Archives for posts with tag: song

Yasmin Levy and the Politics of Performing Sephardic Identity

Christina Azahar

Inventing Sephardic Traditions from 1492 to the Early Twentieth Century

  • Expulsion of Jews from Spain during the Inquisition leads to formation of Sephardic cultural identity through experiences of transnationalism and diaspora
  • Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) popular songs surrounded by myth and often falsely thought to have origins in Medieval Spain
  • Scholars begin to collect oral musical traditions at the beginning of the twentieth century, categorizing them into romances, life cycle songs, and calendar cycle songs – often adding changes when transcribed

Isaac Levy and the Sephardic Song Revival

  • Collects Sephardic popular songs from 1950s and 1970s and publishes several collections of transcriptions and recordings that become the basis for late productions of Sephardic popular music
  • Work at Jewish national radio influences orientalist tendency to want to Mediterraneanize Israeli national culture

Yasmin Levy: Performing Sephardic Traditions for the World

  • Grew up in Jerusalem and was exposed to a wide variety of cultures and musical practices which she incorporates into her interpretations of her father’s repertoire as well as her original compositions
  • Eclectic performance style makes her music easily communicable across cultures and languages, but her blurring of cultural and linguistic distinction removes her output from the nationalist project of her father’s work by framing Sephardic popular music as a tradition intended for all people

Example:

Una pastora – Combined Recording of Isaac and Yasmin Levy

I always enjoy reading the proposals submitted by the students of Music in Israel for their class projects (papers, presentations and performances, as outlined in the Class Syllabus). Then, I begin thinking, and learning, from them. I divide them into groups, and created graphs to describe their formats and contents.

It should suggest where things are at, now that we have reached the middle of the Semester.

Format-wise, students were somewhat “conservative.” Most students opted for the traditional “paper” (or essay) format. Some went for collaborative class presentations. And a few (but still a considerable number) chose to produce and present a performance to the class.

Music in Israel | Fall 2013 | Student Project Formats

In terms of the topic that students chose to work on, regardless of the format of their projects, I was able to isolate four major groups: ethnographic and ethnomusicological themes, the study of art music, the study of popular music, and the relationship between music and history.

Music in Israel | Fall 2013 | Student Project Topics

Ethnographic projects cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from the emergence of Judeo-Spanish song and Klezmer music between ethnography and commercial revival, to the sacred/secular divide in Israeli (musical) culture, issues of gender, various types of fieldwork (including the “ethnography of the Self”…), the study of traditional musical instruments, of the relationship between music and food, the role of Arabic maqam in Jewish music, music education, music in the Kibbutz, and the role of music in various Jewish “ethnic communities,” from Russia and Romania to Central Asia.

Students working on popular music will be covering a variety of themes, including Jazz, world Jewish and Israeli “pop,” ethnic rock, punk rock, Hip hop, and religious rock, the impact of American music on Israel’s popular music, the work of specific artists or ensembles (including Naomi Shemer, Shlomo Carlebach, and the Idan Reichel Project), and the impact of conflict and the role of the Israeli Defence Forces in shaping popular musical culture.

Art music is well represented as well, with topics ranging from the Israeli piano and vocal repertoires, to the impact of America’s Jewish composers on Israeli music, to the important issue of “style” (Mediterraneims, Orientalism, etc.) in Israel’s musical aesthetics.

The relationship between music and history will be mainly investigated in two directions: the role of film (and especially film music) in narrating history and representing culture, and the musical representations of the Holocaust.

Perhaps we are half way done, but it looks like a busy end of semester is coming up!

This week, we confront the diversity of music in Israel by learning about the traditional song of the women from the Jewish community of Kerala (South India), and how this unique repertoire (sung in Jewish-Malayalam) has been reconstructed in Israel, on the basis of manuscript sources and ethnographic field work.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha91MldHZb4]

Our guest lecturer is Barbara C. Johnson, Emerita Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College. Upon completing her B.A. in history at Oberlin College, Barbara Johnson lived and taught in South India for four years during the 1960s, before beginning academic research on the Kerala Jews leading to her M.A. in religion (Smith College) and Ph.D.in anthropology (University of Massachusetts). Since 1972 she has made six trips back to India and twenty to Israel (including two years of residence) for ethnographic fieldwork with their community in both places. Johnson’s publications include Oh Lovely Parrot!: Jewish Women’s Songs from Kerala (Book & CD: Jewish Music Research Center, Jerusalem, 2004); Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers (co-authored with Ruby Daniel: Jewish Publication Society, 1995); and many scholarly articles. She is currently a Visiting Scholar in the South Asia Program at Cornell University. She recently served as visiting scholar, assisting in the preparation of the exhibition, Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley, which I (Francesco Spagnolo) curated, on view at The Magnes, UC Berkeley, in the Fall of 2013.

