented, myths such as the attribution of a probably fairly late petenera to Jewish sources ("rebeco", for example, is a mountain goat, not a masculine form of "Rebecca".). There is also confusion about what "is Jewish" or "is Sephardic", and what is regional tradition, which Crypto-Jews may happen to share. The recording is in Alcalay's very musical, competent, but somewhat repetitious style.
Alia Música, dir. Miguel Sánchez. Puerta de veluntad, Iberica/Harmoniamundi HMI987026 2000.
Hebrew song texts, notes and translations in Spanish, English and French. Although the subtitle is "Liturgy and mysticism in Judeo-Spanish music" [my translation], the only Judeo-Spanish text among the Hebrew selections is a Ladino version of "Et Sha'are Ratson". One wonders what "Judeo-Spanish music" can mean without the presence of Judeo-Spanish. The texts are venerable ones, including poetry by Yehuda haLevi and Ibn Gabirol, the poetic lights of medieval Sefarad - but all we are told about the melodies to which they are set is that they are "from the archives at the CSIC in Madrid". This not very helpful statement is a puzzling disappointment from Miguel Sánchez, a knowledgeable musicologist as well as an accomplished musician. The performers are excellent, but the album opens with organum, thoroughly appropriate for medieval church music, but surely not for Sephardic religious music. Their notes do refer to Edith Gerson-Kiwi's classic article on Jewish polyphony; however, this group's vocal style is more reminiscent of the church than of Yemenite or any other Jewish folk polyphony. In general, the women's vocals are good but more appropriate for the Western concert stage, while some of the solo male singing, particularly that of Miguel Sánchez himself, is much more convincing. Despite the high musical level, the overall effect is rather cold, evoking grand, empty cathedral spaces more than intimate synagogue community worship.
Alondra, Cantigas Sefardíes.
María-Teresa Escribano and Aron Saltiel, vocals; Aron Saltiel and Wolfgang Marzendôrfer, guitars. Reissue of a 1980s recording, with full texts and translations (English and German; the orthography should be adapted to more recent usage, especially use of "x" for "sh"). Mostly well-known songs, with a few welcome surprises, such as "La historia de Zimbolucha" (Una muchacha en Salonica). Both voices are clear and agreeable: Saltiel comes from a Sephardic family wiht many singers, and Escribano, from Spain, skilfully adapts her Western classical training. Joshua Horowitz's introduction, mostly competent and helpful, forestalls any wistful comments about authenticity through the increasingly popular strategy of making the listener feel guilty for wishing for it ("some musicians ... developed the idea ... that Sephardic music was authentic only when recorded poorly in dire circumstances...." or "one can gnaw on the bone of authenticity…"). This very pleasant recording needs no "justification", and certainly not by putting down more traditional styles, which are in any case not always recorded in "dire circumstances".
Altramar. Iberian Garden: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Music in Medieval Spain, Vol. 1-2 DIS 80151, 80158. 1995.
Serious research and notes, admirable musicianship. Vocals bland in the Christian material, unconvincing in the settings of Arabic and Hebrew songs . No clear explanation that there are no medieval manuscripts of Jewish or Moslem music (except the Ovadiah fragments, see Cohen 2000): non-specialist listeners may think that the settings here are actually medieval, especially reading such trendily obfuscating phrases as "our melody is informed by melodic gestures found in 13th c. Hebrew Biblical cantillation symbols...." See my review in www.continuo.com/dec98/dec98revs/dec98voi.htm#8
Alvarez, Valentina, Romanzas Sefardies, The Sephardic Jewish Tradition. Agave Music 27038. ca2001.
A pretty voice, accompanied by the rather unlikely combination of oboe, English horn, guitar, hand percussion and - shofar. The album presents yet another a selection of the most frequently recorded Judeo-Spanish songs, with a typically confused notion of what constitutes a romance running through the notes, whose English translation is abysmal.
