Friday, October 22, 2010

Cafe Noah - Aljazeera writes about Jewish music

So this is a first. I get ideas for blog posts from a lot of different's comes from an article and video on the English website of Aljazeera, the Arabic language news network. The article and video are part of Aljazeera's "Witnesss" television program which (if I undrstand correctly) produces short tv length bio-pics of interesting Arabs around the word. It's most recent episode is "Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel. A reminiscence of a by-gone era for a group of Jewish Arab musicians and their struggle to keep their music alive."

Cafe Noah is a 1996 documentary by Israeli film maker Duki Dror. It's available through Amazon (I just ordered a copy) in a double set with Dror's film Taqasim, which was "shot in the streets of Cairo, is a voyage to the hidden treasures of Arabic music and to the participation of Jewish musicians." The Amazon description of Cafe Noah isn't as heavy handed as Aljazeera's and doesn't talk about the Jewish Arab musician's "cultural exile," instead describing Cafe Noah as "the Jewish musicians from Baghdad and Cairo have immigrated to Israel. They were masters in Arabic music, but their music was not valued in the new homeland." But the idea is the same. Israel in the 1950's and 1960's valued European influences over Arab and home-grown pioneer songs over either Ashkenazi or Jewish-Arab (mizrachi) folk music. It wasn't until the rise of pop Mizrachi music (described as "Central Bus Station Music" in Amy Horowitz's excellent book "Mediterranean Israel Music") that Jewish music with Arabic origins began to play a more prominent role in the Israeli music scene.

Here's the full Algazeera video. It paints a fascinating picture of the end of an era of Jewish Arab music.

Cafe Noah: Cultural exile in Israel

It's important to note, though, that while it was an end of an era the resurgence of Mizrachi music in the pop arena has helped a resurgence of interest in Mizrachi music in other areas. Since 2000 Israel has hosted the International Oud Festival and a wide variety of Israeli musicians ranging from traditional folk to progressive metal bands have explored the sound.

As an added treat, Aljazeera put a video up on YouTube of a performance of "The Cafe Noah band" including Abraham Slaman (Kanun), Albert Elias (Flute), Felix Mizrachi (violin), Ezra Barhum (Oud).

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