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Part 1 of this article

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

Spring Sephardic Music Roundup

from the author, 3 May '02.
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

Algérie / Panorama de L'Oranais
Ben, Zehava / Best of
Cantares Y Romances Tradicionales Sefardíes de Marruecos
Chants de Traverse
Chekroun, Alain and Taoufik Bestandji / Chants des Synagogues du Maghreb
Halali, Salim / L'Album d'Or, Vol. 2
Kol Oud Tof Trio / Gazelle
Orchestre Andalou d'Israel, featuring Jo Amar / Qasidat Yossef
Parfums de Méditérranee
Parra, Eliseo and José Manuel Fraile / Arboleras, Vol. 1
Zaragoza, Rosa / Cancons de Noces dels Jueus Catalans

Spring is here. That means at least three thing that are near and dear to me -- warm weather, baseball and my annual excursion into Sephardic music courtesy of Hatikvah Music. Hatikvah, which is based in Los Angeles, carries an extraordinary range of Jewish music, old and new, including many titles for which it is the exclusive U.S. distributor. But their bounty is nowhere more impressive than in the multitude of Sephardic and Ladino titles in their catalog. This year's selection leans towards North African, with a lot of Arabic-influenced sounds, and most of them are well worth sampling. (To order any of these titles, go to or phone 1-323-655-7083).

Algérie / Panorama de L'Oranais (Buda). This set draws from recordings made between 1937 and 1946 and the first thing that jumps out at you is the extraordinarily high quality of the transfers. Hearing several of the cuts on this disk you would never guess they were waxed over fifty years ago. Oran, the most rural of Algerian cities, is also the most musical, connected to its neighbor across the border, Tangiers, by musical and commercial threads, and both had lively Jewish populations until the Six-Day War. The five singers on this set were, apparently, fairly typical of the variety of popular music sung in Oran before WWII. It ranges from the classical Arabic modes of Cheikh Zou Zou to the rough chant-like rhythmic songs of Cheikh Hamada. This music will not be to all tastes -- it is often repetitive and the intervals will be unfamiliar to those raised exclusively on western popular musics. But it grows on you steadily and has a cumulative power if you just relax and let it wash over you. Rating: 4 stars.

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Ben, Zehava / Best of (Hatikvah Music). Zehava Ben is the the Mizrahi pop star par excellence, and her infectious, beat-driven songs probably work particularly well on disco floors all over Israel. If you liked Ofra Haza, who she resembles a bit, you will love this. If not, forget it. Rating: 3 stars.

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Cantares Y Romances Tradicionales Sefardíes de Marruecos (Saga). This mostly a capella set of field recordings from Moroccan Jewish women is an excellent replacement for the old Folkways set recorded in Tetuan. Susana Weich-Shahak has been all over Morocco for these recordings which are endlessly fascinating documents of a Sephardic musical culture that one suspects won't be around much longer. These are not professional singers, some of the material is repetitive, but the historical value is enormous. Rating: 3.5 stars for the music itself, but 5 stars for preserving a tradition.

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Chants de Traverse (Hatikvah Music). A two-CD set of concert material by Moroccan singers Francoise Atlan and Zoubeida Idrissi; Atlan is Jewish, Idrissi is Muslim, but both are highly successful recording artists. This is an album that, as its title suggests, is splendid evidence of the close kinship between Jewish and Muslim music in this part of the world. The music is drawn from the Jewish-Moroccan traditions -- Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino, sacred and secular. Idrissi has a smoky alto voice, Atlan a lilting soprano and the band, Orchestre Gharnat, is wonderful. Perky, rhythmic and at times even danceable music, well worth seeking out. The only (minor) drawback, no liner notes to speak of. Rating: 5 stars.

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Chekroun, Alain and Taoufik Bestandji / Chants des Synagogues du Maghreb (Magda). This is one of most exciting albums of Jewish music I've heard in months. Chekroun is a cantor originally from the Maghreb and here he joins with an orchestra of top-notch Algerian musicians for a program of Jewish liturgy set to classical Arabic melodies. His voice is a boyish tenor, sinuous and supple, and he handles the Arabic-style melisma with grace and authority. The settings are highly imaginative and effective and the instrumental backing is superb. Rating: 5 stars.