Anthology. Todas las voces de Sefarad (Tecnosaga, Spain). Tecnosaga (Saga): C/Dolores Armengot 13, Madrid 28025, 34-1-4618653 Fax
Vol. 1: Madrid Sephardic Community; Joaquín Díaz, La Bazanca, Raíces KPD881
Vol. 2: Adela Rubio and Santiago Blasco; Judith Cohen; Cantabile; Felipe Curiel; KPD10.2000
Includes: Madrid Sephardic Community: traditional Moroccan Judeo-Spanish songs and style, but there are a few cuts sung by Letizia Arbeteta, who organized the recording,in not very typical vocal style; also some a-typical accompaniment added on guitar and espinette-de-Vosges. Díaz; foremost Spanish "folk" approach, respected folklorist (see main text); La Bazanca, Raíces: good performances, though with a more Spanish than Sephardic musical flavour; Rubio and Blasco: careful but not particularly inspiring re-creations of traditional Salonican repertoire; Cohen: Turkish and Greek repertoire and a "suite" of ballad versions; Curiel: standard repertoire from a South American singer; Cantabile: Israeli choir, dir. Seroussi, choral arrangements of a non-choral tradition.
Arbolera, Canciones y Coplas Sefardíes de Tradición Oral, Vol. 1-3: Dir. Susana Weich-Shahak; Vocals and instrumentals: Eliseo Parra , José Manuel Fraile, Carmen Terrón (II + III); Werner Lasser (I + II); others. Saga (Madrid) KPD-10.955, 1996; 10.966, 1997; 10.988 2000
Ensemble is directed by and includes (as an instrumentalist) Israeli ethnomusicologist Weich-Shahak, who, for the first time, also appears as a performer. None of the performers is Jewish, though Parra and Fraile are respected folklorists and performers in Spain. Their vocals are mostly successful in their imitation of Sephardic male vocal style, though the singing is occasionally somewhat strained; similarly, the instrumentals are good, but at times overworked. The female voice so central to Judeo-Spanish song is missing in Vol. I; Terrón's voice in Vol. II is bland and atypical of Sephardi women's singing, but has a much stronger presence in Vol. III. Vol. I focuses on calendar and life cycle songs, Vol. II on ballads (romances) and Vol. III on songs from the late 19th-early 20th century. The selections themselves are all taken from Weich-Shahak's extensive fieldwork, and include several songs which are rarely, if ever, recorded; notes are very informative (in Spanish).
Bessis, Sandra. Bodas! ARB Music 2001.
Judeo-Spanish wedding songs by a French Sephardic singer with a strong, clear, voice; CD unavailable at time of writing.
Cinco Siglos, Sones de Sefarad, Músicas Judias en Antiguos Instrumentos. dir. Miguel Hidalgo. Fonoruz, CDF908, 2001.
Anachronistically performed, and sadly missing the vocals which are the essence of Judeo-Spanish tradition, but, taken on its own terms, a collection of skilfully played and musically irreproachable renditions and interesting notes.
Cohen, Judith R.
Member of Gerineldo; also musicologist (Judeo-Spanish, Medieval, and related): Ashkenazi from Montreal; sings material from her own and colleagues' documentary field recordings, works on re-creating traditional styles; and on the connections between Sephardic songs and the music of their various diaspora locations. Cohen also lectures and publishes regularly on Sephardic and Crypto-Jewish traditions; her daughter Tamar Ilana (b.1986) performs with her.
2000. Canciones de Sefarad: Empezar quiero contar (Songs of Sepharad: "I'll begin the story...": with Tamar Ilana Cohen Adams, Wafir Sheik, Eduardo Paniagua, PN 270, 2000. (members.aol.com/jmsimports/pneuma.htm). Sephardic songs in Judeo-Spanish and some in Hebrew, related traditional songs from the Sephardic diaspora, including medieval Iberia; Yiddish, Balkan, French Canada; Cohen and teen-aged daughter base repertoire on fieldwork and study. Review: www.klezmershack.com/#cohen_j; some tracks on www.yorku.ca/judithc
1997. Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontré, with Tamar Ilana Cohen Adams and Rob Simms (Radio Canada/Interdisc, Canada, TRCD9503, 1997). The title "On my Way I Met" reflects travel and encounters, and connections between Judeo-Spanish songs and diaspora cultures: Bosnian, Bulgarian, Yiddish, Turkish, Medieval Iberian , French Canadian; also Cohen's own "suites" of pan-Hispanic/pan-European versions of Sephardic ballads. with Rob Simms: oud, setar, derbukka, nay, guitar. See also "Todas las Voces de Sefarad" (Tecnosaga) and Gerineldo.
