UPDATE: KBCS will rebroadcast this show this Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 7PM. To listen live to the audio stream, click link in paragraph below. A zis’n Peysach!
On Sunday, April 1st at 7 PM PDT, I’ll be hosting The Old Country, KBCS’ world music program. The theme will be Passover music since it will air the night before the first seder. Below, is the script I wrote for the show with links to most of the mp3 versions of the songs. Hope you can listen to the show and tell your friends to as well. KBCS is 91.3 FM and you can also listen live to the audio stream. You can also listen to the full hour show here.
A special thanks to Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo, producer of The Old Country for inviting me to do the show. If you like what you read or hear please consider buying a CD using the Amazon links I provide or making a donation to support my work through the Paypal link in my sidebar.
Chag Sameach or Gut Yontof! That’s ‘Happy Holiday’ in Hebrew and Yiddish!
Passover or Pesach is one of the most important of the Jewish holidays. To my mind, it is among the most joyous of our celebrations. Other holidays are filled with mirth like Purim and Simchat Torah, but Passover is a festival of joy recollected in tranquility. It is the ultimate holiday of freedom marking the struggle of the enslaved Jews of Egypt to free themselves from bondage and found an independent nation in the Promised Land.
The festivals of the Jewish year revolve around an ancient agricultural calendar followed when Jews lived as farming tribes in the land of Israel. Passover, coming as it does in spring, was considered the New Year festival well before there was such a thing as Rosh Hashanah (which comes in the fall). Because of its association with spring, the holiday has always been connected to Song of Songs, the Biblical book of love, desire and devotion. We’ll be featuring the lyrics of Song of Songs in some of our music tonight.
“Passover” comes from the Hebrew word pasach to ‘pass over,’ which refers to the last of the ten plagues in which the Angel of Death “passed over” the homes of Jews which were smeared with the blood of the Paschal lamb sacrifice.
Passover is an eight day festival. On the first night we celebrate a seder (or ‘order’) by reading a book called the Haggadah (literally, “the telling”). The two most important elements of the seder are the Story and the Meal. The Haggadah is the Story. It recounts the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. It is filled with wise and wonderful sayings and prayers. A good number of them have been put to music. Music plays an important role in any good seder and we’ll be showcasing some of the most memorable songs here tonight. Finally, a seder concludes with a bountiful repast. Any gathering of Jews worthy of the name provides for a meal at which guests can commune, sing, gossip and worship together.
1. The traditional songs coming up were recorded by Yasmine, a group I co-founded with my brother in the 1980s. The suite includes Baruch HaMakom (“Blessed is the Place”– that is, God), Dayeinu, expressing gratitude to God for the wonderful gifts he bestowed on the Jewish people (“If He had only given us the Torah that would have been enough”), and Avadim Hayinu, a passage from the Passover Haggadah (“We were slaves in Egypt and now we are free”). We’ll be hearing Pesach Suite (hear it) from Yasmine.
Jewish Songs of Celebration & Struggle
Pesach Suite (4:41):
2. Next, we’ll hear from Yehoram Gaon, a golden-voiced Israeli popular singer who’s recorded several collections of music in Ladino. Ladino is a language that integrates Hebrew and Spanish and has been spoken by the Jews of the Mediterranean region (North Africa, Spain, Turkey, etc) for hundreds of years. I’ve included a good number of Sephardic tunes in this program because Seattle has the largest Sephardic Jewish community in the U.S. outside of Brooklyn. I’m featuring Gaon’s Un Cavritico (hear it).
Songs for Passover in the Sephardic Tradition
Sovre Una Cuanta Mas 1:23
Quen Supiense Y Entendiense 3:05
Un Cavritico 3:45
Shezufat Shemesh 2:24
3. The vocal sextet, The Western Wind, recorded this version of the beloved seder tune, Chad Gadyo (hear it), on their recording, The Passover Story:
Then came the Holy One, blessed be He, and slew the angel of death that killed the butcher that slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire, that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat my father bought for two zuzim, Had Gadya (one goat)…
Chad Gadyo is a song in form much like The House That Jack Built or The Twelve Days of Christmas. It is first recorded in a Prague Haggadah from 1590. This version was composed by the famous Yiddish theater composer, Moishe Oysher
The Western Wind
The Passover Story
Chad Gadyo (4:18)
Western Wind Records
4. This 1950 recording of the Yiddish Swingtette is not terribly Yiddish or Jewish (except for the melody derived from the seder tune, Dayenu (hear it). But it shows how a traditional Jewish liturgical song can be refracted through a jazz idiom.
Yiddish-American Klezmer Music 1925-1956
5. Many listeners may know that Seattle has a large Sephardic community of 5,000 Jews. It’s reported to be the second largest in the country. There are two main synagogues serving the Sephardim. The emeritus cantor of Ezra Bessaroth, one of the two synagogues, Hazzan Issac Azoze, has a 2-CD set devoted to the liturgy of the congregation. He’s graciously provided me this mp3 file for tonight’s broadcast. It is the Ma Nishtanah (hear it) or Four Questions sung in the style of the Jews of Rhodes.
