Sephardic Music Fest Tunes Now Available!

This is very good news:

A mix of traditional, dance, electro, hip hop, and folk songs from around the Sephardic world makes up the Sephardic Music Festival’s first compilation album, set for world-wide release on November 30th…Like the Sephardic Music Festival itself, this compilation offers a taste of the amazing depth and breadth of Mizrahi and Sephardi inspiration, culture, and creativity. Album tracks incorporate Jewish liturgical and ceremonial texts, Shabbat songs, and classic love poems, as well as original compositions inspired by traditional themes. The album presents a tapestry of harmonies, rhythms, and motifs as rich, vibrant, and diverse as the Jewish world itself.

I’ve never been, but I’ve been told that the SMF is one of the most amazingly eclectic Jewish music festivals around.  For a taste of just how eclectic, click above for a more traditional Sephardic experience (“Yah Ribon” with Yair Dalal on the oud) and below for something completely different:  DeLeon performing “La Vida Do Por El Raki” complete with lead banjo. (You’ll have to purchase the CD for the Sephardic electro and hip-hop…)

If you’re in NYC from December 1-8, you should probably attend this year’s festival. Click here for the schedule.


Parabéns, Jews of Brazil!

Another sign of the times – this just in from the JTA:

Brazil has set aside a day to honor Jewish immigrants to the country.

Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar signed a measure setting March 18 as Jewish Immigration Day. The date coincides with the re-inauguration date in 2002 of the Brazilian synagogue Kahal Zur Israel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas.

“It was not easy to choose a date among many that represent the influence and the contribution of the Jewish community to the development of our country,” said Marcelo Itagiba, the Jewish congressman who had proposed the bill…

Brazil has some 120,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish population in Latin America after Argentina.

After reading the news I did a quick survey of Brazilian Jewish history and discovered that there have been Jews in Brazil since after the Spanish Inquisition. Moroccan Jews immigrated in the 19th century and, of course, European Jews arrived during and after the Shoah. As this latest news indicates, the Brazilian Jewish community clearly continues to thrive into the 21st century.

If you’d like to celebrate, JDub records has helpfully provided some choice jams from the contemporary Brazilian music scene in honor of this news. Parabéns!


Sephardic – Cambodian Dance Mix

Just felt like sharing some of the music that’s been blaring out of my iPod of late: click above for Deleon, whose style is self-described as  “Sephardic Sound De-Time Capsuled and Reinvigorated.” Below you’ll find Dengue Fever – a band started by two nice Jewish brothers that specializes in Cambodian Pop Rock Psychedelic dance music.

Rock on.


In Memory of Judy Frankel

I was so very saddened to learn about the passing of Judy Frankel, the luminous musician/singer of traditional Sephardic folk melodies, after a long illness.

I first encountered Judy’s music fifteen years ago or so and was immediately transfixed. There are many new interpreters of Sephardic music on the Jewish music scene today, but Judy always stood out from the pack for me. She possessed the rare combination of true musicianship (she was classically trained on guitar), an incandescent  voice, and a profound appreciation of Sephardic culture and tradition.

I had the pleasure many years ago to bring Judy to my previous congregation in Denver – it was so gratifying to see my congregants transformed into instant fans as I just knew they would be. I had always wanted to arrange a concert for JRC as well, and I mourn that this now will not come to pass.

Judy was a sweet and lovely soul and I am only heartened that her voice remains with us still. I encourage you to discover her music for yourself – you can begin by clicking here to hear her sing the classic Sephardic lullaby, “Durme, Durme.”

Zichrona Livracha – may her memory be for a blessing.


Tilting at Windmills?

I just finished reading a fascinating article in the European Jewish Press that spotlighted a Jewish historian’s theory that the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes belonged to a family of conversosJews who were forced to convert to Christianity or face expulsion from Spain after 1492.

Historian Abraham Haim, an expert on Sephardic history and culture, claims that Cervantes’ classic “Don Quixote de la Mancha” contains numerous Jewish references and reflects “the silence experienced by a Jewish soul.”

Haim points to a number of examples from “Don Quixote,” including Kabbalistic symbolism, references to the Sukkot festival, and an “almost literal translation of an entire page of Talmud.” For me, the most interesting aspect of his theory is the claim that Cervantes wrote some of this Jewish content in code in order to avoid persecution by the Inquisition:

At the beginning of the book, for example, when describing Don Quixote’s diet, reference is made to “duelos y quebrantos” – literally “suffering and brokenness”– on Saturdays.

This has a double meaning: on the one hand, it is the term–still used to this day by Moroccan Jews–for the eggs and broken bits of grain that some Sephardis add to the pot. But it can also refer to the sadness felt by those forced to leave Spain.

Apparently this is not the first time that a scholar has made such a claim, but it seems to be the most authoritative yet. Perhaps this is common knowledge in academic circles, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it – and I’m fascinated by the suggestion that we could possibly add “Don Quixote” to the canon of classic Jewish literature…