1991. Con Viela y Mochila, Madrid, Saga SEC 10.579. Now available on CD only, as part of Tecnosaga, "Primavera en Salonica, Songs of the Sephardim and their Neighbours", Saga KPD10.977, 1998
1992. Primavera en Salonica: Canciones de los Sefardíes y sus Vecinos, Madrid, Saga. Judeo-Spanish and surrounding cultures: Turkish, French Canada, Medieval, Balkan, Yiddish. Jaume Bosser, oud, saz, guitar. Now available on CD only, as part of Tecnosaga, "Primavera en Salonica, Songs of the Sephardim and their Neighbours", Saga KPD10.977, 1998
1992. "1492-1992 Revisited: The Sephardic Song 'Revival', Musicworks 54:36-42; with accompanying compact disc including 11 selections: 6 sung by Cohen and 5 from her field collection.
A fine musician, and indefatigable folklorist and author; now the Director of an ethnographic museum/library which bears his name. Díaz has been very influential in awakening and maintaining interest in Judeo-Spanish music in Spain, beginning in the late years of the dictatorship. Mostly sung with acoustic guitar, some a capella: many selections are well-known and others less so; both the Eastern Mediterranean and Moroccan repertoires. Not a typically Sephardic vocal style, and Castillian non-Judeo-Spanish pronunciation sometimes creeps in, but sure musicianship and warm, subtle vocals.
Kantes judeo-espanyoles, (Tecnosaga, Madrid, 10.500 1996)
Alta Alta es la Luna (Tecnosaga, Madrid, 10.893, 1991)
El Alma es Dulse: Canciones de los Sefardíes, tfmedia 2001, librocda101. A personal, very idiosyncratically typeset, book with CD, from this celebrated and rather hermit-like Spanish folklorist and singer. Several previously unrecorded (by him, anyway) songs, including a few of his own composition, with the odd disclaimer that he has "always" done this, with Spanish tradition as well, but without acknowledging his or any other non-traditional authorship. His pronunciation of Judeo-Spanish has definitely improved over his early Castilianization. Though Díaz' warm, resonant, subtle voice is not Sephardic in timbre or style, the hint of unsentimental nostalgia and sadness behind it may itself be evocative Spain´s lost Jewish past.
Edery, Gerard Ensemble. Sing to the Eternal. Sefarad Records/The Village Temple 5763, 2002.
An interesting, musically eclectic and generally agreeable collection of songs in Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish and English for Shabbat and the holiday cycle, with accomplished vocalist Gerard Edery, his long-time accompanists George Mgrdichian, the splendid oud player, and accomplished percussionist Rex Benincasa. The Turkish "Eli Eliyahu" is a small gem of a song, with a simple, driving melody and a couple of unexpected cadences. "Shalom Aleichem Señores", more interesting than aesthetically remarkable, is "from Yugoslavia", with no further explanation. The classic Judeo-Spanish song "Los Bilbilicos" is very successful here, as is Israel Najara's famous poem "Ya Ribon" is sung to a Moroccan melody often heard for other texts in both Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew (though the notes do not mention this). The presence of the song attributed laconically to "Persia" is mysterious, and it is sung on the theatrical, self-important side, as is sometimes the case in Edery's other recordings. His own English versions of a couple of songs, and his melodies, do not, for me, enhance the repertoire musically or linguistically. Sources for the traditional melodies are not given, and the notes are brief and impressionistic.
Edery, Gerard, Aaron Bensoussan and Alberto Mizrahi, Sons of Sepharad. Sefarad Records, 2002.
The prolific Gerard Edery , with a winning combination of his own voice and those of two justly renown cantors, and the two excellent instrumentalists who have long accompanied him: George Mgrdichian (oud) and Rex Benincasa (percussion). The CD was unavailable at the time of review, but the three singers' individual accomplishments and the live performance I attended in 2002, suggest that it will be very successful. The success is deserved, although, I find some of the arrangements overblown and the voices often overwhelming for the Judeo-Spanish component of the repertoire.
Elias, Joe, Ladino Lives! Elias Ladino Ensemble," Authentic Music of the Sephardic Jews".
Familiar upbeat renditions by Joe Elias, veteran performer and teacher of the Eastern Mediterranean repertoire.
