Sacred chants from the Moroccan coast enchant Jerusalem audience

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod (photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod
(photo credit: RAFI DELOYA)
In its season opening concert, the Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod conducted by Rafael Biton presented an evening of piyutim, or sacred chants, of the Sephardi community in Essaouira – formerly known as Mogador – a small town near Morocco’s Atlantic coast in the Casablanca region.
Apparently, this relatively unknown town had an amazingly rich musical heritage. The piyutim sung in Hebrew and in Moroccan Arabic strayed far away from the European classical, major-minor modes and were intensely emotional in their expression of sincere religious belief. They were highly melismatic. Melisma is a style of singing a single syllable in several different notes in succession with rich improvised ornamentations, often climbing up to the highest possible notes without any audible effort.
These vocal acrobatics evoked stormy applause of the audience. Rhythms were irregular, intricate and exciting, defying any attempt of an one-two-three-four beat, sticking to their own intricacy when the audience tried – unsuccessfully – to clap in regular rhythms.
Middle Eastern instruments were featured, such as the kanoun (plucked zither) and Arab-style violin, played with impressive virtuosity.
Particularly noteworthy was the collaboration of Jewish and Arab musicians performing together in perfect harmony, proving, “If you want, it is not a fairytale.”
Also noteworthy was the exuberance and enthusiasm with which all these piece were performed.
The concert gave the audience an artistically surprising acquaintance with a little-known Jewish musical heritage.