Yahudice - Urban Ladino Music from Istanbul, Izmir, Thessalonica and Jerusalem
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Yahudice
Urban Ladino Music from Istanbul, Izmir, Thessalonica and Jerusalem
Kalan (www.kalan.com)

cd cover Rarely, if ever, does top class scholarship balance passion and musical mastery as this effort by Hadass Pal-Yarden. It's hardly possible to catalog it simply as a CD with detailed notes, as the booklet is a 160 page affair with the same text accurately translated in English, Turkish and Hebrew. So there's meat for the more hungry readers, but for pure musical pleasure you could disregard the apparatus entirely and just let yourself be enticed into the finely shaded but deeply felt recreation of the largely lost world of the Ladino Jewry of the Ottoman empire.

Specifically centered on urban music, the repertoire includes Romansas (narrative ballads), Kantigas (love songs), Piyutim (religious hymns) and Coplas ("social" type songs). But almost any tune is sung in different versions in order to spotlight the interaction with other musics and with the other nationalities' traditions, from Greek Rebetiko to the Bakkashot of Aleppo in today's Syria. Based on an unprecedented amount of research which covered printed or manuscript versions of texts and scores, new and archival field recordings as well as commercial recordings by Jewish, Greek and Turkish performers, the project is based on the available oral sources, but doesn't want to establish any "authentic" version of the tunes: on the contrary, they're seen as mutable, adaptable entities, in a state of permanent flow according to the social and political changes, interpreting at best that maze of reciprocal influences that covers the Mediterranean countries.

The first three songs make such an impact on the listener that it took me a long time to move along: apparently very different for theme, form and style they have a deep underlying unity.

The CD starts with the morality tale "Landariko," (listen) a Medieval French ballad which found its way to Sofia, Morocco, Istanbul and Rhodes. Hadass' voice lovingly contours the melody first in its Moroccan version, with its Andalusian colors, then in the cultured Turkish version in the Usak makam: her Istanbul ensemble, including some of the best players on the scene, brilliantly recreating the Ottoman art music style.

Very different is the atmosphere of the allusive "Mi Chika Flor," (listen) with Orhan Osman on bozouki, Baki Kemanci on violin and Stelyo Berber on vocals emphasizing the connection with Rebetiko and Greek style taverns. All the more striking the transition to the third song, the beautiful prayer "Adon Haselihot," sung in Hüzzam makam (the relevance of hearing this music from a female voice needs hardly to be mentioned). Check the effective vocal tones of the kemençe of Selim Güler in the background. If you make it to the fourth piece, a prison song, you'll hear a short but proportioned prelude by Göksel Baktagir on kanun: he's a master of the instrument and his name on a record is usually a guarantee of the highest quality. Emrullah Senguller on cello supports the voice in the Turkish classical fashion. The breathy, longing ney opens the religious song "Al Dio Alto," showing in the stately melody, ornamentation, meter and scale a distinct influence from the music of the mystic Muslim brotherhoods. Again a graceful love song follows, "Come little tease," this time from the repertoire of the hugely popular Hafiz Burhan, who recorded it in 1927, Güler singing the Turkish version. The personal involvement of the singer, a very endearing and moving feature of this Cd, is nowhere more apparent than in her modern version of "Ir Me Kero Madre a Yerushalaim," (Mother I Want to go to Jerusalem), as she writes, "all my life I have been in a state of longing for Jerusalem even though I lived there for many years."

Again a modern, "mixed" version for the popular song about King David mourning his killed son - Yurdal Tokcan's fretless guitar bringing the music straight in the middle of our own times and mournings. "Mama Yo No Tengo Visto," a plead for serenity, is now popular in Israel thanks to the version by the composer Ben-Haim, but comes from the Izmir ladino repertoire and Hadass brings it back home. "Kante Katife" shows up all over the place with versions in Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Ladino (from Sarajevo, Jerusalem, Izmir and Çanakkale). The closing triplet is as striking as the first: two duos, one with the mellow Armenian duduk and one with Amit Pal on bendir, lead to the grand finale, another rousing Greek-Balkan tune by Panayotis Tundas, where the guest musician is none other than Muammer Ketencoglu, the Turkish accordionist among the foremost specialists of the genre. Kudos to Kalan for supporting such a major endeavour and hats off to Hadass Pal-Yarden for completing it. - Francesco Martinelli

This CD is available from cdRoots


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