Ensemble Antequera. Jews and Christians: Music in Medieval Spain. Syncoop 1996.
Shura Lipovsky, vocals; with ensemble of rebab, recorders, percussion, harp, portative organ and lutes. The repertoire is divided between Judeo-Spanish songs and medieval Iberian songs. Shura Lipovsky uses her clear and flexible voice with skill and intelligence, qualities also evident in the instrumental accompaniment. The Judeo-Spanish songs are uneven: "Nani nani" is quite lovely, but "Pregoneros van y vienen" verges on the shrill, while Landarico is on the over-serious side. The medieval songs are more consistently successful, and the notes are well-written and informative. It is unfortunate that the Judeo-Spanish selections were all learned from one printed edition (Milner and Storm); no documentary recordings appear to have been consulted. It would be interesting to hear what Lipovsky's clear, convincing voice would do with models from traditional performance practice.
Hellgren, Katarina, Savor de Ladino, muevas kantigas en ladino. Lyrics by Matilda Koen Serano, and Yair Sapir; music Yair Sapir. Demo recording only available: no notes.
Hellgren's voice is quite lovely. Matilda Koen Serano is well-known for her work in many aspects of Judeo-Spanish culture, from education and story-telling (and writing) to composing lyrics for new songs in Judeo-Spanish, such as these. Personally, I would have preferred a mixture of old and new songs, and hearing the singer's renditions of traditional material, even though the recording is presented as a project for "new Ladino songs" (a few standard "Judeo-Spanish hits" appear on Hellgren's earlier recording of Yiddish songs, Mamme.)
Hesperion XX, Montserrat Figueras, Weltliche Musik um Christlichen und Jüdischen Spanien. A two-volume set, one of Renaissance Spanish music, the other of Judeo-Spanish songs from both Morocco and the Eastern Mediterranean, V. (1450 - 1550) (Reflexe, Germany, C163 30125/6, 1976).
Well-known early music group, directed by Jordi Savall. Figueras' western-art music-trained voice is rather fussy, and the declamatory recitatives which apparently are used to make the ballad texts go by faster are, to my ears, instrusive; the instruments are very good if not very "Sephardic"; the recording is perhaps most worth hearing for its place in Judeo-Spanish recording history.
Hesperion XXI (formerly Hesperion XX), Montserrat Figueras, Jordi Savall et al. Diaspora Sefardi: Romances y música instrumental. AliaVox, AV 9809 A+B (two CD set.) 2000. Dist. Harmonia Mundi.
Expert musicality but heavy-handed classical Western influenced vocals and generally pretentious.
Jaramar, Entre la pena y el gozo. Mexico, Paraíso, 1993.
Jaramar Soto offers a selection of Sephardic and a few early compositions from Spain and Mexico, with a brief, unapologetic indication of her ensemble´s mixture of contemporary, traditional and historical instruments and techniques. There are no explanations and no documentation, but there is also no pretension or attempt at rationalization. Jaramar has a very clear voice, more subtle than powerful. Though generally very agreeable, it sometimes verges on the coy. She overdubs occasional harmonies with herself, and on a few selections the musicians add vocals. The competent and well-performed arrangements (and some original melodies) are by Alfredo Sánchez, who also plays several instruments. It would be nice to hear at least a few selections in more traditional style. A few Sephardic songs also appear on Jaramar's 1998 album Lenguas, which is mostly composed of pieces from medieval manuscripts.
Kol Oud Tof Trio: Gazelle. Esti Kanen-Ofri (voice), Armand Sabach (oud), Oren Fried (percussion). Magda Music MGD037. 55min. 2002
This unusual collection brings together the different Moroccan Jewish repertoires: Judeo-Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, liturgical songs in Hebrew . Kanen-Ofri has a lovely, clear, well-controlled and flexible voice; has done her research, and sings with commitment and intelligence. Instrumentalists Oren Fried (percussion) and Armand Sabach (mostly oud) are excellent. In surprising contrast, the inadequate liner notes (in English and Hebrew) offer words for only one song, and little information about song sources and regions. My only cavil with the singing is the treatment of the Judeo-Spanish selections, which bypass the unpretentious, though often highly skilled, traditional women´s style (eminent musicologist Edwin Seroussi's notes anticipate this objection by eschewing "slavish imitation" of tradition.) Track 6, a romance (narrative ballad),he explains, has had its "hidden underlying" rhythmic pattern "reinterpreted". This works very well in Track 9, for example, for the frequently puzzling absence of regular metre in Moroccan Sephardic liturgical songs, but its application to the women´s repertoire seems unnecessary, as are the apparently gratuitous vocal interjections in the wedding song of the opening track. Otherwise, this fine recording is a pleasure to listen and return to.
