Guy Mendilow Ensemble
 
 
 
 
 

Listening to Lost Voices

Field Recordings and Interpretations by Modern Artists

 
Teutan+2.jpg
 

Introduction

Today, we tend to hear Sephardic songs as interpreted by commercial artists who replace cultural identity markers with their own musical backgrounds. This does not make the music any less beautiful, but it is significant. 

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

How would such songs have sounded in early 20th century in communities of the former Ottoman Empire?

Sephardic song falls into several categories. Represented here is a tiny sliver of the domain of women's songs, which is often described under the headings of Cantigas (songs of lifecycle celebrations like weddings, songs of mourning, courtship, etc) or topical songs (e.g. love, unrequited love, etc)

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

or Romanzas, ballads with 16 or 12 syllables per line  and an assonant rhyme scheme, often dealing with historical themes (e.g. wars, kings, queens, etc)

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

It's important to note that these songs were sung in the home, or in communal celebrations. They were typically unaccompanied except perhaps a drum, and were intended neither for a stage nor for commercial recordings.

It's likewise significant that these songs have a history of adaptation, shifting both with individual artists' choices (e.g. substituting lyrics, ornaments and melodies) as well as being influenced by popular trends.

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
Tetuan+Morocco.jpeg
 

Early Commercial Recordings

In 1906, the Odeon record company began producing commercial recordings of Sephardic songs. In contrast to the ways these songs would have been sung in more traditional contexts, these were recorded by professional musicians and were accompanied. They frequently featured men singing what would have typically been considered women's songs, and featured the topical Cantigas, to the exclusion of the longer Romanzas, which were too long for commercial purposes and the men's domain of moral/religious songs. 

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

With the success of commercial recordings, artists continued to record Sephardic songs. Many of these early artists had grown up with these songs. Despite their polished, professional arrangements, they preserved much of the timbre, ornamentation and style from their native communities.

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

or Romanzas, ballads with 16 or 12 syllables per line  and an assonant rhyme scheme, often dealing with historical themes (e.g. wars, kings, queens, etc)

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

Growing Up in Jerusalem

My boyhood in Jerusalem was touched by two ends of the spectrum of Sephardi live in Israel at the time.
On the one hand, I walked to school through working class neighborhoods of immigrants from communities in the former Ottoman Empire, and sometimes heard women singing from the insides of houses.

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more

On the other hand, in the home, I sometimes heard recordings from a social elite that prided itself on direct lineage from Spain extending centuries, and represented by such icons as Yoram Gaon or political leaders like Yitzchak Navon.

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
 
 
GME+Swatch19.jpg
Top