The music from Spain is anything but plain

In Israel, North African culture is very prevalent. The two musics are based on similar scales and tempos. Andalusian music is a sort of grandmother of flamenco. They are from the same family.

Flamenco dancer Keren Pesach (photo credit: NATASHA SHACHNES)
Flamenco dancer Keren Pesach
(photo credit: NATASHA SHACHNES)
Flamenco, as we all know it, is the most emotive and tempestuous of art forms. All that stamping, emphatic hip shaking, powerfully percussive clapping and undisguised sensuality leaves the observer with absolutely no doubt that the performers mean business.
That no nonsense ethos should come across in Monday’s (8 p.m.) Gibraltar concert at the Opera House in Tel Aviv, when the Jerusalem Orchestra East West, under maestro Tom Cohen, joins forces with vocalists Yehuda Shweiki and Binyamin Bozaglo, and dancers Sharon Sagi and Keren Pesach. The show is subtitled “a celebration of sounds and sights from flamenco to song from the Maghreb, with virtuosi.”
That, more or less, tells the whole story. And an ostensibly  spectrum-stretching take it is too. Over the last decade or so, Shweiki has accumulated a reputation for being one of our top flamenco vocalists, and he’s not too bad at the guitar side of things either. Then there’s Buzaglo who seems to come from a very different part of the vocal musical domain, specializing in liturgical music with a strong North African accent.
Shweiki does not have any problems with the cross-cultural synergy, and the seeming stylistic gulf, between himself and Buzaglo. “Binyamin is an amazing singer! He specializes in North African or Andalusian music, however you want to call it,” says Shweiki. “I focus on flamenco, and also on all sorts of Spanish music that are similar to flamenco.“
In fact, the two singers will not combine for the whole of the concert. “He sings his songs, and I sing mine, but we also combine flamenco and Andalusian material.” The latter, says Shweiki, is a pretty comfortable fit, differing backdrop notwithstanding.
“Flamenco is a sort of contemporary art form, from the last 200 or so years. That is relatively new compared with the classical Andalusian music which dates back to the time of the Muslim caliphates (9th century), when the region of Andalusia (in southern Spain) was under Muslim rule. The music formed there, and also in North Africa.”
There origin of flamenco has been the subject of debate for some time. Some attribute the style with the Spanish Romani, while others identify it as a hybrid of influences from Andalusians, Romani, Castilians, Moors and Sephardi Jews that conjoined in Andalusia. Some even believe flamenco originated in India and made its way westward, to Spain, picking up all kinds of cultural seasonings and textures en route.
Sources aside, Shweiki notes the two art forms have a lot in common, from a technical point of view, and that the confluence is very much of matter of going with the local flow. “I think it is natural to do this. Here, in Israel, North African culture is very prevalent, and the two musics are based on similar scales and tempos. I feel that Andalusian music is a sort of grandmother of flamenco. They are from the same family.”
Shweiki discovered flamenco at a young age. “I encountered the music, for the first time when I was about 15 or 16,” he recalls. “I had a guitar teacher who turned me on to it.” It was love at first hearing. “I started looking for the music myself. I was really into it, right from the start.” It was quite an epiphany for the youngster. “Before that I played the Beatles, Shlomo Artzi, Metallica and that sort of thing.”
He made his first foray to the homeland of the genre at the age of 20, and his musical and professional die was well and truly cast. “It felt completely natural for me,” he says. “You could say I didn’t find flamenco. Flamenco found me.”
Shweiki is also delighted he found Tom Cohen and Jerusalem Orchestra East West. “I love the orchestra. I have been working with it for a few years now. We did quite a few very interesting shows – some with dance and something without.”
He also feels the venture offers added artistic value for the wider musical field. “Tom Cohen’s arrangements are true innovations, on an international level. Some of things we do, with the orchestra, have never been done before in the world of flamenco, anywhere – not even in Spain. This Opera House concert is going to be great.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and