Levy, Isaac. El Kante de una Vida (The Song of a Life), National Authority for Ladino, Israel, 2001, CD021-022. Sung by Isaac Levy, Kohava Levy, Yasmin Levy, Yehudith Aharoni.
An important document of these arrangements which altered the character of the songs and influenced the entire Judeo-Spanish song revival movement; but somewhat misleading as to the distribution of the songs (Yehudith Aharoni and Yasmin Levy each sing only the woman's part of one dialogue song, and Kohava six, out of the entire double cd collection). The documentation is utterly appalling, given the resources available today, especially in Israel! The notes for CD-2 (liturgical songs and seldom-if-ever recorded children's songs) are simply non-existent, as is the note for CD-1 #30 (the last track), the rest of the CD-1 notes consist of a couple of lines each about the songs' basic content - no songs are identified by standard titles, including the few romances included and no other information is provided. Nothing about the relationship of the piano arrangements to the traditional style of the songs. In the liturgical songs, no provenance (not even whether they're from Morocco or the Eastern Mediterranean), and not a word about the use of secular melodies for Hebrew religious texts, or which Ladino songs were translated into Hebrew and when and why and how they're used.... The new National Authority for Ladino has, for no discernable reason, missed a great opportunity to provide a truly important document instead of a pleasant re-issue of centrally important recordings.
Levy, Yasmin, Romance and Yasmin, Adama Music 2000 CD20505.
Notes in Hebrew only. The daughter of renowned Judeo-Spanish song collector, anthologist , singer and broadcaster Isaac Levy and Judeo-Spanish singer Cohava Levy, presents mostly well-known songs, sometimes over-arranged and a little precious, but with definite potential for a subtle, mature voice and presentation, especially on the refreshing a capella, less pretentious delivery of "Condzha condzha" and the strong, Turkish-influenced "Una ora en la ventana". It will be interesting to see how she ends up re-shaping a repertoire her father reshaped as he presented it to a largely new listening - and performing - public.
A Western art music-trained Argentinian singer living in Spain, with small chamber ensemble; some newly composed material. While hardly "traditional" in style, Monasterio makes no claims to be that, and her clear, warm voice, and evident musicality are a pleasure.
A las Orillas del Bir, ONCE (Spain)/Solvavil S002 1996.
Sefarad XXI, Cantares del Avenir. Madrid, ONCE 1998.
Paniagua, Eduardo, et al. Música de las tres culturas, Judios, Cristianos y Musulmanes en la España Medieval, El Arabi Serghini, Omar Metioui, Jorge Rozenblum, Aurora Moreno, Luis Delgado. PN100 Pneuma 1998.
"Music of the Three Cultures: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Medieval Spain". As usual, music from Jewish and Arabic oral tradition is presented as if it were medieval, which it is not. The performers for the Andalusian selections in Arabic are fine guest musicians from that tradition. Rozenblum grew up with Jewish liturgical music; though his style is more Ashkenazi than Sephardi, it is a relief to hear someone in Spain who actually knows what they're doing with Hebrew para-liturgical selections. Aurora Moreno's voice, though she has little first-hand knowledge of Judeo-Spanish songs, is limpid and assured. Good instrumentals, and useful notes. While the album as a whole tends toward the inexorably solemn, there is an almost funky rendition of the emblematic 12th century pilgrims' hymn, "Dum Pater Familias" which forms part of the St James of Compostela medieval medley. For this medley, the names of specific pieces are omitted, which seems a little unfair, as the Jewish and Arabic selections are all identified.
Phoenix, the Israel Consort of Viols, Por Mares nunca dantes navegados/Through Sea where sail was never spread before. Myrna Herzog, dir. Brascan Brasil S.A. in 2001.
