Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shana Tova

I wish a great new year to all of you and may we have only simchas and good fortune this coming year.

I had the privilege of spending this past shabbos in Tzfat - last time I was there I was 10 or so years old. One of the highlights of the city is the famous Carlebach Shul, Beirav. I couldn't make my own recording of the Havadala, but I found this one in youtube.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shema Yisrael - Church Version

I know I'm posting too many videos, but I couldn't let this one out.

In Portugal, children singing Shema Yisrael in a Baptist Church. If you're afraid this is a conspiracy against Jews since you can't understand the words of the Priest, it is not. He's actually saying a beautiful speech, praising the Jewish People and how the two religions must be tolerant with each other - that's why he taught them Shema Yisrael. Remarkable.

And even though I've lashed against boys choirs recently, this is actually the correct way of using child choirs - no out-of-range notes, just their pure voices without any screechiness. Perhaps we can learn a bit from them.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

EXCLUSIVE #3: Selichos with Naftali Hershtik and Eli Yaffe's Choir

This past Motze Shabbos The Jerusalem Great Synagogue held a special Selichos service that took over 2 hours, and the Shul was absolutely packed. Although I really hope this is not true, the rumor goes that Hershtik will be retiring after the High Holidays so this was no ordinary event. Hershtik is undisputedly one of the greatest Chazzanim the world has seen in the past three decades and although he hasn't become as popular as Helfgot, there's a lot to like about his voice. Experience, good nusach and pleasant voice timber are his biggest assets, not to mention his amazing falsettos.

In addition, Eli Yaffe did an amazing job directing the choir. He is second to none when it comes to vocal arrangements. Forget about the choirs you hear in Jewish Music albums - this is the real deal. The choir is pleasant, in tune and always surprising.

I will be posting more videos soon; in this one you can hear the opening song "Ashrei". There isn't anything out of this world in this clip, so those of you who think Chazzanus is boring will not be able to enjoy too much of it. But keep in mind that this is a Selichos service and as such it must be solemn and traditional, leaving little room for geshmack moves.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gad Elbaz, a Star on the Rise

The Jerusalem Post has a very long article on Gad Elbaz, highlighting his major concert that took place recently in Ceasarea, one of the most posh theater's in Israel.

It's a good article and it gives you an inside look in Elbaz's music and career. I only heard a handful songs from him, but Elbaz is a Mizrachi singer who is trying to go more mainstream, with very modern clips and songs with a broad appeal. Here is one of his clips:

Elbaz was in the last Chabad Telethon, and after reading this article I understand why. The man behind his career is a Shlomo Fellig, a Chabad businessman from Florida, who finances and manages everything Elbaz does, and I guess he used his connections to bring Elbaz to the Telethon. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Chabadniks just rule JM, second to none, and Mendy Peilin, also Chabad has a clip of the song featured in the Telethon, Children's World.

Gad Elbaz has an excellent voice and range, somewhat similar to Ricky Martin in the way he sings and dances, and although he has a very distinctive Mizrachi singing style at times he sounds truly like a pop-star. Just if you are wondering, he is not Yeshivish at all (not even dressing in the JM's traditional black and white uniform) and doesn't consider himself to be a "Haredi" singer - he caters a completely different crowd (for this reason the thoughts of the "Guardians of Sanctity and Education", or the Jewish Taliban-like watchdogs, are not relevant).

In the other hand, this article exaggerates the role of Elbaz and idolizes him too much, portraying Elbaz like the savior of our fractured generation or something like that - I really suspect this article was "by request", if you know what I mean. It remains to be seen if he will really become a star - he is not yet. But I agree he is on the rise, that's for sure.

The Cesarea concert was a turning point in Elbaz's career. For the first time, one of Israel's coolest concert floors had a mehitza and the guest singers were top-seeded: my man Yishai Lapidot, Amiran Dvir, Ovadia Chamama, Shlomi Shabat and more. Don't miss this great video report below, featuring scenes of the concert and backstage action. I wish I had to gone to this concert, as I really want to know Elbaz's music a little better, and although the concert wasn't sold out - I guess Cesarea is a "bit out-of-town" - this concert was unique, proving that some JM singers can go more mainstream and put together modern and cool concerts.

Rudy Perez, who composed songs for Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Julio and Enrico Inglesias, is now producing Elbaz's album, so we are talking about serious stuff here. And I'm really glad to see a JM singer doing cool clips, great concerts and of course, original and new music.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quotes on the Music Ban

About the recent outrage over the Bnei brak-based Jewish Music "Police", two quotes:

"We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats. We haredim want to protect ourselves from what we see as negative foreign influences", Mordechai Bloi

"I implore the rabbinical leaders to ban Pizza and Sushi and all other similarly foreign foods from our menus. We are a holy people and we should therefore only digest Cholent and Gefilte fish. One minute. These foods also have foreign origins. Ok. Lets only permit water. No, water may have bugs. Uhm....any ideas?", Jason

This seems to be the old Jews-struggling-to-live-outside-of-the-guetto story. Bnei-brak is one of the last standing guettos of the world, and they will fight as hard as they can, but they will eventually be forced to find other ways to deal with the flat world. Thank G-d we have guys like Yossi Green, Lipa, Shuli Rand and Chaim Israel out there. Hang on guys!

In the Name of G-d

One of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of saying G-d's name in vain, and after watching this video (see 1:48, whe they say E-L) I realized there are two approaches to this prohibition when it comes to music. All Yeshivish singers I know refrain from mentioning the Shem Hash-m, using the permissible "Hash-m" instead. That includes Shwekey, Lipa, MBD and so on.

On the other hand, many Israeli singers - Chaim Israel and Gad Elbaz for example - sing the Shem Hash-m frequently in their hit songs and I'm wondering what is the Halachic approach to this.

The same thing happens when people sing Shabbos Zemiros. Some are very careful not to mention the Shem when singing Tzur Mishelo or Kol Mekadesh for example, while others say the Shem Hash-m without any hesitation. Is there a difference between singing Zemiros with Shem Hash-m or singing modern-day songs with the Shem?

In my mind, there's no difference since Zemiros are no different than songs we sing today. Many of the composers of common zemiros were just good poets and not necessarily Rabbis. According to this, there's no difference between the songs of Donash Ibn Lavrat, composer of Dror Yikra, and Chaim Israel when it comes to saying the Shem Hashm.

If you look in the Zemiros it's often clear that the poets had in mind the actual Shem Hash-m, and not the substitute "Hashem". Let me bring a famous example:

צור משלו אכלנו ברכו אמוני
שבענו והותרנו כדבר יי

The rhyme אמוני/ יי only works if one mention's the actual Shem Hashm in this song. If you just read יי as being "Hash-m" the rhyme falls apart. So it's clear this song was always sung with the actual Shem Hashm.

But this is not a good Halachic point because maybe the poet was just wrong. I don't even know if he was a Rabbi. Whoever has an answer, please speak up!

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