Mystic Sephardic Chants
L'Empreinte Digitale

cd cover With the emigration of the Sephardic North African Jewish community to Israel, France and Canada in the 1960s, the future of the musical heritage of Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian Jewry became problematic. This rich Sephardic music is based on the Andalusian (Moorish Spain) musical tradition but is dominated by elements of classical Ottoman (Turkish) music and popular Arabic music.

A significant part of this heritage is liturgical music, consisting of the synagogue service and piyyutim (religious poems). According to the North African Jewish religious tradition, the role of music was to protect the integrity of the faith. Using Arabic melodies as vessels was considered kosher as long as the vessels were filled with Jewish content. Pierre-Luc Ben Soussan, who currently resides in France, has worked to preserve this rich heritage. Ben Soussan formed The Naguila Ensemble (violin, oud and percussion) to collect and perform this repertoire. On this CD, he enlisted the considerable vocal talents of Andre Taieb, hazan (liturgical singer) of the Montpellier synagogue in Paris, to perform the piyyutim and Sabbath songs that make up the album.

This is a first-rate example of the Moroccan tradition. Songs like "Samai al Bayati/Lekha Dodi" and "Lakel Acher Shabbat" are models of classical Arabic musical maqams (modes). Both these selections are performed in the Bayati mode from the Ottoman Sephardic tradition (16th-17th century). The song "Ki Echmera Shabbat" is an example of a classical mode that has entered the popular domain. The song, which describes the rituals and joys of the Sabbath celebration, was actually a hit song in the Israeli Mizrachi community a decade ago performed by the Israeli group Daklon. There are also several excellent example of Sephardic cantillation, musical improvisation of religious text by Hazan Taieb. Particularly outstanding is his rendition of "La Chira."

This CD is a "must buy" for all those who love Jewish music, for those who wish to learn about more about the Moroccan Jewish culture, and for those who already love Moroccan Jewish music through exposure to Emil Zrihan or Haim Louk.- Aaron Howard

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