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Sepharad - Songs of the Spanish Jews / Sarband

Notes & Reviews:

These selections were recorded in Beirut, Istanbul and Munich.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella not only sent Columbus off on his merry way; they also finished the project of taking Spain back from the Muslims (the "Moors"), whom they promptly evicted from the Iberian peninsula, along with any Jews who would not convert. Many of these Jews went east to other Muslim lands, some ending up in the Balkans and in what is now Turkey. The music of these Sephardic Jews is the subject of this engaging disc by Ensemble Sarband, an international ensemble from Turkey, Lebanon, Germany, and England, but led by a Bulgarian.

The instruments will be well-known to those familiar with Middle Eastern or Renaissance music: the oud (Arabic lute), kanun (zither), kemenge (violin), ney (flute), and percussion. The instruments are very clearly recorded, but the two female vocalists are so far forward in the mix that they sometimes sound a bit shrill. Still, it's fun to listen to the ensemble build up to a frenzy in the Bosnian piece "Morikos." Ostensibly a lullaby, this song is sure to have your baby up all night. The next track, "Nani, Nani," is much more credible as a lullaby with one of the female vocalists (they aren't distinguished in the notes) singing a cappella for the first four of the song's six minutes, until she is joined by another voice in one of those beautiful, droning harmonies found in traditional Jewish music (distinguishing it from Islamic music, which makes no use of harmony). The real party song on this album, however, is "Abenamar." With its wailing voices and fiddle, bold kanun, and stomping percussion, it can hold its own against any celebratory song from any culture. In it can be heard the roots of klezmer.

This album comes out of the classical performance tradition, not from folk or "world music"; it is not for everyone. However, if you are interested in the history of Jewish music or if you like the traditional music of the Middle East or Western music from the Renaissance, this album will be a good addition to your collection. ~ Kurt Keefner


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