La Mar Enfortuna and Pharaoh's Daughter: Expanding The Jewish Musical Tradition

Eyal Hareuveni By

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La Mar Enfortuna, the side project of noir rock group Elysian Fields, and Pharaoh's Daughter are two outfits which seek to expand the Jewish musical tradition. Singers Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow of La Mar Enfortuna focus on traditional Sephardic and Ladino songs, and Basya Schechter of Pharaoh's Daughter adds poetic Biblical and Talmudic texts. But both groups take the tradition—the musical and the written—as a springboard for lush and sensual musical adventures.

La Mar Enfortuna

Six years have passed since La Mar Enfortuna's first, self-titled album, one of the most successful projects from Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, and the concept is even more ambitious on this beautiful release: a modern exploration of lost or forgotten music, mostly of the Sephardim from the 11th to the 16th century, but this time the Sephardic tradition covers everything from Arabic songs through Greek and Balkan influences, Pakistani devotional kawali vocal music and back to modern day Spain.

The suggestive vocals of Jennifer Charles are still at the center, and the addition of Morocco-born, New York-based oud player and vocalist Brahim Fribgane solidifies the distinctive Middle-Eastern sound. Downtown multi-instrumentalists Ted Reichman and Doug Weiselman, who played on the first release, as well as on other Elysian Fields projects, are again on board.

The arrangements emphasize the way that the guitars and occasionally the oud or bass of Oren Bloedow interlock with the oud of Fribgane, as in the romance "Aman Minush" or in the funky "Ya Kalbi Khalli Al Hal" that is sung in Arabic in a duet of Charles and Fribgane. The cover of the traditional "El Eliyahu" is done as an infectious call and answer between Charles and a male choir. Charles also covers one of the most famous love poems of Federico Garcia Lorca, "Gacela del Amor Que No Se Deja Ver", doing it almost as a chanson, cabaret-style, with a sweet clarinet solo by Weiselman.

Reichman continues this approach with an emotional accordion solo on the rhythmic "Dhem Me Toumbaris". Bloedow's fragile and innocent vocals are featured on the traditional "Persona Soy Yo, El Buen Sidi", accompanied by his Spanish-tinged guitar and the sympathetic oud of Fribgane. The concluding instrumental track, "25 Rats And A Dove", pays further dues to the great Spanish guitar tradition.

Mysterious and beautiful.

Pharaoh's Daughter
Oy!Hoo Records

Earlier work by singer and instrumentalist Basya Schechter's Pharaoh's Daughter cleverly blended pan-Mediterranean sensuality with 1960s flower-power lyrics and rich productions. But this time out, Schechter chose to rely on traditional texts—Aramic, Biblical, Kabbalistic and Ladino songs, and poems by Sephardic Yehudah Halevy, Abraham Toledo and Rabbi Isaac Luria and Ashkenazi Rabbi Baruch Ben Shmuel of Mainz—instead of self-revealing texts like "Confession" (with the unforgettable lines: "I am a fake/A hyper-conscious Jewish fake/With a Catholic habit for confession") from the previous release of this band, Exile (self-published, 2002).

But even if the texts are more ancient here, the outcome is still optimistic, humane and touching. The widely experienced Fredrik Rubens, who produced Exile, is doing a great job again, and Schecter, as usual, enlists a small army of young and coming musicians to help her deliver her spiritual and sensual vision.

Haran means "a road" and is used metaphorically as the starting place of Abraham's long spiritual journey. Schechter borrows this powerful metaphor for her own musical expression, one that embraces influences from Spain, Persia, Turkey and Mali. Her beautiful arrangement of the Aramic text "Ka Ribon (Olam)", features an inspiring interplay with santur master Alan Kushan, who collaborated with Schechter on her Queen's Dominion (Tzadik, 2004), along with the spacious guitar of Adam Levy and the rock-steady bass of Shanir Blumenkranz.

Raquy Danziger's kamanche adds dark tones to Schechter's adaption of the Arabic Samai scale and her heartfelt rendition of the Biblical story of Hagar's conversation with the angel. The rippling West-African kora of Yacuba Sissoko ornaments the gentle vocals of Schechter, who recites "Askinu", a Kabbalistic song from Shabbat.

"Enpesare", a dramatic Ladino retelling of the story of Joseph, enables the band to storm into an exciting Middle-Eastern dance with sharp solos by violinist Meg Okura and accordionist Uri Sharlin. Other songs, like the Ladino "Ven Hermosa", and the poems "Hayona" and "Hasomer," feature the folky side of Schecter, and receive much more minimalist arrangements, but ones still nuanced with expressive oud solos and inspiring ney flute solo by Daphna Mor.

Another beautiful gem from this inspiring band.

Visit La Mar Enfortuna and Pharaoh's Daughter on the net.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: La Puerta Del Rio; Aman Minush; Ya Kalbi Khalli Al Hal; Pali Mou Kanis To Vari; El Eliyahu; Gacela Del Amor Que No Se Deja Ver; Dhen Me Toumbaris; Convivencia; Persona Soy Yo, El Buen Sidi; 25 Rats And A Dove.

Personnel: Oren Bloedow: guitar, bass, vocals, oud; Jennifer Charles: vocals, omnichord; Ted Reichman: accordion, bass, piano; Robert DiPietro: drums; Brahim Fribgane: oud, dumbek, vocals; Doug Weiselman: clarinets, baritone saxophone; Ljova Zhurbin: viola; Chuscales: guitar; Liaqat Khan: vocals; Benjamin Lapidus: tres.


Tracks: By Way Of Haran; Ka Ribon (Olam); Samai; Hagar; Enpesare; Van Hermosa; Lev Tahor; Yona; Hashomer; Askinu.

Personnel: Basya Schechter: vocals, oud, saz; Shanir Blumenkranz: bass, electric and acoustic guitar; Jason Lindner: keyboards, piano; Yuval Lyon: drums; Meg Okura: violin; Daphna Mor: ney, recorder, background vocals; Mathias Kunzli: percussion; Uri Sharlin: accordion; Adam Levy: guitar (2-4,7); Mauro Refosco: percussion (3-5,10); Daniel Freedman: additional percussion (6,7); Yacuba Sissoko: kora (10); Raqui Danziger: kamanche (3,4,8); Michal Cohen: vocal intro (4), background vocals (4,9); Lila Sklar: additional violin (2,6); Aaron Johnson: drums (7); Tomer Tzur: riq (3,6); Anthony Coleman: piano (4); Fredrik Rubens: vocals (6), guitar (8,10); Alan Kushan: santur (2); Clefhangers: vocal outro (3).


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