Miriam Meltzer - soprano; Boaz Davidoff -tenor; Benny Hendel - narrator for English; Helder Parente - narrator for Portuguese. An original concept with carefully-chosen texts interwoven among the musical selections: original writings dealing with the expulsion, the Inquisition, and early South American settlements. Very few Judeo-Spanish songs - most of the selections are from the Renaissance repertoire, and sung in that style. Good musicians,and a refreshing concept clearly prepared with conscientious research, though personally I find it annoying after the first hearing to have music interrupted by narrative: perhaps a genre more suited to live than recorded performance.
The Renaissance Players. The Sephardic Experience. Vol 1-4, Winsome Evans. Celestial Harmonies 13168-2.
Copious notes, sometimes wandering well off the point. The selections also include Balkan dance tunes, and English translations which do a great injustice to the medieval Hispano-Hebraic poetry, and whose recitation is jarringly unappealing. Good instrumentals, some good vocals (mostly Mara Kiek, who should have done more of the singing), and some bland singing. (See more detailed review, Cohen, Yearbook for Traditional Music, 2001:188-90)
Reuveni, Dorit, Ladino. Hed Arzi 64261. 2000.
Dorit Reuveni is from a Yugoslav Sephardic family; otherwise, the album tells us nothing about her or the songs. Her voice is clear and agreeable, with a good accent; the songs are mostly the most familiar "hits" of the late 20th century media-circulated repertoire, with unremarkable arrangements. The booklet includes song texts and charming old photographs.
Rot, Dina. Una Manu Tumó L'Otra. LCD El Europeo. Madrid 1999.
Poems in Judeo-Spanish by the celebrated French-Bosnian Sephardic poet Claire Nicoidsky and the Ashkenazi Argentinian Juan Gelman, music by Dina Rot and some by Eduardo Laguillo, the arranger. Rot's voice is consistently rich, warm and assured. A generous booklet gives all texts with translations in French, Italian and English; and communicative notes by the various artists. There are a couple of minor lapses in translation. Altogether, an album not for light listening, but for listening and reading, surprisingly enjoyable.
Rubio, Adela and Santiago Blasco, Los judíos en Aragón. Arrangements Eliseo Parra. Notes: Asuncion Blasco, M.A.Motis y Joaquín Lomba. Prames/Gobierno de Aragón, LCD19, 2001.
This is part of a handsomely-produced series of music of Aragón. The CD-book (in Spanish only) includes informative essays, and photographs of old Jewish areas. Curiously, though many Jewish historical figures are mentioned, the known names of some medieval Jewish Aragonese minstrels do not appear. The songs are from the romance (narrative ballad) genre; in some cases it is unclear how the texts reflect the title theme of Jewish presence in Aragón. The singing is careful and researched, though rather bland, especially compared to the impressive array of musicians. Eliseo Parra's (see "Arbolera") instrumental arrangements are original and attractive, but often seem to have little to do with either traditional Sephardic singing style or with the vocal style of the two singers. The talented and popular Parra's own rendition of the difficult "La muerte del Duque de Gandia" is less convincing than is usual for him. Of the two soloists, Blasco is the clearer and more comfortable with style; his tenor has an interesting timbre, almost like a low woman's voice. Rubio knows the repertoire well but tends to be a bit shaky and at times out of tune; both deliver with an intense carefulness which lacks spontaneity.
Sánchez, Miguel, dir. Alia Música,. El canto espiritual judeo-español, Harmonia Mundi Ibérica HMI 987015,1998.
Most of the selections are in Hebrew rather than Judeo-Spanish; see notes to the same group's "Puerta de Veluntad", above.
Sarband: dir. Vladimir Ivanoff; voice Fadia el-Hage, Belinda Sykes
Fadia el-Hage is a fine, serious Lebanese singer, obviously not at home with Judeo-Spanish language or song; Belinda Sykes' acquired "Balkan" vocal technique is inappropriate for this repertoire, and not very skilful. The songs are treated much too solemnly, and tend to be tediously drawn-out, which unnecessarily mars el-Hage's and the instrumentalists' considerable expertise. The title of the 1998 album is doubly and tiresomely misleading: these are not songs of the "Hispano-Arabic" tradition, nor are they from medieval Spain.
Sepharad: Songs of the Spanish Jews in the Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire. DHM 05472-77372-2. 1996;
Canciones sefardíes de la tradición hispanoárabe en la España medieval. Jaro/Sonifolk 21115. 1998.
