Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Music From the Four Other Corners

Four Jewish World CDs

By Paul Wieder -- BY now, the fabric of the world's Jewish community has been folded and rolled to the point that all corners and sides touch all others. If you'd like proof, check out these recordings, hailing from four corners of the map beyond the U.S. and Israel. Each combines Jewish and local sounds to make music that is equally "here" and "there"


If you passed up on the "Chant" phenomenon a few years ago because it wasn't, well, Jewish enough, you can now make up for it. Not content to simply collect her favorite songs and repackage them as a "best of" anthology, Brazil's Fortuna has used her repertoire to bridge an ecumenical divide.

She's chosen those songs from her Sephardic folk and liturgical catalog that speak to both Jewish and Christian ideologies. Then she selected, as her backup group, a choir of Benedictine monks from the Sao Bento Monastery in her hometown, Sao Paulo. Intertwining her rich vocals with the haunting harmonies of the chorus, Fortuna creates a sound on Caelestia that is truly celestial, echoing the music of the spheres. Weaving together Ladino prayers, Mediterranean melodies, Sephardi love songs, Latin psalms, and even a Greek lullaby, these stellar voices transcend boundaries of time, space, and spirit.


The first major release from an Ethiopian Israeli musician is upon us, and it's a dizzying carnival of sound.

The performer's name is Alula. He sings like a young Harry Belafonte, he plays guitar like Paul Simon, and he already has a reputation that runs from Los Angeles to London. On Make Joy Not War, Alula brings African and reggae stylings to such standards as "Erev Shel Shoshanim," preferring songs with inclusive messages such as "Ose Shalom" and "Hine Ma Tov." Alula even adds a few similarly themed songs in his native Amharic language. One standout is the song to the sunny U.S. city Santa Monica, which recalls fellow African Youssou N'Dour's musical celebration of Tucson, Ariz.


The only thing old about this collection is the songs. Karsten Troyke is in his 30s, and the exuberance he brings to these tunes is anything but crotchety. Possessed of an engagingly gravelly voice a few octaves above Tom Waits's growl-not to mention a slight resemblance to Brad Pitt-Troyke has been pulling in audiences all over Germany with his mastery of Yiddish song. The life he breathes into them whisks out any cobwebs of nostalgia and makes them as fresh as today.





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On its generous 16 tracks, The Old Yiddish Songs runs through the gamut emotions-the pathos of a little orphan selling cigarettes on the street, the reassurance of a familiar melody, the joy of a party spinning out of control. To each song, Troyke brings an actor's touch; as they create characters and tell stories, these pieces need to be performed as much as sung. The highlight is "A Raidele Iz Di Gure Velt," which uses a sprightly music-box arrangement to match its metaphor of an up-and-down, spinning-wheel world. A glossary is provided to help translate the Yiddish, but the energy and emotion Troyke evokes is immediately grasped.


Now nearing the 10th anniversary of its release, this recording is still one of the finest surveys of the Jewish music of India. Journalist and ethnomusicologist Musleah not only compiled the songs, but sings them. Her voice has much the warm, soft quality of the flute that accompanies her on most of the tracks. Other instruments include the sitar and many varieties of hand drums.

While the content of the songs may be familiar-the Jewish holidays, the Song of Songs, weddings-their treatment is unique. The Jewish community of Calcutta dates back to 1798; quite isolated from the world's Jewish communities, they were able to create their own repertoire of Jewish melodies. Those wanting to integrate these songs into their services or classrooms should also have the songbook, which has even more music for even more occasions.

From Brazil to Ethiopia to Germany to India, restless Jewish musicians continue to swirl the sounds of their tradition with those of their surroundings in endlessly kaleidoscoping patterns. Reggae and rock, of German coffeehouses and Gregorian chants, all serve to transmit thousands of years of culture and values to today's Jews...from the four corners of the world and beyond.

JWR contributor Paul Wieder is a public relations associate at the Jewish United Fund and a columnist for JUF News. Contact the author or the magazine by either clicking here, or calling (312) 444-2853.


© 2001, JUF News