Sunday, 6 April 2014

Limmud day school, Sepharadi Music and Palestinian narrative

The Limmud day schools have become a fixture in the Jewish calendar. Until this year I haven't managed to attend one, and to be truthful I didn't feel much need to do so as much of my time is spent reading and blogging about subjects affecting Jews I thought there would be little to  learn from such a series of talks. I was wrong. The Limmud I attended had many topics of interest, some of which such as sepharadi music I had barely thought about previously.

The  lectures I attended were generally interesting although one talk given by an Israeli journalist was so replete with palestinian narrative distortions of zionism and the history of Israel that I thought at first that the speaker was an anti-zionist. This later turned out not to be the case. However even with my understanding of the general ignorance and orientation towards the Palestinian Arab cause amongst israeli journalists that I see on a daily basis reading their press in hebrew and english I was shocked. I'll hopefully write more about this talk soon.

The lecture by Rabbi Ariel Abel and Daniel Moussa on sepharadi music was an eye opener to someone brought up mainly in the western ashkenazi musical tradition. Until now my exposure to eastern music has been quite eclectic, that of eastern european, azeri (Davut Guloglu is one of my favourite singers) and 'arab' music (as arabs are relative newcomers to most of the region, the Jews are very possibly the founders of that musical tradition. Jews were also traditionally the ablest musicians in the arab world, which often forbade music altogether, the legendary Al Kuwaiti Brothers come to mind), being especially fond of the singer Fayrouz. Happily I can't understand the lyrics to the military sounding 'Jerusalem'. Arab music can sound very beautiful in service of a heinous intent (and i'm not even referring to the Al Qaida type videos with their associated evil sounding chants).

The duo gave a fascinating introduction to oriental modes of the maqam including many well known israeli songs such as Hava Nagilah ( Hijaz mode similar to the phrygian mode), Hatiqvah  (Nahwand mode which is equivalent of the minor scale) and Jerusalem the Golden (Nahwand mode) are sung according to these modes. In western classical and popular music we are basically limited to just two modes of the harmonic minor and major scales whereas sepharadi music uses 22 different modes used according to the mood of the text.

It would have preferable to my mind were audience participation not encouraged as hearing the subtelties of the music sung by the Rabbi and Daniel was drowned out by the enthusisatically loud group.

The newly formed duo intend to take their show on the road, a very good idea. I'm looking forwards to that.

Further information is on which amongst other things lists 22 different scales in sephardic music.

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