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Mara Aranda
Sefarad en el corazón de Marruecos

Artist release (
Review by Tyran Grillo

Listen "Búcar sobre Valencia"

In the hands of skilled interpreters, Sephardic music has a way of transporting not the listener to the past but the past to the listener. Mara Aranda is one such interpreter. Sefarad en el corazón de Marruecos is her latest excursion into romances of the Sephardim, and finds the Valencia-born singer deepening her love of this repertoire, focusing on the Jewish diaspora in northern Africa by way of Spain. Understanding the complex history of these itinerant exchanges and motivic blending is reason enough to own a physical copy of this album, the booklet of which contains an extensive essay by medieval historian José Hinojosa Montalvo, and informative writings by others.

"El marido carpintero"

"Muerte que a todos convidas"

Suffice it to say that the mythos of Sephardic song, drawing from multiple sources as it did, is alive and well in the artful arrangements of Aranda and her ensemble. Fans of Greek singer Savina Yannatou will have no trouble in connecting the dots here (Aranda herself, in fact, spent time living in Thessaloniki), as songs of matrimony, determined women, and mortality reveal as many color combinations as there are words to describe them. Of the first category, “El marido carpintero” (A carpenter as a husband) and “Decilde a mi amor” (Tell my beloved) reveal common themes of new love through subtle variations of wit. Of the second category, “Una hija tiene el rey” (The king has one daughter) tells of a maiden vowing to rescue her beloved from the ravages of war, while “Sol 'la Saqida'” (Sol the Saint) conveys the true story of Sol Hachuel, a Jewish woman beheaded, for not converting to Islam, by the Moroccan sultan. Of the third category, “Muerte que a todos convidas” (Death who comes for all of us) depicts a knight who argues with Death but must, in the end, bid farewell to his family. The song was sung by Sephardic women as a funereal elegy and is accordingly performed here a cappella.

Listen "El ignorante afortunado"

The album's apex is surely “Búcar sobre Valencia” (Búcar comes to relieve Valencia). The romance on which this song is based enjoyed popularity from Portugal to Andalusia and chronicles the shuffling of Valencia between the hands of Moors and Christians. Achieving an epic sensibility with minimal instruments, it underscores the fact that such songs are, in addition to their melodic virtues, a discreet form of history. Even at their bawdiest, as in “El ignorante afortunado” (The lucky ignorant), they seem to emote from a place of genuine record and, like the concluding “Nanas marroquíes” (Morrocan lullabies), uphold the human voice as the primary instrument to carry its torch.

Aranda's meticulous research and knowledge show in every arrangement, and her chosen accompanists each have their own dramatic qualities. Like actors on a theatrical stage, they do more than describe; they embody. Where a qanun sounds like feet on cobblestone, and flutes come to be associated with mourning and spiritual transfiguration, a resonant line from a treble viol may stretch like the thread of a protagonist's conviction into fateful distance, while percussive touches add tension to tragedy. Everything sounds as it should be. - Tyran Grillo


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