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Orchestre Andalous D'Israel
Maghreb I

Tarab Ensemble and Yair Dalal
both titles Magda (

cd cover In Israel, "ethnic music" is a catchall category for "Oriental" styles or roots and fusion music of Jews from Arab, North African and the Trans-Caucasus areas.

On the surface, the term "ethnic music" appears to be an Israeli oxymoron. The nation's Jews hail from nearly 100 nations. But beginning in the 1930s, the quest for an Israeli national musical style largely rejected Middle Eastern musical elements. Oriental music was marginalized despite the fact that a majority of Israelis come from Arab/Moslem nations. Since the late 1970s, the Israeli music audience has fragmented into groups of different ages and countries of origin. The fact is most young Israelis are fiercely Western (and particularly American) in their musical tastes. But, at the same time, the development of a new Israeli culture has also allowed for the social and cultural revival of various roots music genres that look to their countries of origin.

There has always been a minority audience for hard core "Oriental" or "Mizrachi" music in Israel. In the 60's, Oriental music was almost underground, confined to independent label and bootleg cassettes sold in the outdoor markets around urban bus stations. Later in the 70s and 80s, Oriental artists like Zohar Argov and Chaim Moshe broke through to theIsraeli mainstream. They paved the way for an explosion of Israeli "ethnic" styles in the 90s. Artists like Zehava Ben sing in Arabic as well as Hebrew. Yair Dalal works at an Arab-Hebrew musical fusion. The East-West Ensemble incorporates the music of Central Asia into their world fusion. At this moment, the most exciting musical in Israel is coming from the tiny Magda label, an independent company that is home to many of the innovative ethnic music leaders.

One recent release is The Orchestre Andalou D'Israel's Maghreb I. Their repertoire is the traditional music of North African Jewry, particularly that of Morocco. Moroccan Jews represent the single largest ethnic group in Israel. The music they share with the Arab people is a living remnant of the Andalusian tradition dating back to the 15th century or earlier. While there have been changes in this repertory over the centuries, it remains remarkably intact. The Moroccan Jewish community had a tradition of incorporating many of the melodies into Jewish liturgy and holiday celebrations. An example on this CD is "Elkoudam Eljdid," a compilation of five Andalusian nuba used during the Passover Seder (the table holiday celebration).

This is a full orchestra modeled on the traditional Arab song ensembles of the 20th century. Interestingly, most of the orchestra's 11 violinists, 2 violists and 3 cellists are recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Their arrival facilitated the creation of a large string section which musical director Dr. Avi Eilam Amzallag utilizes to create the lush melodies that underscore the six tracks on the album.

"Ya rayah"
The music, like most Arab music, centers on the singer. On this album we have two vocalists, Israeli Emil Zrihan and Moroccan Abedsalam Safiani. Zrihan, a professor hazan (cantor or religious singer), is simply amazing on "Ya Rayah," a collection of three travel songs. He also duets with Safiani on "Elkoudam Eljdid." Safiani is certainly no slacker. He turns in an outstanding performance on the popular song "Bint Bladi" (which keen ears may recognize from a reworked version by Radio Tarifa). This CD will have instant appeal to all those who like classical Arabic music. Note that there are many styles of Moroccan Jewish music. This is one example of the large diversity that is beginning to be explored.

cd cover Yair Dalal is one of the most interesting personalities on the Israeli music scene. Composer, violin and oud player and a relentless advocate of efforts to bring Arab and Jewish peoples together, Dalal has put together several projects including the Al Ol Ensemble and SheshBesh. On Azame, Dalal and two Israeli percussionists play with the Tarab Ensemble, a group of musicians from the Azame Bedouin tribe. The principle instruments used by the Tarab Ensemble include oud, simsimyya (a six-string lyre that sounds like someone plucking the strings inside a toy piano) rababa (an ancient single-stringed instrument played with a bow), flute, violin, and jurun (coffee grinder). According to the CD liner notes, vocalist Atiya Shalibi sang the words for most of the songs from a magazine. So much for ancient tradition handed down orally from generation to generation!

Tracks like "Shadi," an instrumental tune for flute, drums and jurun, and "Ya Tarushi" and "Bint el Malouk" vocal and simsimyya improvisations, are strong examples of a rural folk tradition that is very different than most of the urban popular Arabic music one is used to hearing on the radio or recordings. "Abu Youssef," a brief vocal and rababa track, has a particularly ancient and primitive feel to it. It harks back to a time when music was nothing more than a lone singer accompanied by the buzz from a single-string skin-covered resonator box.

"Ala Delaounna" begins with an extended percussion improvisation until Dalal comes in on oud and is joined by Mohammad Abu Agag on second oud, vocals, rababa and someone on hand clapping. Since the entire session was recorded on location in the Negev Desert inside a large tent, the project, particularly on tunes like "Ala Delaounna" have a real spontaneous feel. The centerpiece of the album is an original twelve minute Hebrew tune, "Bemasa Shelo Nigmar" (Whirlwind or literally in Hebrew "wind that doesn't end"). The song is a modern example of the travel song tradition on which Dalal sings "On the journey that never ends/yes and no like waves/arriving and not arriving/and where am I"? In music, Dalal suggests, there is neither past nor future, only now. And it's in the "now" that the space exists for people to come together. It's a wonderful metaphor for the music Yair Dalal creates. Obviously the music on this world music fusion lies outside the category of "Oriental" music; it lies outside nearly every category, but is certainly worthy of your attention. - Aaron Howard

Audio: Israeli Andalusian Orchestra "Ya rayah" (excerpt)
©2000 Magda, Israel, used by permission

Photo: ©2000 Sitoh

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