Gerard Edery Ensemble
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Gerard Edery Ensemble


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"Ensemble Makes Beautiful Sephardic Music on New CD"

For some, the Jewish diaspora conjures images of shtetl-dwelling Ashkenazim cursing (in Yiddish) the winter chill. But Sephardic Jews live — and sing — in warmer climes.

Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey gave rise to Sephardic culture, with the music of Ladino-speaking Jews among its lasting treasures.

The Gerard Edery Ensemble is one of the most celebrated bands playing Ladino music today. Over a 10-CD career, the group earned a reputation for turning in modern renditions of folk tunes while remaining true to tradition. Their new CD, “Amid the Jasmine,” is a worthy addition to their catalog.

The Morocco-born Edery grew up in Paris and New York. Trained as both a classical singer and guitarist, he has also served as a cantorial soloist at synagogues and Jewish Community Centers across North America. But as the music on the CD shows, his heart belongs to the Sephardic folk tradition of his forebears.

Though they play largely ancient music, the Edery Ensemble employs the same basic tools as any pop band: guitar, drums, bass and vocals. There are occasional flourishes from mandolin, oud, dumbek and violin, but Edery keeps it simple, with his flamenco-style acoustic guitar and duet vocals (with soprano Nell Snaidas) always front and center.

Ultimately, the ensemble does for Sephardic music what ’60s bands like Pentangle and Fairport Convention did for traditional British folk music — give it a contemporary twist.

The opening track, “Hija Mia Querida” (“My Dear Daughter”) typifies the CD: animated, melodic and grounded in Andalusian motifs (though this one is from Turkey). Most of the songs –– such as “Ojos Asesinos,” “Entre Las Huertas Paseando” and the jazzy “Tres Hermanicas” –– feature simple love stories, and don’t embody overtly Jewish themes. “El Galanteo” is an elegant duet sung by Edery and Snaidas, as is the standout track “El Encuentro Nocturno,” a psalm-like cry in the night.

Edery brings out the Jewish music with songs like “Kochav Tsedek” (sung in Hebrew) and “La Ley Estimada.” The former is a Middle Eastern-sounding homage to the patriarch Abraham, the latter a folksy retelling of the revelation on Mt. Sinai.

Edery is a superb guitarist. Falling somewhere between Andres Segovia’s classical precision and the Assad Brothers’ Gypsy abandon, his style brings out a Mediterranean passion in every song, including his solo guitar original, “Esperando.”

Unfortunately, his vocals, while evocative, are less satisfying. A natural baritone, Edery spends too much time straining in his higher register, often sounding like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. The classically trained Snaidas acquits herself better, and one only wishes she had a singing lead on every track.

The band goes awry on the one English-language song “Where Corals Lie,” a treacly exercise in bad high school love poetry. Yet even here, the band’s playing is exquisitely tasteful.

For anyone remotely conversant in Spanish, the very similar Ladino language holds a magical fascination. The same is true for the musical confluence of ancient Hebrew melody, Middle Eastern rhythms and Iberian spirit that underlies Ladino music.

That is one of the key pleasures of “Under the Jasmine.” In a few simple tunes, Edery and his band convey the sweep of the Sephardis’ 2,000-year history, from Israel to North Africa, on to Spain and then to Turkey. To trace that journey in music is a pleasure.

by Dan Pine
Staff writer
- Jewish Bulletin of Northern California

"Music fest aiming to harmonize Jewish, Muslim cultures"

Jews and Muslims are practically at war in the Middle East, straining relations between the two groups worldwide.

But for two weeks in March, the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Music Festival aims to transcend that tension -- through music.

"I'm not naive about the political reality, or about how polarized Jews and Arabs have become," said singer and classical guitarist Gerard Edery, "but I believe music is a way to build bridges between these communities."

Edery, whose ensemble will perform a mosaic of Jewish, Muslim and Christian songs from the Golden Age of Spain on Sunday, March 10, put that theory in action while performing at the Festival of Sacred Music in his native Morocco five years ago.

Standing before a room full of Muslims, the Jewish musician launched into "a very Jewish song" in Hebrew about Elijah the prophet. Then, "without even thinking," he started teaching them the words.

"At first, I sensed a hesitation from the audience, but it didn't register why, so I persisted as I usually do," said Edery. "After a few measures I had 700 to 800 Muslims singing with me in Hebrew."

That "crossing of boundaries," as Edery calls it, is what the 17th annual Jewish Music Festival, which runs March 9 through 24, aims to achieve. Several of the seven featured musicians and groups represent a convergence of Jewish and Muslim cultural traditions.

