Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sephardi/Oriental/Middle-Eastern Songs

Posted in the Shwekey Review thread:

“... (Shwekey) has clearly demonstrated originality and talent in the songs he sings which have a Sephardic influence. So why aren't there more of these style songs? In fact, isn't Shwekey himself of Sephardic persuasion? 
Although he is overwhelmingly popular with the Yeshiva crowd (such that all of his songs instantly becoming Shabbos zemiros at certain places), I don't know why he doesn't stay closer to his roots, especially after seeing how these are typically the best songs he puts out.” Anonymous


That's a very good point. There’s no doubt that the Sephardic/Oriental/Middle-Eastern tunes are “in” today – most albums have at least one and they are constantly played at weddings. Just like Yeedle popularized the V’ato Bonim-kumzitz-style of songs, Shwekey started a new trend when he sang Ki Hatov in Shwekey 2.

The Sephardic songs we hear today are just an imitation, what I label “the Ashkenazi version” of Oriental songs. Let me explain why. Yossi Green, the most traditional composer of Chasidic music, composed Ki Hatov and Ata Shomer; In Generations of Song, Yehuda composed Ana Avda; Boruch Levine, another well known composer of Chasidic music, composed Halo Yadata for Shwekey in his latest album and even Eli Gerstner composed a few. The arrangers of these songs are the standard guys that we know Laufer, Lamm, Gerstner and others.

These musicians actually did a pretty good job so far but since they are oblivious of the complexities and subtle characteristics of this genre, which has special musical scales and unique concepts of rhythm and harmony, there’s little originality in their compositions. They might be able to compose one or two great songs, but not more than that since that’s not their musical field. That anwers “why aren't there more of these style songs?”, I think. I believe only a Sephardi composer, who grew up listening and singing Oriental songs, would be able to bring this genre to a new level.

That already happened in Israel, where Chaim Israel became incredibly popular and came up with a few hits already, like Malachim Hakdoshim (Shwekey sings it often). His secret? He composes and sings modern, well-arranged and catchy Sephardic songs to the religious public. He’s original and has made an impact already in the Sephardi music world.

After his standard releases (like Yogati, Yedid), Shwekey has been recording assorted albums like the Wedding Album and the Kumzitz Album, where he sings popular songs in a more simple production. Since Shwekey just released an album, I hereby suggest him to record the Sephardi Album, where he would sing Sephardic tunes with other prominent Sephardic singers. If you think Shwekey is the only great Sephardi singer in the US, think again. Dovid Gabay, Boruch Aboud and Ohad (I invite the readers to explain why he has such an Ashkenazi name – Moskowitz) are Sephardim and are among the best voices in Jewish Music today. An album like that would surely please the listeners, who are starving for something new, and it would bring new life to the Sephardic/Oriental/Middle-Eastern songs to come. Amen.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

never heard of boruch aboud

YK said...

Hey

Aboud released an album 2 or 3 years ago called Netzor. You're right, he's not A-list in terms of popularity, but he has a pretty good voice.

YK

Anonymous said...

How do u know ohad is sefardi

YK said...

Word of mouth, pretty much. I can't bring a proof to you tough. Again, I find it quite intriguing since his last name is Moskowitz. Maybe his mom is Sephardi, I'm currently researching this.

YK

Itzhak Schier said...

I suggested the same thing on various sites months ago re Shwekey and reiterated my suggestion after voicing my disappointment with Leshem Shomayim (more like Leshem Mammoin). There is clearly a market for such an album, and it would be different.

Boruch Aboud kind of fizzled as soon as he came out.

I guess Ohad's mother is Sephardi - he is from Belgium and a lot of Jews from Sephardi and other non-Ashkenazic origin have established themselves in both Brussels and Antwerp over the years.

YK said...

itzhak,

I guess we both agree Shwekey needs a "new factor" in his career, something that will make him move forward. A middle-eastern album would do it in my opinion too, since he would be coming back to his roots I guess.

I also found out Ohad speaks yiddish, alegedly. That, plus the Moskowitz last name should be conclusive proof that he's not sephardi.

YK

ps: did you like the flute video or you thought was beyond the scope of the blog?

Anonymous said...

I think that you've done the blog a disservice by ignoring the real root cause of why there isn't more sephardi music. The fact is that there is a submersive element of bigotry against sephardic culture in the United States, the source of most of the jewish popular music of today. Simply put, if Shwekey would publicize the fact that he is sephardi (like use his last name, for instance) he would never have achieved the popularity he has due to the bias that many in the ashkenazic communities unfortunately have.
This is the reason why almost all the sephardi singers don't orient themselves as such. Its disheartening that the yeshiva community wouldn't accept his music based on its inherent quality, but thats just the way it is. If you've noticed, only after he's achieved some level of a fan base is he experimenting with throwing a sephardi song here or there on his album.
As R' Beryl Wein says so pithily - "The jews have always been a fractious people."

YK said...

anonymjous,

I purpously didn't get into your point, since altough I think it's a valid one, it goes astray from the scope of this blog - jewish music, opposed to societal issues like the one you mentioned.

But I do appreciate your input, since it adds a lot to our discussion here.

YK

jason said...

i found this on very cool sephardi songs: www.desiretoshare.com/music

sammy24 said...

yk, i like your idea for a sephardi album, but like u say, it really has to be done right-- listen to gad elbaz, esp. his album light at the end of the tunnel, some good sephardi stuff which maintains a jewish feel but yet doesn't sound like typical ashkenazi music doing a sephardi song.

Also, shwekey's just got to get back that emotion that was on his first album. ppl. forget, with time, but there is a reason that album was so big, and not just his voice. That's all music is, even at its most complex, just evokes emotions in its listeners(or it should anyway and if it doesn't there's a problem-- happy, sad, funny, relaxed, want to dance-- something.)

YK said...

jason,

thanks for the link, it's a good website indeed. And I like the song they play when you enter the site. It's in Spanish tough.. Is that Gad Elbaz?

YK

YK said...

sammy24

People tell me Elbaz is really good, but I haven't heard him yet. I heard Chaim Israel, who's has some interesting music. It seems you like alternative JM a lot (Elbaz + Kol Achai)! You will probably like Madregot's first album (it's hard to find it in the US - they are israeli). Their first album is superb, exceptional, specially to people who enjoy alternative stuff. It's came out a while ago.

YK

Anonymous said...

Shwekey doesn't produce an album like that cos they're his worst songs. he still sounds awesome singing them cos hes the best but sephardi songs in general sound aweful. his token sephardi song on each album has consistently been the low point of the album!!

YK said...

i strongly disagree
Shwekey's Sephardi songs have been huge hits in the past years, so much so that every album has a song in that style today - and Shwekey started the trend.

YK

Ha-historion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ha-historion said...

I know the Shwekey family well-they are amazing people.
He is Sephardic on his father's side and Ashkenazic on his maternal side. He grew up in overwhelmingly Ashkenazic Lakewood, attended Ashkenazic Yeshivot etc. I don't think his 'sephardiness' is a handicap- as someone here has pointed out. If anything it enhances him and makes him perhaps more exotic to the Yeshiva crowd accustomed to the same old rehashed material (I don't hide the fact that I am not a huge fan of the contemporary frum music scene).

YK said...

He might be Sephardi in blood, but he's quite Ashkenaz in everything else. He's reportedly not a good Sephardi chazan because doesn't know to sing like Sephardim too well.

He learnt in Lakewood, which might explain why he became so ashkenaz. As I pointed out in my response to your comment in the other post, the yeshivish trend caused that... (sounds like conspiracy theory, i know)

YK

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUDg-cVGWBU