To speakers of Persian, Hebrew and Arabic, “Divahn” refers to a collection of songs or poetry. To seekers of art forms that celebrate the common ground between Jewish and Muslim cultures, the name is that of an all-female music ensemble whose latest release seeks to be a light in the darkness of divisions, be they religious, political or personal.
Shalhevet shines accordingly, featuring a selection of traditional Jewish songs with linguistic, instrumental, tonal and topical additions culled from the Arabic (particularly Persian) world. Founding member Galeet Dardashti, who handles lead vocals, mountain dulcimer and a good portion of the arrangements, formed the band while studying anthropology in Austin, Texas, and the expertise of the quintet is a testament to her vision. There’s a centuries–old mix of sacred and secular on the disc that’s just as keenly felt as the Judeo/Arab meld that has long promoted harmony between their ideologies.
Opening track “Ya’alah Ya’alah” demonstrates this to an ample degree in addition to making it clear that the music throughout the disc, while often coming from a place of syncretic reverence, has no intention of being sedate. The combination of Sejal Kukadia on tabla and Elizabeth Pupo-Walker on congas and cajon makes for a foundation of darting polyrhythms that alone could get entire congregations of synagogues and mosques itching to dance. Toss in Eleanor Norton’s cello, Megan Gould’s violin, viola and kemanche and several guest players adding string and percussion sounds and you’ve got an unbeatable show of spiritual girl power that’ll connect your beating heart to your swaying hips for a glorious 40 minutes. All of the woman also sing, bringing a united front of vocals to match the proficiency of their playing.
While the roots of the music go as far back as the 11th century, it resounds in the present by focusing on messages of shared perspective. This is most evident on “Banu Choshech,” which references the injunction from Leviticus to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Never a bad idea, and the propulsive Middle Eastern sounds on this very fine album feel like they could reduce today’s us-versus-them mentalities into meaningless dust, thanks to the inspiration of a loving Creator who, let’s hope, wouldn’t have it any other way.