'There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen' Rumi
This is how our upcoming February concert (information and booking details at the bottom of the page), 'Shalom Salaam' came to be... I had become very concerned about the rise of verbal abuse, vicious online abuse, and physical harm perpetrated on Jews, Muslims and those who had been labelled by some self-declared insider, as an outsider. It seemed that here, in the most civilised of countries where I had moved as a young woman and which I had conceived to be a land of graciousness and tolerance, it had become ok to denigrate others in the most lurid ways.
I grew up in Canada, a country of immigrants. In North Winnipeg where my parents' families had moved from the 'Pale of Settlement' (West of Russia but East of Poland) to escape the Russian pogroms, Jews lived comfortably next to Ukrainians. Certainly anti-semitism bubbled close to the surface but, in my own childhood, it didn't often rear its head. I thought of anti-semitism as a troubling but arcane phenomenon. I met my occasional exposure to it with astonishment rather than horror. How much the more astonished and horrified am I to see it now attaining a level of normality in the last few years.
As it happened, I had recently formed a Klezmer band with musicians (Maya Levy soprano, Livia Frankish clarinet, Eyal Pik guitar and myself playing cello) with whom I regularly play, providing music for services at West London Synagogue. Buenos Klezmer! (the exclamation mark is a well discussed addition to our name) came together in the summer and has been both a hugely enjoyable and frankly audience-pleasing project. The word Klezmer originally meant a musician who could play anything. These musicians were wandering minstrels of the Eastern European shtetls, whence my family originated. The instrumental music based on scales which are mainly similar to our minor scale but altered in a way to evoke more pathos, yearning, and out and out whining (kvetching as it is known in Yiddish) is accompanied by rousing rhythms – real foot-beating stuff. The songs with Yiddish lyrics, tell of the most ordinary of human events with heart-breaking insight.
But Maya Levy, our vocalist, has Spanish, French and Israeli roots and has brought to our mix her repertoire of Medieval Sephardic songs in the Ladino language (just as the Yiddish of Eastern Europe mixed Biblical Hebrew with low German, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of earlier centuries created a tongue that amalgamated Hebrew and Spanish). The haunting beauty of these songs with their unusual phrasing and modes, pierces the heart.
Enter Erdal Yapici. Erdal is a brilliant and natural musician who plays the baglama, an ancient plucked folk lute with frets from the Eastern Mediterranean. Would Erdal like to join our Klezmer band in a concert to promote peace? Erdal, as it turns out is an Alevi, the Turkish Islamic tradition whose adherents follow the teachings of the 13thc mystic saint Haji Bektash Veli. Persecuted for their beliefs both in the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, the Alevis have continued to endure pogroms and arbitrary arrests in modern Turkey for their religious observances. Erdal's instrument, the baglama is the sacred ritual instrument of the Alevi tradition and as well as some Turkish folk music (Turku), Armenian songs and Ottoman palace music, Erdal has chosen to play Alevi spiritual ballades, called deyises, for our concert. This music is based on scales or makam which bear surprising similarities to the modes used both in Sephardic music and in the Klezmer music of Eastern Europe. But then the Ottoman Empire covered vast swathes. Surely the cross-fertilisation that was so productive in Medieval times could inspire a modern concert!
Along with readings from the poetry of the 13thc Sufi poet Rumi, and even earlier Judeo-Spanish poetry, Shalom Salaam is a celebration of the sweetness, insight and sorrow inherent in these ancient traditions, as well as a plea for understanding. Do listen to some of the links below for now but I hope you will come and celebrate with us on the 22nd of February.
SHALOM SALAAM, SATURDAY THE 22ND OF FEBRUARY AT 7:30 PM
WANDSWORTH QUAKER MEETING HOUSE, 59 WANDSWORTH HIGH ST, SW18 2PT
TICKETS: £14.14 FROM EVENTBRITE
OR £15 ON THE DOOR
This hilarious Yiddish song, Bulbes, about the boredom of having to eat potatoes every day of the week except Saturday when the amazing treat is potato pudding is sung by Barbara Gasienica-Gewont.(We are in the process of recording some of our material now).
Here is one of our favourite Ladino songs, Por La Tu Puerta Yo Pasi about a lover who thinks his beloved is as beautiful as a pink rose is sung by Janet and Jak Esim.
And here is the fabulous Erdal Yapici.