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Given that there can't be anything more natural than a Jewish music festival in Jerusalem, why has it taken all these millennia to hold a full-scale, week-long showcase?
"I don't know," admits Shlomo Yisraeli, artistic director of the inaugural Jewish Music Days festival due to take place between September 3 and 8. "Maybe it was a matter of having the right facilities, or the funding."
Funding is always a salient - or sticking - point, as any organizer of any cultural event can testify.
"There's no support from the municipality for this," Yisraeli continues, "and, to get funding from international bodies you have to first have the festival up and running. Once you've survived the first year - if you survive - you can start to apply all over."
Judging by the program, and the popularity of Jewish music in Jerusalem and the rest of the country, Yisraeli and Effi Benaya, director of Confederation House (which is organizing the event) have nothing to worry about.
The six concerts, which will be held at Confederation House, Beit Shmuel and Beit Avi Chai, do justice both to the cosmopolitan nature of our capital and the varied cultural baggage picked up by the Jews over the centuries.
"In many ways, Israel is the center of the world," Yisraeli declares. "If you look at old maps of the world - not contemporary American ones - you see that. And Jerusalem is central to the three major monotheistic religions. If you put all that together, it's easy to see why the festival is happening here and why the program is so varied."
The latter attribute is something of an understatement, and Yisraeli, an expert on many musical genres who broadcast ethnic music on Kol Yisrael for many years, is the right man in the right place at the right time. He has pieced together a musical agenda that represents a considerable number of our multifaceted ethnicities.
Take, for example, the opening show at Beit Shmuel on Monday (at 9 p.m.), which brings together the well-named local cross-cultural troupe Andralamusia and New York trumpeter Frank London. London has had his nimble fingers in numerous musical pies for many years. A member of the high-energy band Klezmatics, he has recorded and performed with jazz musicians, "new Jewish music" guru John Zorn and Arab music star Maurice El Mediouni, to mention but a few.
"I met Frank a while back in Brazil," explains Yisraeli, "and asked him if he'd be interested in performing with an Israeli band. He was delighted with the idea." The same went for his cohorts in next week's concert. "When I mentioned the idea to [Andralamusia leader] Itai Bin Nun, he said he'd dreamt of playing with Frank for years. So that came together nicely."
The festival program incorporates the kind of traditional material you'd expect - such as The Carpion Trio playing pre-World War II Yiddish and Romanian songs - alongside some far more "out-there" forays. Thursday's "Bayamim Hahem Bazman Hazzeh" ("In Those Days At This Time") program certainly pertains to the latter category. It will showcase musical interpretations of prayers and other liturgical material (piyutim) from the Italian Jewish tradition, sung by Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi, who also plays soprano sax and will fuse her efforts through a computer, together with Mexican-born Jerusalemite percussionist Abe Doron, best known for his work with Irish music outfits such as Riverdance and Evergreen.
It is an intriguing mix.
"It is a bit provocative," admits Yisraeli, "having a woman sing piyutim and adding saxophone and computer. But, as with the whole festival, I have tried to embrace both tradition and the contemporary."
Yisraeli believes in keeping up with the times. "Without that, music would have died a long time ago."
Other crowd pullers to watch out for include a concert led by Ethiopian-born jazz and ethnic music saxophonist Abate (next Saturday at Beit Avi Hai at 9:30 p.m,) based on a fascinating confluence between the works of famous Spanish poets, such as 11th-century poet-philosopher Ibn Gvirol, and lesser known Ethiopian men of letters of the same period. Pianist Yitzhak Yedid's concert (Wednesday at Confederation House at 9 p.m.) will bring art forms together and include works inspired by painter Marc Chagall. Medieval Sufi and mystical Jewish music will cross paths at Splendor East and West, the Hayona Ensemble show on Tuesday (Beit Aviv Hai, 7 p.m.).
"There is far more to Jewish music than klezmer," says Yisraeli. "I think the average person thinks all Jewish music is Hassidic. I hope the festival will both entertain audiences and broaden their horizons."
For more information about the Jewish Music Days festival, check out www.confederationhouse.org
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