Cultural and ethnic baggage

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod opens its season with ‘Songs of Friends’

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod (photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod
(photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod is in fine fettle, age notwithstanding. The ensemble is now entering its silver jubilee year full of vim and vigor, and as eager as ever to keep on testing the outer reaches of its cultural purview, while ensuring that its audiences get value for its hard-earned ticket money.
The first slot in the orchestra’s current four-program season sees the ensemble take its “Shirei Dodim” – Songs of Friends – repertoire around the country, with shows lined up for Beersheba (November 11), Ashdod (November 12, 14 and 15) and Modi’in (November 13). The concert cast includes paytan (liturgical singer) Meni Cohen and Hisham Dinar Sweiri, who hails from the western Moroccan city of Essaouira, along with several instrumentalists from there. The vocalist roster also features Moshe Barsheshet and Avi Delevanti Chriqui, as well as the choir of the Piyut and Song Center in Ashdod. It is a formidable team.
Andalusian music is, by definition, a blend of cultural and ethnic baggage and the ensuing sounds, textures and colors that inform the music. The orchestra’s general manager, Yaakov Ben Simon, says that the ensemble’s output feeds off both the traditions of Morocco as well as the cultural melting pot in this part of the world. “We continue to view Andalusian music as an integral part of the musical landscape of the domain in which we live. Music in Israel is a fascinating laboratory for different tradition musical roots that exert reciprocal influences on each other.”
That all-embracing message, coupled with the quality of the delivery, has obviously rung the rights bells over with the national purse string pullers, with the Andalusian ensemble being granted national orchestra status. When you consider that the only other outfit that has been awarded that coveted title is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, you get some idea of the esteem in which the Ashdod-based venture is held. And the status also brings with it an annual grant of NIS 5 million. Not bad going.
Ben Simon and his colleagues fully intend to put the state assistance to good use. “We have lots and lots of ideas for projects,” says Ben Simon. “This enables us to realize some of them.”
If the new season is anything to go by, Ben Simon et al. are going for broke. They have lined up a glittering array of big names over the next few months, including the likes of internationally acclaimed singer Ester Rada and Algerian-born pianist Maurice El Mediouni, who turned 90 last month and is still doing the keyboard business. Add to that pop-rock singer Kobi Aflalo and paytan Binyamin Buzaglo, as well as the seasoned Moran Choir, and you have yourself an attractive across-the-board offering patently designed to draw the crowds from all sectors of the cultural consumer spread.
It is, says, Ben Simon, just a natural continuum of the multilayered origins of Andalusian music. “It is a mixture of Jewish music and Arabic music.” The wheels of the developmental process just kept on turning across the centuries, national demarcation lines and chapters of history. And it all served to enhance the end product. “You have the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the influences the Jews picked up on the way, and the colors added by influences from North Africa and Europe, and Christian Spain and Muslim Spain – all enriched Andalusian music. That’s why it’s so difficult to pigeonhole, and identify it with one genre or another.”
Ben Simon might have included the music of the Berbers who spread right across North Africa, the rai music of Algeria and flamenco, all of which add their pennyworth to the magical mystery tour that is Andalusian music.
At the end of the day, however, Ben Simon says you can’t possibly please all the people all the time. “We take all these influences and we use them to keep on exploring new avenues of expression. Sometimes it works out better than others,” he notes, “but that is the great thing about carrying on searching.”
The idea is to proffer as wide a range of sounds as possible to as varied an audience as possible. “We want to draw new people to our concerts, and we also train new young musicians. We want to keep the music alive.”
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