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Halali, Salim / L'Album d'Or, Vol. 2 (Hatikvah Music). This one may be an acquired taste. Imagine the Gypsy Kings on steroids, fronted by Charles Aznavour dressed as a Maghrebi Elvis impersonator. Would you believe a very klezmerish "My Yiddishe Mama" with Middle-Eastern melisma? Believe all of it. Halali is very big in the Maghreb, he does look like he's doing Elvis and he has a husky, whiskey-and-Gauloises voice like Aznavour. This set includes a lengthy medley of flamenco-type numbers with great guitar and some over-the-top shouting by the star. "Mama" is actually terrific and the straight-ahead Arabic stuff is heady and rhythmic. But the excesses are hilarious. Rating: 3.5 stars.

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Kol Oud Tof Trio / Gazelle (Magda). If you have just a little Hebrew you know that the name of this group means "voice, oud, drum," and that this Israeli group features. Esti Kenan-Ofri is an Italian-born, classically trained soprano with a lilting, sweet voice; Armand Sabach is a Moroccan-born oud player who specializes in classical Arabic music; percussionist Oren Fried is an Israeli native with an extensive background in jazz. The result is a seamless and engaging collaboration that combines Hebrew liturgical poetry, Ladino and Arabic classical modes in a beautiful blend. Rating: 5 stars.

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Orchestre Andalou d'Israel, featuring Jo Amar / Qasidat Yossef (Magda). Orchestre Andalou is a gifted aggregation who have recorded with some of the biggest names in Sephardic music. This set features baritone Amar in a program characterized by a lot of jaunty rhythms that nicely showcase Amar's inventive sense of time and lightning-quick melismatic phrases. Over a single listening, this gets a bit repetitive but the music is excellent taken in small doses. (I'll tell you more about their set with Emil Zrihan sometime soon.) Rating: 4 stars.

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Parfums de Méditérranee (EMI France). If you are looking for a sampler to check out some of the artists discussed here, you could do a lot worse than to start with this French compilation, which includes some of the top Jewish performers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, including Cheikha Remitti, Reinette L'Oranaise and Salim Halali. In Cheikha Remitti's hypnotically repetitive rhythms one can hear the roots of rai, the Algerian protest-rock that may be one of the most infectious brands of pop music you'll ever hear. By contrast, Line Monty sounds like an Arabic Edith Piaf and Rene Perez like Gilbert Becaud, while Blond-Blond rocks like the wildest Indian movie music. Great fun and a good introduction to some of these musicians. Rating: 5 stars.

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Parra, Eliseo and José Manuel Fraile / Arboleras, Vol. 1 (Saga). Another project from Susana Weich-Shahak, this set of Sephardic songs draws from the entire Mediterranean basin, with particular attention paid to Greek and Turkish oral traditions of coplas and cancioneros; Volume 2 is dedicated to the more familiar romancero. Like her Moroccan album reviewed above, this is an important document of a major strand of the Sephardic song tradition but may not be to all tastes. The instrumental work is outstanding but the vocals are a bit harsh, to my ears shrill and reedy; if you can handle that, well worth investigating. Be forewarned, the program notes are in Spanish only. Rating: 4 stars.

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Zaragoza, Rosa / Cancons de Noces dels Jueus Catalans (Saga). As my mother says, another country is heard from. This is absolutely the first inkling I've had that there is a Catalan Jewish musical tradition, but if this is what it all sounds like, bring me more! Zaragoza is a witty, sexy singer, alternately plaintive and pungent, the songs are as delightfully complex emotionally as any I've heard lately and the guitarist is a magician. The material dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, but it sounds totally contemporary in their hands. Docked a half-star for a stingy 35 minute running time. More notes in Spanish (and Catalan, of course). Rating: 4.5 stars.

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Contents copyright © 2002 by George Robinson. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Page last revised 11 June, 2007.