Recrafting Sephardic Music
4 ntre la mar y el rio" might sound like the lat-
est Julio Iglesias hit, but you're perhaps less
likely to hear the Latin Romeo crooning the
tune than your grandmother.
The song springs not from the mind of some high-
gloss music studio artist but from the annals of
Sephardic Jewish history. Like "Avre to puerta cerra-
da" and "Al pasar por Casablanca," the song's Judeo-
Spanish roots hark back to the time, prior to 1492, when
Jewish culture flourished on the Spanish/Portuguese
Judith Wachs and the three co-members of the group
Voice of the Turtle have made it their mission to revive
the long-ignored world of Sephardic music.
"The history has not been forgotten; the music has
not been forgotten," says Wachs, who founded the group
in 1978. Voice's four musicians and vocalists —including
Derek Burrows, Lisle Kulbach and Jay Rosenberg —
began playing together prior to that as a medieval and
Renaissance music group. But "once I heard one
(Sephardic Jewish) song," Wachs says, "I thought it was
the next big thing."
Most of the Sephardim fled Spain in 1492, at the on-
set of the Inquisition, taking their culture and tradi-
tions to Turkey, Greece, Morocco and Bulgaria. The
musical signature of this Ladino-speaking population
mingled with the traditions of their adopted lands, breed-
ing new offshoots.
The songs run the gamut from "heartbreaking to al-
most vaudevillian," Wachs explains. Some have famil-
iar cadences that are performed on recognizable
instruments such as flute, harp and violin. Others hark
back to medieval times and employ chants and unusual
vocal stylings. And some find their shape through un-
familiar instruments such as the baglama, shawm,
chalumeau and rebec.
Voice of the Turtle's repertoire continues to expand.
"If we were to do this for another 100 years, we wouldn't
run out of new things to play," says Wachs, explain-
ing that the group unearths Sephardic music by in-
terviewing people directly or studying field recordings
(those performed usually by older people, often at cele-
brations, and often without instrumental accompani-
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The Voice of the Turtle sings a cultural blend of Arabic, Spanish and Eastern European folk music and performs with over 20 exotic instruments.
ment). Voice members then meticulously recraft the
work, making sure their interpretations "reflect the in-
tegrity of the piece."
For their Detroit-area concert, Voice of the Turtle will
perform an evening of Passover songs, which appear on
its upcoming recording (the group's tenth). The perfor-
mance will include 23 different versions of "Had Gadya":
in Yiddish, French, Italian, Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, etc.
Though Wachs credits her group with increasing the
popularity of Sephardic music ("It's in most musicians'
repertoires now," she says), she also realizes that such
foreign sounds can be off-putting for new audiences.
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"No one should be intimidated by the fact that it
sounds so esoteric," she says. "When you come out of
a Voice of the Turtle concert, you'll be smiling."
ft The Voice of the Turtle will perform at 8 p.m. Sat-
urday, March 24, at West Bloomfield High School
Theater. Reserved tickets, $28; general admission,
$20; senior/student tickets, $15. Special discounts for
JCC members. Call (810) 661-7649.
The Detroit Symphony Orches-
tra's CutTime Players perform
Prokofiev's musical tale with vo-
calist Valerie Yova at Pontiac
Northern High School. Free. (810)
writer makes a stop at Borders
Books and Music in Farmington
Hills where she'll sign copies of
her latest novel, Infamous. (810)
Sat., 1 p.m.
The Lyric Chamber Ensemble
gathers nimble fingers from
across the state to perform on
four Steinway grand pianos on
the stage of Orchestra Hall. $10-
$25. (810) 357-1111.
Sun., 3:30 p.m.