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May 19, 2011 - Image 121

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-05-19

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arts & entertainment

Journey Of
A Crypto-Jew

Suzanne Chessler
Contributing Writer


onsuelo Luz brings her music,
with a concert titled "The Journey
of a Crypto Jew," to a Michigan
stage for the first time Sunday, May 22, at
Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield,
sponsored by the Cohn-Haddow Center
for Jewish Studies at Wayne State
University. A Crypto-Jew refers to some-
one who professed one faith openly and
his or her Jewish faith secretly. In Luz's
case, her mother came from a converso
family forcibly converted to Catholicism
500 years ago during the Inquisition while
through the years never forgetting their
Jewish heritage.
"I will be doing mostly Sephardic songs,
but there will be some of my original
music as well',' says Luz, 62, a singer-song-
writer based in New Mexico. "I've brought
songs into a contemporary style with fla-
menco influences."
Luz, who plays guitar and charango
(a stringed instrument of the lute fam-
ily), will be appearing with flamenco
guitarist Joaquin Gallegos and cellist
Nelson Denman for the John M. Haddow
Memorial Program in Jewish Culture.
Her selections range from "To You, My
God, My Desire a prayer adaptation, to
"Home," an original piece connecting
Judaism to nature. Adaptations move
Jewish prayers and ballads from Spain, the
Mediterranean and the Middle East into
the spectrum of world music.
"Whatever I do is imbued with classi-
cal sounds I learned taking piano lessons
and with South American folk rhythms I
learned in different countries," she says.
"What I do musically reflects the journey
of Sephardic Jews [from Spain to other
parts of the world]."
Although Luz established her musical
career later in life, after a divorce and her
children were grown, she looks back to her
heritage and early years for foundation.
Born in New York, she traces Chilean
roots through her mother and Cuban
roots through her father, who worked for
the United Nations and brought the family
with him to assignments in Greece, the
Philippines, Spain, Italy and Peru.
"Classical music was frustrating for me
because that was not who I was meant to
be musically:' she explains. "When I was
14, I went to Chile to visit my mother's
family, and an aunt taught me my first

Chords on guitar. I left piano and classical
music behind and started learning South
American folk songs."
Luz returned to New York when she was
18, after studying Spanish literature in
an overseas program offered in Lima by
Cambridge University. Back in America,
her studies were focused on literature
and music at the New School for Social
Research and on drama at the Stella Adler
While living in New York, Luz did some
street theater and sang in independent
and commercial films, learning cinema-
editing skills in tandem with performing.
After a brief marriage and with a
young child, she decided to move to New
Mexico, where she married a Jewish man
and raised her own three children and a
"Neither of my parents practiced reli-
gion although my mother has Jewish heri-
tage," she says. "I had a Columbian nanny,
and my parents went along with my sister,
brother and I being raised Catholic by the
"My parents thought religion would
enrich our lives, and I took to it because
I'm spiritually oriented.
"I was brought into Judaism because my
husband was Jewish, and I started sing-
ing at temple. I wanted to explore Judaism
more, but it wasn't until I divorced that I
decided to convert. I wanted to learn and
read Hebrew and understand the.power of
the Hebrew letters:"
After being part of a large synagogue,
Luz gave her attention to HaMakom, a
smaller and more progressive congrega-
tion. Her conversion involved a two-year
process with 11 women studying together
for b'not mitzvah.
"About 25 years ago, a rabbi who knew I
was a singer lent me a book of prayer with
the music noted:' Luz recalls."I discovered
the passages were Sephardic and found
them beautiful and powerful. I sang them
in temples and at local gatherings, made
recordings and started to travel interna-
tionally to concerts."
Religious recordings include Dezeo and
Adio, which feature ancient Sephardic
prayers and love ballads. Her original
songs are found on Missing Water and Yo
Se Que Yo Amo. Individual tracks have
been placed on compilation recordings,
including A Jewish Odyssey.
"Emotions inspire the songs I write,'
explains Luz, who appeared in the film

The music of Consuelo Luz
captures her experiences
traveling the world and
deepening her spirituality
through Judaism.

The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by
Robert Redford. "My most recent songs
were written while I was in Guatemala
doing research for a book I'm writing.
"I was sitting by a beautiful lake, and
the songs started forming because I felt
connected to the lake. I thought of the
importance of water in our lives and
wrote the words before adding the music.
Sometimes, the melodies come first:"
The book, which she sometimes con-

siders a detour from her music projects,
is a novel about the power of sound and
Jewish and Mayan mysticism.
Connecting to nature holds an impor-
tant role in Luz's time away from work —
hiking in the mountains, biking and even
raising chickens.
"I can write music at the piano, guitar
or charango," she says. "I feel a special
connection to the singing and music at the
small congregation where I belong." II

Consuelo Luz performs 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at Temple Shir Shalom, 3999
Walnut Lake Road, in West Bloomfield. $15-$18 in advance; $25 at door.
(313) 577-2679; cohnhaddowcenter@wayne.edu .

May 19 g 2011


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