The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Sephardic Culture Takes On the Club Scene

By Mordechai Shinefield

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy PunkJews
Y-Love performs at the opening night of the 2010 Sephardic Music Festival.

When Erez Safar started the Sephardic Music Festival in 2005, he was thinking about the future of Sephardic music. Having spent the last decade watching klezmer explode in popularity among artists like the avant-garde composer John Zorn and the Brooklyn punk band Golem, Safar realized klezmer was moving into a brave new future and was leaving its Sephardic counterparts behind. If the annual festival is Safar’s response to that problem, “Sephardic Music Festival Vol. 1,” is the permanent document illuminating a musical movement at a moment of uncertain transformation.

“Klezmer had this hip factor, but that never happened to Sephardic music. So the idea was to have cool different styled Sephardic music,” Safar told the Forward. The 18-track compilation reads like a who’s who of Jewish Middle Eastern sounds. Movement names like Moshav Band, Sarah Aroeste, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Jon Madof and Galeet Dardashti pepper the tracks alongside less familiar figures. The most startling inclusion is a six-minute opener by rock-reggae Hasid Matisyahu. On the track, Matisyahu mostly discards the twisting breathless vocals he built his career on, in favor of softly spoken words over a funky electronic maqam beat. His inclusion indicates the scope of Safar’s Sephardic dream: a pan-ethnic space that draws musically on places as diverse as Morocco and Ibiza.

Listen to Matisyahu’s ‘Two Child One Drop’:

The compilation does not completely discard traditional sounds in favor of cosmopolitan fusion. Though he acknowledges it has a more modern beat, Safar points out the traditional Moroccan prayer service melody at the heart of Benyamin Brody, Diwon & Dugans’ concluding track, “Yehi Razton.” Still, most tracks pay only lip service to any kind of historical tradition and are much more concerned about looking forward. Electro Morocco’s “Joe Pill” features a pop ready female vocalist and a beat more aligned with hip-hop than Mizrahi music. Its one concession to the project, a Dick Dale-style Middle East riff, wouldn’t sound out of place on top 40 radio stations next to Far East Movement or the Black Eyed Peas.

Listen to Benyamin Brody’s ‘Yehi Ratzon’:

As usual, Y-Love steals the show when he guest verses on Brody’s “Yalda Metuka,” spitting about half a dozen lines amidst Mizrachi pop (familiar dance choruses punctuated by balladic verses). “Vodka with a red bull / Heart got the wings on it,” he raps. Elsewhere on the album Galeet Dardashti’s opening track from her last album, “The Naming,” is remixed by DJ Vanjee. A pensive melancholic track becomes a club banger by the two-minute mark.

The compilation hems to the contemporary hip-hop, electronica and club music vernacular for a variety of reasons. Beyond trying to acquire a large pop audience, Safar recognizes that exclusively traditional music has had its day in the sun. “Sephardic music was mature and traditional and your parents listened to it, but it’s boring,” he said. His vision for the Sephardic Music Festival is one where he could hand the compilation to a figure like Diplo, a producer who has worked with transnational stars like M.I.A. and Major Lazer and, as Safar describes it, “with no music reference at all he’ll still dig it straight on the music vibe.”

It doesn’t seem like Diplo has heard the music yet and despite favorable coverage the Sephardic Music Festival has yet to take over the world. Still, Safar is hopeful that modern Sephardic music can acquire the cache klezmer has enjoyed for the past few decades. “Maybe what klezmer is to jazz Sephardic is to hip-hop,” he considers. It’s not hard to imagine a number of these tracks on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe he’s on to something.

Watch Galeet Dardashti perform at the 2009 Sephardic Music Festival:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sephardic Music, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sarah Aroeste, Music, Moshav Band, Mordechai Shinefield, Matisyahu, Major Lazer, M.I.A., Jon Madof, John Zorn, Golem, Galeet Dardashti, Far East Movement, Erez Safar, Electro Morocco, Diwon and Dugans, Diplo, Dick Dale, DJ Vanjee, Black Eyed Peas, Sephardic Music Festival, Benyamin Brody, Shemspeed, Y-Love

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.