Monday, 5 February 2018

The Words of Love - Sephardic Songs

Sephardic music.

Is it some Jewish folk music gismo again like Klezmer; are we going to hear electric violin too?
It’s going be something different.

We must go back a bit in time to see what turned into what.

It is a relatively well-known notion; it meant the end of the Arab regime on the Iberian Peninsula; the reoccupation of Granada made way for Catholic rulers again.

The year is 1492.
Much less is said about the fact that it also meant the exodus of the Sephardi, i.e., the Jews living there. Moreover, the original aim of the dreaded Spanish Inquisition was to get rid of the Jewish population meaning murder, violent conversion and deport, practically all in one at the same time. 
Witches came only later.

The fleeing Sephardi got scattered about; a part of them could stay by converting to Catholicism they were the Marranos who secretly remained faithful to Moses.
Persecution continued in fractions up to modern times and some survivors/descendants found peace in the USA, Europe and Israel.

The Iberian origin, the long Moorish influence, the perpetual wandering and amalgamation with various peoples and the ladino (Judeo-Spanish) language supported by an intense spiritual existence resulted in a very special musical world.

Sephardic music.
Two young Portuguese musicians initiated the Noa Noa project which has become famous; it is on the lookout for the music culture of the Iberian peoples resulting in numerous exhibitions, studies and the “audible attachment”, the Noa Noa records.

I made mention of the first in this blog; it has become a cult record since then, has won all kinds of awards and the enthusiastic audience in Portugal literally bought the last piece of NoaNoa I. in the declining era of CDs. They have produced pretty many records since then, the project is going on all right.
This one is the latest, the second, utterly dedicated to Sephardic music.

The cover is beautiful and minimalist, black and white, simply perfect.
Words of love.
Nine tracks, a bit more than 30 minutes.

What is this music like?
Is it an adaptation? It is not the right expression ‘cause it doesn’t sound fine in music. It is rather a recreation. Novel or something original - it is the keyword. What a nice [Hungarian] mother tongue we have. Original, bifold right away with an opposing meta-meaning: on the one hand, it is original, going back to the origin, legacy of the ancestors, and, on the other hand, it is genuine, different from the rest and it is its true self.
The record is just like that.
Amalgamation of folk and early music? A bit yes. Only a bit for we are Hungarians and we do have loads of things, we invented almost everything in the world but we don’t have something like this.

For folk music got separated and elevated a long ago in Hungary. Adapted folk music nauseates me, I cannot stand even poor Kodály…

However, it is no longer the case here.
Old Jewish melodies, the breath of Arabic music, effects from remote lands. Those with a good ear think they can hear the traces of the treasure of Iberian melodies, even fado. For we are in Portugal.
Actually, neither of them and both of them at the same time.
For it is a novelty; so new that it seems to be completely old.

Noa Noa.
Do you remember Gauguin’s itinerary or travel diary from Tahiti? He was the one who took courage to put his paint brush down and gave up the kitschy still lives and grabbed his suitcase and left for the remote Polynesia to the coloured women.

Before you wince saying why-cannot-we-hear-the-original? bear in mind that there were no Sephardic music notes in any way preceding 1911. Something had to be conjured out of the leftover morsels.

Savall was right saying that all recent Early Music is contemporary music. Today’s musicians must say something to today’s ears lined with Mozart and Tchaikovsky and (even) Stockhausen and the House of the Rising Sun.

As a start an old lullaby.
Two things are happening. On the one hand, it halts the thump and spin; it takes us down to the depths. Perhaps it narcotises us. On the other hand, it helps us fit in the pattern, a deeper understanding. Descending, fully different rhythm, what an impossibility, perhaps we can hear the accords of Tarantella?

The instrumentation is also minimal. Chordophone players, rarely a bower, drums and rattles and there are only two players - it is an ensemble of two. Harp and colascione and there is a beautifully sounding saz, a Turkish instrument with a finely mixed, seeming rather European accord apportionment.

The drums - they are a different story. No pounding, no metronome-base. Rather, an endless fine thump like a heartbeat; it provides the fundamental existence of music. Also, it is extremely deep both vocally and metaphysically.

They render the special monotony which is the key of the whole record. For it heavily resembles heartbeat: listening carefully you will find that it is not fully regular just like the ECG curve. Part of the deviations is regular flaws, measurable, however, the other part is completely irrational; they cannot be written down by any mathematical function. It seems that living systems have this peculiar oddity.

And this, like a special cogwheel, fits in the rhythm-unconscious of those susceptible; it becomes synchronicity and behaves like a drug from this point on. That is, some will have a rage for it while some will shrug their shoulders only.

The voice is wonderful with a special gleam on top; it is a rarity in men’s voice.
It is a straight thing just like the entire record.

So, is it a skilfully intermingled composition which imports a bit of each of the concerned cultures like a recently fashionable crossover?

Or do we raise our eyebrows and are left speechless standing in front of the paintings with the naked coloured women at Gauguin’s exhibition in Paris in 1893 ?

No, things are pretty simpler right now.

We are sampling Spanish and Portuguese fabrics and cloths in a Jewish shop while sipping Arabic coffee under the patronage and legal authority of the Caliphate in Cordoba where Arabic and Jewish academics translated early philosophy and metaphysical tractates from Latin brought by one of the Spanish sovereigns from Rome.

I have been listening to this one and only record for days.

Highly, highly recommended.

Translated by Kenesei Andrea

Thank you for the images.