Day and night and day in Jerusalem

The 24-hour Sacred Music Festival in the capital is both a musical and a spiritual event.

Peretz and Mark Elyahu (photo credit: Courtesy)
Peretz and Mark Elyahu
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There can be few locations in the world more naturally tailored than Jerusalem to hold an event that feeds off the higher energies of music – which makes the upcoming Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival the most suitable of fits.
“When I came up with the idea, I couldn’t believe no one else had thought of it before,” says Gil Karniel, who serves as joint artistic director with Gil Ron Shama.
“Jerusalem is the perfect place to bring musicians from all over the world to play in such a wonderful atmosphere.”
It might be setting the bar a little high, but Karniel would like the Jerusalem event, which forms part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture, to eventually emulate the long-standing Sacred Music Festival that has taken place in Fes, Morocco, for the last 19 years.
This year’s Fes roster included Pakistani sufi singer Sanam Marvi and Algerian vocalist Cherifa, alongside some stellar performers from other musical fields, such as Joan Baez and Bjork. Karniel says that the Fes program stretches the artistic ethos beyond the strict confines of ethnic music, but he wouldn’t mind achieving some the Moroccan festival’s across-theboard appeal.
“It would be wonderful to bring people from all over the world to Jerusalem for our festival, but it might take a while.”
If the lineup of the initial Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival is anything to go by, Karniel, Ron Shama and their partner in culture, Jerusalem Season of Culture director Itay Mautner, are really going for it. The festival will take place over a 24-hour period between September 6 and September 7. Shows, ritual ceremonies and other items will be hosted at three main venues – David’s Tower and Zedekiah’s Cave in the Old City, and Notre Dame across the road from the New Gate. The names on the festival program include some of the best ethnic music artists we have to offer alongside international stars and some intriguing synergies.
The fun kicks off at David’s Tower on September 6 at 6 p.m.
with an enticing offering from Iran. The Mania show features Iranian-born Canadian-resident brothers Kiya and Ziya Tabassian, together with Israeli percussionist Zohar Fresco, exploring the ecstasy-inducing properties of Persian music. The siblings – Kiya plays sitar and sings, and Ziya plays several percussion instruments – and Fresco will take classical material and reinvent it through their own prism.
That will be followed by a more conventional performance of Persian music, presented by composer-vocalist Rabbi Eyal Manny who, with six instrumentalists, will offer a glimpse into the mysteries of ancient Persian song.
The festival program tries to offer a wide range of music and energies for all ages and tastes.
Those looking for a blast of more overt energies will enjoy veteran rocker Berry Sakharof, whose electro-acoustic show at David’s Tower has been scheduled for 6 a.m. on the Friday morning. The concert is describes as “an electro-acoustic interpretation of liturgical songs, chants and other ancient scripts.” Sakharof will be supported by a top lineup of sidemen, including guitarist Gidi Raz, vocalist Shai Tzabari and percussionist Itamar Doari.
There will be more high-octane musical sentiments later in the day when US-based Moroccan vocalistinstrumentalist- cum dancer Hassan Hakmoun fronts a vibe-infused performance of gnawa music from North and West Africa, with musicians from Africa and America, with Israeli bassist Yossi Fein shoring up the proceedings.
David’s Tower will also host the New Jerusalem Orchestra show, which presents the world premiere of its Maqam Yerushalayim program.
The show is described as “a daring journey across musical cultures in pursuit of a contemporary-ancient Israeli sound” and a performance of “songs in Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic that express longing for Jerusalem. Together, they weave a tapestry of ancient and contemporary, East and West, celestial and earthly Jerusalem.”
The sumptuous program is overseen by artistic directors Yair Harel and Omer Avital, who also composed and arranged much of the material. The ensemble includes veteran instrumentalist-composer Peretz Elyahu and his son kamanche (spike violin) player and composer Mark Elyahu; liturgical vocalist Rabbi David Menachem’ and jazz-oriented trumpeter Itamar Borochov. The ensemble will be supported by the Yad Ben-Zvi Liturgical Choir.
Karniel says that much of the accent of the 24-hour festival is on a cumulative experience. “We strongly recommend that people try to catch as many shows as possible so they can enjoy a musical and spiritual event that grows over the two days,” he says. “There is so much to experience in the program.”
The incremental aspect of the program can probably be best enjoyed by purchasing a Night Stroll ticket, which allows patrons to pop in and out of shows, ceremonies and workshops taking place at David’s Tower through the night and day.
There will also be “testimony tours” – guided or otherwise – with routes planed through the Old City that offer a taste of the authentic rituals and ceremonies of Jerusalem’s diverse faiths.
Karniel hopes the festival will become an annual event. Judging by the program, it certainly deserves to be.
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