Here’s another daily installment of my Passover music offerings. Tonight, I have a most unusual piece to present. Usually when I post about a song, I like to add a good deal of biographical background about the musicians and musical context in order to get a better sense of the song. But tonight, I have very little to tell unfortunately.
Simon of Hatikvah Music recommended Alain Scetbon’s Haggadah de Pessah, which is a recording of a traditional Tunisian seder. There are no liner notes accompanying the CD. The album narration is in French and pretty sparse and there’s no narration about the particular song I chose for this post, Ya Ilana-Rabbi Nessim. In various online searches, I’ve found scant references to the record and none to this particular song.
In a mini-review in the Jewish Journal, George Robinson did say this about Haggada de Pessah:
The Scetbon…set ha[s] the intimate and slightly rough feel of an evening at a friend’s home. The music…is quite interesting, very reminiscent of Arabic music from the Maghreb
I was able to find this fascinating archival photograph of the home of Rabbi Nessim in the Tripoli Jewish ghetto. I surmise that he was a leading rabbi of 19th or early 20th century Tunisian Jewry and that the song praises him and his spiritual powers. Ilana is a woman’s name, but I have no idea what role if any she plays in this song.
Prof. Edwin Seroussi, a musicologist and director of the Jewish Music Research Center at the Hebrew University has confirmed that the song is sung in Judeo-Arabic. Unfortunately, he could not help decipher the lyrics. Judeo-Arabic is spoken by North African Jews. It’s companion language is Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) spoken by Jews whose origins are in Spain and the countries to which Spanish Jews fled after 1492.
Ya Ilana-Rabbi Nessim (hear it) is a spirited duet between adult and child male voices accompanied by the oud and rythmic hand claps. The child’s voice in particular is utterly charming. The boy sings with great gusto and passion and the oud accompaniment ornaments and embellishes the singing beautifully. Somebody tell me something about this song! It deserves to be lifted from obscurity (at least on the English language web).
For those wishing to learn more about Tunisia Jewry, Wikipedia has a fine article on the subject.
If anyone can enlighten me further on anything related to the album or song I’d appreciate it greatly.