This mix of traditional Ottoman and modern composition is in a way reflective of modern Israeli society; Two of the songs, "Durme Durme" and "Komo La Roza", are presented innovatively, appearing numerous times in varying formats; from traditional to supermodern electronic. The second CD presents the standard top-ten - literally ten. A pop instrumentals approach; rather good singing, though SuZy tends to overdo stabs at Turkish-style ornamentation. The notes offer no explanation or background.
Estos y Munchos, Many Happy Returns, Adama Music 2001. 2 cds.
Herencia. Adama 1998. CD 20502.
Fiesta Sefarad, Exciting Jewish Music from the Mediterranean and Middle East. RT988D. George Mordecai: tenor, guitar; Steve Bloom, percussion. Tasat's trained voice is warm and agreeable, a fine singer, if a little on the romantic side. A highlight is the Iraqi version of Dunash Ibn Labrat's famous medieval acrostic poem "Dror Yiqra". Many of the notes would be better off absent: for example, the cavalier assertion that the popular song "A la una yo nasi" is a reflection of "life during the crusades".
Judeo-Spanish Art Songs: the Music of the Italian, Turkish and Spanish Jews. 1996 RT961D. Harmonized by Manuel García Morante. An unusual item on this album: Federico Consolo - Libro dei Canti d'Israele (1890) recorded here for the first time.
Voice of the Turtle, The Sword of the Dove, A Judeo-Spanish Purim Fantasia, Kol haTor KHT019, 2000.
Following their Passover album, this one revolves around the springtime holiday of Purim. A welcome innovation here is the inclusion of thorough notes by Edwin Seroussi, not in the CD album, but on the web: www.geocities.com/votdove/Edwin.html
Yaakov, Ruth. Ruth Yaakov Ensemble, Sephardic Songs of the Balkans. Piranha CD PIR1255, 1998.
Covers Balkan/Ottoman Judeo-Spanish repertoire. Approaches, but just misses, a convincing imitation of traditional vocal Turkish and Balkan Sephardic style.
Non-Judeo-Spanish, of note
Video: Jochsberger, Tsiporah, 1991. Sepharad: a People and its Music, Jerusalem, The Israel Music Heritage Project.
In general, the best accessible videos of a variety of Jewish music cultures, including Judeo-Spanish.
The Music of the Mountain Jews, Ed. Commentary Piris Eliyahu, Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel 10. Hebrew University, Jewish Music Research Center, 1998.
Utterly delightful recordings of the eastern Caucasus Jews from Azerbaijan, Cechnya, Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkar,: liturgical, folk song, dance and Azeri, in Hebrew and Juhuri, or Judeo-Tat.
Jewish Composers in Classical Turkish Music, Istanbul, Gozlem, 1995.
A good introduction to the music of the highly-respected Jewish composers of the Ottoman courts.
Benaroya, Samuel, ed. Edwin Seroussi. Ottoman Hebrew Sacred Songs. Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel 12 (AMTI 9803). Jerusalem, 1998.
Probably the last living exponent of the old style Seroussi has aptly designated as "Ottoman Hebrew". A very valuable musical document, with informative notes.
Bhattacharya, Deben, ed., In Israel Today, Westminster. 5 LP set
Hard to find now, but great old recordings of different Jewish musical cultures recorded in Israel. Documentation is not always findable: It's in a separate booklet, and in any case,t here is missing and sometimes incorrect infromation -- it's the recordings themselves which are the attraction, from Jewish cultures of Morocco, Uzbekistan, Cochin and others.
Daniel, Romiel. Shabbat Shalom from India, 1997. Arr. Pandit Ramesh Mitra, sarangi; guitar, drums, keyboards, tapan.
Most of the Bene Israel singing I've heard has been a capella, graceful melodies sung in the context of actual services in Toronto, or Israel. This CD contains Shabbat-related selections, in Hebrew. The voice is pleasant enough but not remarkable; and while the sarangi and tapan are welcome additions, the guitar and keyboard do little to enhance the overall sound. In any case they would traditionally not have been played on Shabbat. Not all the melodies are from the Bene Israel repertoire: "Shalom aleikhem" for example, is the same familiar melody I grew up with; the typical Bene Israel tunes such as that used for "Dror Yiqra" are much more appealing in this context.