The Four Questions are usually sung by the youngest guest attending the seder. They are meant to teach children the basic rituals observed during the seder by comparing what we do at a normal meal and what we do at a seder:
“Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat only matzoh?”
“Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?”
“Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?”
“Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we recline?”
Information about ordering the CD can be found at http://www.issacazoze.com/
Hazzan Issac Azoze
Liturgy of Ezra Bessaroth
Ma Nishtanah (1:49)
6. On Passover eve, April 19, 1943, German troops moved into the Warsaw ghetto to begin the final liquidation of the remaining ghetto inhabitants. They were met with fierce resistance by 750 Jews who decided to fight to the death rather than submit to the yoke of the tyrant. Max Helfman wrote Di Naye Hagode (“The New Haggadah”) as a requiem for the resistance fighters. It is meant as a “telling” of the tale of the uprising and as a lesson in the modern Jewish struggle for freedom.
It was one of Helfman’s signature compositions, based on a long poem written by the martyred Soviet Jewish poet (murdered by orders of Stalin), Itzik Feffer. Feffer and Helfman seize on the similarities between the plight of the Jewish slaves in Egypt and that of the doomed Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. Just as the former managed to liberate themselves from captivity, both poem and song envision the tragedy of the uprising leading to the overthrow of the cruel Nazi oppressor. I feature here Ma Nishtano (hear it) from Helfman’s composition.
Di Naye Hagode
Ma Nishtano 5:06
7. Adir Hu (hear it) is traditionally sung as part of the Hallel prayer at the conclusion of the seder:
Mighty is He,
May He soon build His House,
Speedily, speedily in our days.
It anticipates the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
This melody comes from the remarkable Hasidic musician and rebbe, Shlomo Carlebach. He was to Jewish music what Pete Seeger was to folk music: a fertile and fervent purveyor of spiritual Hasidism through music.
Andy Statman & David Grisman
Songs of Our Fathers
Adir Hu/Moshe Emes 4:14
8. In this recording of the seder song, Ki Lo No’e (hear it), we hear the remarkable Sephardic cantor Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi sing a version of another song written by the great Eastern European Jewish composer for Yiddish films, theater and synagogue, Moishe Oysher. While Oysher’s musical heritage derives from the Ashkenazim, Mizrahi makes a Jewish cross-cultural point by embracing this Ashkenazi rendition of the song.
Chants Mystiques: Hidden Treasures of a Living Tradition
Ki Lo No’e (4:14)
9. Alain Scetbon’s Haggadah de Pessah 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 to Ya Ilana-Rabbi Nessim.
I surmise that Rabbi Nessim 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. The language is spoken by North African Jews. Its companion language, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is 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 rhythmic 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. Perhaps one of our Sephardic listeners can tell me more about this song!
Haggada de Pessah (Ness Music)
Ya Ilana-Rabbi Nessim (3:34)
10. Chava Albertstein is perhaps Israel’s greatest female vocalist in the European chanteuse tradition. In Chad Gadya (hear it), she slyly transforms a Passover children’s song extolling God’s omnipotence into an indictment of the Israeli occupation:
On all nights, all other nights I asked only Four Questions
This night I have another question:
“How long will the cycle of violence continue?”
Chase and be chased, beat and be beaten,
When will this madness end?
How have you changed, how are you different? I changed this year. I was once a sheep and a tranquil kid Today I’m a tiger and a ravening wolf I was once a dove and I was a deer. Today I don’t know who I am.
5:04 Chad Gadya
11. The Ballad of Mauthausen was a book by Iacovos Kambanellis, a survivor of the concentration camp. He persuaded his friend, Mikis Theodorakis to write a musical suite of the same name and both works were published in 1965. They are both screams of protest against the evil of Nazi tyranny and loving memories of the victims in their suffering. Asma Asmaton (hear it), Greek for Song of Songs, is at once a composition of immense grace and pain. You can hear the both the pride and resistance in the Maria Farantouri’s powerful voice as she sings of the victims’ fate:
Beyond the bleak and frozen square / Above the yellow linen star / No heart will ever beat again / Because the beautiful have lost their way to paradise….
Ballad of Mauthausen
Asma Asmaton (6:30Page 5 of 6)
For those of our listeners used to thinking of Jews as only living in America or perhaps Israel, it may come as a surprise that there have been Jewish communities almost everywhere where there has been commerce including in North Africa, India, China, Latin America, Arabia and central Asia. I’ve tried my best to rustle up some music from these far away places to give you a taste of how Jewish music sounds there.
There is Jewish live and recorded music in Seattle though you may have to look hard to find it. You’ll find recordings at the Tree of Life Bookstore on 65th Avenue in Wedgwood). Wendy Marcus led a wonderful klezmer band called the Mazeltones whose records are still available online. She now leads a children’s klezmer band affiliated with Temple Beth Am called Klez Kids. And for Sephardic music and culture, there are Congregations Bikur Holim and Ezra Besoroth in Seward Park.
To find the original posts about these recordings published in this blog search on Passover Music.