View this document on Scribd

Directly from Classified Palestine Songs (which have nothing to do with any secret services, in spite of the title), here is a song for the festival that falls on the 15th of the month of Shvat in the Hebrew calendar, which this year happens to be this week. It’s the “new year of trees,” a semi-holiday with strong agricultural connections (planting new trees). Its celebration was first the object of a 16th-century revival on the part of Jewish mystics (kabbalists), who devised a complex (and delicious) ritual involving eating (rather than planting) a wide variety of fruits; in the early 20th century, it was at the center of a Zionist revival, which focused on the agricultural activities of the yishuv.

The song 15th Shevat, with the incipit, “ha-sheqediyah porachat,” which remains popular to this day, was written to underscore the political, rather than religious, or mystical, value of the traditional celebration.

Hasheqediah porachat

T”U bi-svhat – 15th Shevat
Words by Y. Dushman, Music by M. Rabinowitz
from Classified Palestine Songs, Volume 4 (Chage ha-teva’ – Nature Songs), rotaprinted in Jerusalem, Palestine (before 1948) by the Overseas Youth Department of the Jewish National Fund. n.d.

Originally meant for communal singing (shirah be-tzibur), it has retained its performative quality into the present. See for example it inclusion in the website and in the YouTube channel, of Zemereshet, a project devoted to the revival of early Hebrew songs (unfortunately, a Hebrew-only site).

At first sight, a veeeeery WaltDisney-esque Song of the Grape Pickers, 1955. The analogy with Snow White’s Hi-Ho holds only insofar as one begins taking into account the real agricultural achievements of the State of Israel, and, even more importantly from our perspective, the role of the early pioneers (chalutzim) and their lives in the Jewish agricultural communes (kibbutzim) in shaping national culture in Israel. Music, and song, and dance, played a central role in all this. We’ll have a week to discuss it. And a whole semester to look at the way in which music relates to, describes, and challenges, the evolving notions of “Land of Israel” (eretz yisrael).

The mother of all Israeli songs (SLI, or “Songs of the Land of Israel), with hauntingly beautiful lyrics (by Naomi Shemer) and an interesting story, to be explored in detail later (the melody is apparently not original; the song itself came to define the Six Day War of 1967, among other things). A very important aspect of this song is that it does embody, in its own 1960’s folk-music way, the multi-millenary Jewish longing for Zion (Jerusalem). In this course, we are devoting a week to this topic, as expressed through poetry and song throughout the Jewish Diaspora for centuries.

The Nachal army ensemble, 1967: a deconstructionist’s dream. Also, a nod at the role of the army in shaping national and musical culture. (A lot) More on this to come.

Idan Reichel, the star of many Jewish organization-sponsored events in North America and beyond; and a true game-changer in the “world music” circuit. This song, which quotes Psalm 130 (mi-ma’amaqim, also known in its Latin incipit, De profundis, or “from the depths, I called you, god”), mixes world music styles, ethnic (mostly, African) sounds and languages, with a Biblical theme.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), conducted by Zubin Mehta, performs Israel’s National Anthem (Hatikvah, “The hope”) on top of Masada, the site of a famous and tragic battle between the Jews and the Roman army in ancient Palestine, in a concert held in 1988. The IPO is but one examples of the building of musical institutions (orchestras, academies, broadcasting stations, festivals, competitions, etc.) since before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, and of their role in shaping national culture. It also has an interesting connection to the San Francisco Bay Area, since the first fundraising event to establish the IPO (then called the Palestine Orchestra) was held in San Francisco in the 1930’s. (BTW, we are devoting one week of class to the many, and interesting, musical connections between Israel and the Bay Area, also with the help of an esteemed guest, Cantor Roslyn Barak, learning about her experiences  living in Israel, performing with the Israel National Opera, the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic). I chose this video excerpt for a few notable (and slightly wicked) reasons. Note how the audience sings along, and how everyone stands, including the orchestra – except for those who cannot. The violin (solo played by Ori Kam), is in itself a fundamental Jewish musical icon. However, the distortions to the sound caused by the digital transfer from a VHS tape give this recording an involuntary Jimi Hendrix quality that I could not resist to point out.

Fiddler on the Roof, in Hebrew, staged by the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. From Yiddish, to English, to Hebrew… What are “Jewish languages,” and what is their relationship with music (and sound)?

Essential. Palestinian and/or Arab-Israeli (bring on the hyphens…) rap band, DAM, singing in Hebrew and Arabic about their relationship to the Land (of Israel?). During the class, we are going to explore the role of sounds and music in defining and opposing ethnic, cultural, political, and military conflicts. We are also fortunate to be assisted in this by Professor Ben Brinner (author of Playing Across a Divide) and members of the band, Bustan, who will join the class in March.

%d bloggers like this: