Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Performing Piyyutim

Last Thursday, WNYC's NEXT New York Conversation series put on a fascinating lecture and concert titled "Performing Piyyutim: Sephardic Music, Poetry and Spirituality." I missed the webcast. I was at the Detroit JCC's Stephen Gottlieb Music Fest that night. Fortunately for me and the rest of us, WNYC put the webcast up for viewing. I knew that ethnographer Samuel Thomas and his group Asefa was performing (see my previous post) but forgot that Asefa included the amazing Yoshi Fructer, who graced the Gottlieb Music Fest stage the previous week with his amazing avant-garde jazz/rock group Pitom. In addition to Thomas and Fructer, the evening included the Moroccan born Rabbi Gad Bouskila of Congregation Netivot Israel, Brooklyn and Rabbi Joseph Dweck of Congregation Shaare Shalom, Brooklyn. This is a must listen, folks.

Here is WNYC's description of the event.
"Today in Brooklyn, where disparate Jewish groups from the Middle East are engaging one another in an unprecedented way, the piyyut – the Hebrew term for a sacred poem – serves as an expression of a specific type of Jewish identity. Spanning five centuries since the expulsion from Spain in 1492, these piyyutim express unique conceptions of the relationship between humanity and the Divine and serve as the backbone of the quasi-classical musical traditions of different Sephardic immigrant groups who now call New York home.

Following an introductory discussion, Thomas, accompanied by his ensemble Asefa and other traditional musicians, will present a lively musical performance of Sephardic piyyutim. Intertwining musical performance with discussion, Syrian Rabbi Joseph Dweck and Moroccan Rabbi Gad Bouskila will illuminate how the intersection of Kabbalistic and Sufist thought in Sephardic cultural history inspired piyyutim."

Finally, three last shout outs... First, Asefa just released their second album, Resonance. The samples from the website are gorgeous. Check it out.

Second, Pesach is coming. I recently ran across a wonderful CD of Sephardic Pesach music recorded by the folks at B'nai Jeshurn, NYC.

Third, during the performance / lecture Samuel Thomas talked about contrafactum music, where existing music is re-purposed with new lyrics. The always excellent "On the Mainline" blog recently wrote a post on this topic titled "The original Shlock Rock: R. Yisrael Najara's 16th century religious Hebrew poetry set to Middle Eastern rock music."


Ilan said...

In this broad context: the poetry of Shlomo Ibn Gabirol come alive in the notable album "Adumei Ha'Sfatot" by Berry Sakharof and Rea Mochi'ach.

Jack said...

Ilan, thanks for the pointer.

Folks.. Berry Sakharof is a famous Israeli rock star. Ilan is talking about a recent album of his where he sets 11th century Spanish Jewish poetry to rock music. See Medieval Hebrew Poetry Goes Rock! Stanford Lively Arts and the Israel Center present a unique concert for more info.

Ilan said...

Two additional and notable mentions in this context:
1. Rabbi Yehuda Halevy sung by ETTI ANKRI and,

2. The Diwan Project - including Piyyutim by R' Avraham Ibn Ezra; R' Israel Najara and R' Shalom Shabbazi.

A word about the "context". The immediate reference is, naturally to the original posting (Performing Piyyutim), but these Israeli albums (along with that of Sakharof's Adumei HaSfatot) represent a trend within a bigger picture: a socio-cultural transition in Israeli society. It is skillfully depicted in Yair Sheleg's book "The Jewish Renaissance in Israeli Society - The Emergence of a New Jew". A move towards reconnecting with our Jewish heritage not (necessarily) via the Halakhic path. This trend is manifested also in music where non religious (in the Halakhic sense) artists want to modernize old Jewish poetry. See Shuly Rand, Kobi Oz (two recent Mizmorim albums), Yonatan Raz'el, Ehud Banai, Evyatar Banai and many more. By the way I better like the Hebrew title of Sheleg's book: "From Old Hebrew(man) to a New Jew". This is a reference to the Zionist ideal of creating a new Hebrewman that will "replace" the old Shtetl Jew.

Jack said...

Ilan.. thanks for the additional pointers.

I'm familiar with Kobi Oz's work but wasn't aware of this larger trend. I'll check out the books and the artists you mentioned.

By the way...are you the Ilan who does the Jaffa Jive show? If so drop me an email, we should meet up some time. Either way, it's nice to meet you and thanks for the pointers.