Turkish-Sephardic Music

Los Pasharos Sefaradis has four members: Karen Gerson Sarhon (voice), I. Izzet Bana (voice), S. Selim Hubes (ud, guitar), Y. Yavuz Hubes (kanun, ud, percussion).

By Karen Gerson Şarhon

Turkish Sephardic Music is an adventure that starts in the year 1492.  A great number of the Jews (according to some historians, this number was around 200,000) who were expelled from Spain by the Spanish Inquisition arrived in the Ottoman Empire and were welcomed by Sultan Bayazid II.  These Jews, who settled down all over the Ottoman Empire, called themselves “Sephardic Jews”, from the Hebrew name for Spain, “Sepharad”.  The traditions and culture of the Sephardic Jews have come down to us through the years, following a characteristic path of their own, which slowly turned into “Turkish-Sephardic”.
The Sephardic Jews had brought with them a specific language and musical culture.  The language that they brought was basically 15th century Spanish.  However, through the years this language developed on its own under the influences of the languages around it and finally it came to be known as “Judeo-Spanish”, the language of the Sephardic Jews.  The Sephardic Jews were able to preserve most of the aspects of their language and culture in the atmosphere of tolerance that reigned in the Ottoman Empire.  Today, Judeo-Spanish, in spite of all the efforts made to make it survive, is slowly declining because it has lost its basic function for the Sephardic Jews.

The musical culture that dominated 15th century Spain was a musical culture called the “Romansa”.  The Romansas were, at first, epic songs that depicted tales of bravery and wars of the nobles.  These tales were then adopted by the common people and the stories took on more everyday type of themes.  The musical tradition that the Sephardic Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was made up of basically this type of song.  Down through the years, Sephardic music was greatly influenced by Turkish classical music and all the other musical genres around it.  So in time, Sephardic music blended all these influences together and a lot of songs appeared with themes consisting of love, gossip, jealousy, the events of everyday life and all sorts of interpersonal relationships and feelings.  The language used in these folk songs has always been Judeo-Spanish.  In addition to the many original but anonymous compositions there are also many melodies borrowed from the popular ones of their day and to which lyrics in Judeo-Spanish have been written.  Among the thousands of songs that were transmitted from mother to daughter through the years, there are certain melodies that have had many different lyrics written for them and there are also certain lyrics with many different melodies.

Another aspect of Turkish Sephardic Music is liturgical music.  A tradition of religious music performed in Turkish synagogues has also been transmitted from generation to generation.  The lyrics of the Sephardic religious music have always been in Hebrew but the melodies have been performed with the Turkish classical music maqams.  These melodies had not been recorded, or archived until 2002.

The many musicologists and ethnomusicologists that have come to Turkey for research have mainly been interested in the folk songs in Judeo-Spanish.  However, most of these researchers could not write the music of most of the melodies that had been composed under the influence of Turkish classical music because it has a different notation system altogether.  Even though these researchers have compiled hundreds of songs, there are many more hundreds of songs composed in the Turkish classical music mode.  It is this particular part of the Sephardic heritage that the group Los Pasharos Sefaradis have made it their mission to preserve.

Los Pasharos Sefaradis have constituted a milestone in the revival of the Turkish Sephardic culture by seriously researching and studying the language and the secular type of music of their ancestors. They have been doing research since 1978; have toured and performed at many of the Jewish and non-Jewish cultural centers throughout Europe, the U.S.A. and Mexico.

One of the most important characteristics of Los Pasharos Sefaradis is the fact that, in contrast to all other interpreters of Sephardic music in the western world, they give a lot of importance to the lyrics of the songs and take great care to enunciate each word clearly. Their being the last generation of Turkish Sephardim to speak Judeo-Spanish well is a great asset. Another characteristic is that they make a special effort to sing in as authentic a manner as possible, the way their grandmothers used to do, with the oriental technique of using their voices and acting every song out, so as to leave their audience in no doubt as to what they are saying.

Los Pasharos Sefaradis are still researching the Judeo-Spanish culture extensively, as a result of which they have one of the widest archives on Judeo-Spanish Music. This enables them to change their repertoire completely every season, which has increased the number of songs in their active repertoire to 400. Los Pasharos Sefaradis are also contributing to  Sephardic culture with the recently composed songs of the group’s composer S. Selim Hubeş, who won second prize at the First Festiladino Song Festival organized by the Autoridad Nasyonala del Ladino in Jerusalem, Israel, in 2003.

Los Pasharos Sefaradis have 5 albums on Judeo-Spanish secular songs: Los Pasharos Sefaradis Vol I, Vol II, Vol III; La Romansa de Rika Kuriel; and Kantikas Para Syempre.   Their first three albums and their last album have all sold out so Los Pasharos have released a second edition of their CD, Kantikas Para Syempre and they have also released a new double CD, called Las Puertas, made up of most of the songs in their first three albums.  In Las Puertas, the group has tried something new:  one of the CDs contains 15 songs sung with an Occidental interpretation both in the orchestration and the singing (La Puerta al Oksidente); the second CD contains 15 other songs sung with an Oriental interpretation (La Puerta al Oriente).

At the beginning of the year 2001, Los Pasharos Sefaradis began to take an interest in the liturgical music of the Istanbul synagogues. Noticing a great void in the amount of published material on the subject, the group worked for a whole year on their first album on the subject, “Zemirot: Turkish-Sephardic Synagogue Hymns”, released in September 2002 and already nearly sold out.  They are now planning a second Zemirot CD.

Los Pasharos Sefaradis has four members: Karen Gerson Şarhon (voice), İ. İzzet Bana (voice),
S. Selim Hubeş (ud, guitar), Y. Yavuz Hubeş (kanun, ud, percussion).

Hayim Alazraki (?-1913): Composer, very famous for his “Yahudice Romans’ı”.
İsak Varon (1884-1962): Turkish songwriter and composer of Jewish origin. Varon was born in Gelibolu (Gallipoli).
İsak Barikî (?-1850): Violin player, composer.
Mısırlı İbrahim Efendi (Oud): Mısırlı İbrahim Efendi’s real name was Avram Levi.
David Behar (?-1880?): Composer and musician
Rabbi Semoil Mendil (?-1849): Rabbi and composer.
Isak Algazi (1890-1960?): Composer and famous singer of Jewish origin. He was actually a Rabbi.
İsak Tanburi (1745-1814): A composer and player of the tambur, İsak was born in the Ortaköy quarter of Istanbul.
Musi (Rabbi Muşe Fao) (?-1760): A composer and player of the tanbur, he was also a rabbi, who wrote many compositions of Turkish and religious music. He received special recognition by Mahmut I.
Selim Efendi (?-1930?): Jewish ud player.

Source: www.turkishmusicportal.org

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07