Ensemble Nava. Bukhara. Magda MGD025. 2000.
Traditional Bukharan Jewish music performed delightfully by musicians from the community now living in Israel and a resident ensemble at Jerusalem's Confederation House. See Ted Levin's documentary recording (Smithsonian) and his book One Hundred Thousand Fools of God.
Hanabee, Eliyahoo. the Music Tradition of the Bene Israel of Bombay, ed. Yuval Shaked, Beth Hatefutsoth 2001, BTR0101
performed by Pinhas Reuben Pezarkar et al., recorded in Bombay 1997, notes Sara Manasseh. An important recording, mostly in Hebrew and two rarely heard songs in Marathi, but not particularly well sung: the Bene Israel community of Toronto has better singers. Nevertheless, the only serious recording with reliable notes to appear so far of this tradition.
Johnson, Barbara, ed. Songs of the Jewish Women of Cochin, India, Jerusalem, Jewish Music Resource Center, forthcoming early 2003.
Except for a few songs on the Bhattacharya anthology, this is the first release, and certainly the first-ever well-documented release, of Cochini Jewish women's singing traditions.
Kohavim Tikvah Choir. Shalom Everybody Everywhere: introducing the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda Kulanu 9701, 1997. Kulanu, c/o Hantman, 3520 Tarkington Lane, Silver Spring MD 20906
This unusual group offers no actual claims to Jewish ancestry to be accepted or disputed: they are open about having chosen Judaism through their erstwhile leader, in 1919, and, while they are observant of Jewish practices, have not undergone conversion. There are new melodies for traditional texts such as "Lekha Dodi" and "Adon Olam", as well as some original songs, for example, "We shan't give up" and "Mirembe, Mirembe - Shalom, Shalom". The rhythms, melodies and harmonies are all African, and, while they are unmistakably happy renditions, this is really not one of the more musically accomplished recordings one is likely to hear from any part of Africa. (original review for JFER 1998)
Naguila Ensemble. Hallel, Sephardic Chants for Passover and other Religious Feasts. L'empreinte digital ED13128, 2001.
This fine Judeo-Arabic ensemble based in France offers traditional interpretations: vocals by the cantor Andre Taieb, with oud, ney, violin and percussion by both Muslim and Jewish instrumentalists. A lovely recording, with such gems as the Ten Commandments in Judeo-Arabic, and informative notes in French and English (except the unfortunate literal translation of "Paques" as "Easter"). One sung uses the melody of the well-known "Cuando el Rey Nimrod", for once correctly classified as a "hagiographic copla", Worth quoting from the notes is "...the community of ideas ... between Jewish and Islamic musicians throughout history...." This CD is a wistful reminder that this can indeed, and needs to, be the case.
Roten, Herve, Musiques Liturgiques Juives, book and CD, Actes Sud, 1998.
Useful small-format CD and book - an overview, though by no means exhaustive, of Jewish liturgical traditions in different countries and cultures; some welcome material from the little-known Portuguese-descended community in Bordeaux and Bayonne, France.
People often confuse the difference between a "romance" and "romancero." To recap:
a romance is a narrative Hispanic ballad, with a specific
structure (usually, but not always, 16-syllable lines, each of 2
8-syllable hemistichs, with final assonance but not rhyme, i.e.
En la ciudad de Toledo, en la ciudad de Granada Alli se ha criado un mancebo que Diego Leon se llamaba.)
A romancero is a collection or corpus of romance's, not an individual song. So one can speak of the "Sephardic romancero" which in turn is part of the "pan-Hispanic romancero", but any given example is a "romance" - one wouldn't say that one's grandmother sang a lot of "romancero"'s, for example, but that she sang several romance's from, say, the Salonica or the Tetuan romancero. A lot of people tend to say "romanza" for almost any lyrical song in the eastern Sephardic repertoire (not in Morocco) but this isn't very accurate. Non-romances are very often "canticas" (just "songs") or, certain forms, especially, very often, those related to para-liturgical contexts, and/or topical songs, are "coplas". Actually, the easiest thing is probably just to say "song"!
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Copyright © 1999 Judith R. Cohen. Revised 2001 by the author. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.
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