"The overall vision of the festival is to basically use music as a vehicle of communication between peoples," explained Ellie Shapiro, festival co-director. Music, she said, "not only expresses universal emotions" but can also be used as "a tool for healing and reconciliation."

In addition to the Jewish-Muslim convergence, other festival performances include a community klezmer dance party, a German violinist playing Jewish music, a Balkan women's ensemble, and a neo-klezmer band.

Shapiro hopes the variety of acts will serve as a reminder of the Jewish people's history of interaction with other cultures.

"Our culture does not survive in a vacuum. It never has," she said. "It's important to remember and expand on that and to celebrate the richness of diaspora."

The repertoire of the opening act Shashmaqam, for instance, reflects the music of Central Asia. For that reason, Shapiro said she has increased festival outreach to the large Afghani community in southern Alameda County. So far, she has been "pleasantly surprised" by the positive reaction.

Shashmaqam's artists originate in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, a place where Jewish and Muslim musicians have long coexisted.

"Jewish people share music with the Muslim people of that region," said Shumiel Kuyanov, a member of Shashmaqam -- a name that comes from the music the band performs, a classical Bukharan style that dates back centuries.

"When we used to play [for Muslims in Uzbekistan], they knew we are Jews, but they see us as Uzbekistan people" rather than as Jews, said Kuyanov, who immigrated to the United States in 1979. "Yes, there was lots of anti-Semitism, but the music [is] the same. Everything which is beautiful [in the music] we share together."

James Schlefer, a musicologist at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York, explained that the music of Central Asia is indeed all-encompassing, having been embraced by both the Jews and the Muslims.

Historically, aside from the more liturgical music based on Judaic texts, Bukharan Jews were commonly hired to play for Muslim royalty and at Muslim functions and parties, a bridging of gaps that continues today.

"It says something about the universal nature of music," said Schlefer, who will lecture on the musical fusion of Muslims and Jews in Central Asia on Thursday, March 7 in a talk at the San Francisco Public Library that is connected to the festival.

Edery, who was born in Casablanca before moving to Paris at age 4 and the United States at 8, agreed that music is universal. Like those of Central Asia, Jews and Muslims in pre-Inquisition Spain, the place of his maternal ancestry, "shared similar, musical, poetical and artistic" license.

"There was a tolerance and a cross-pollination," he said.

As for his father's side of the family, with deep roots in Morocco, Edery said his grandfather spoke only Arabic, a language he often incorporates in his own repertoire. It also was not uncommon for Jewish musicians in Morocco to adapt an Arabic tune for their own purposes, liturgical pieces included -- and vice versa.

"There are tons of examples of Jewish melodies with Arab words or Arab melodies with Jewish words," said Edery, who serves as a freelance cantor for a synagogue in New York's West Village. While the two groups differed politically and religiously, when it came to music, he said, "the boundaries were not so clear cut."

However, while on tour in the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Edery was surprised to find the boundaries redrawn in an unsettling way. On the tour, several o - Jewish Bulletin of Northern California

"'Musical ambassador': Gerard Edery strikes harmonious chord with multi-cultural program"

Born in Casablanca and raised in Paris and New York City, Gerard Edery - who is Moroccan Sephardic on his father's side and Spanish Sephardic on his mother's side - embodies cultural harmony. His first language was French, followed by Spanish, Arabic and, by the time he was 9 years old, English. At the same time he was absorbing musical traditions spanning three continents. And, since Edery's paternal grandfather was very religious, little Gerard was also steeped in synagogue Hebrew.

Edery was also trained as a classical baritone at The Manhattan School of Music, and is a virtuoso guitarist who melds classical, flamenco, jazz and folk techniques.

The concert on Tuesday will include music from around the world, including Edery's original compositions and arrangements of traditional songs. The language of the songs will glide through Hebrew, Ladino, Arabic, Spanish and English, reflecting Edery's heritage.

"Sometimes in one song I'll go through two or three languages," he said. "It always conveys a good message. I strongly believe that learning another language - let's say Jews learning Arabic or Americans learning Farsi - is a doorway into how people think, a doorway into their minds, their attitudes. And when you make the effort to learn a language, it opens doors. It helps to create a sense of good will among the people."

'Musical ambassador'

"There's no question that having delved into the Sephardic repertoire in the way that I have has influenced my compositional style," said Edery, whose special passion is the rich heritage of French, Spanish and Judeo-Spanish melody. Considered one of the leading interpreters of Sephardic song, Edery was honored with the 1997 Sephardic Musical Heritage Award.

"But on the other hand," he continued, "so has the folk music of the '70s, so has French popular music, so has the Argentinean folk songs I heard from my grandfather, who was born in Argentina. I have allowed world music, the influences of all the music that I heard growing up and in my adolescence and early 20s - I've really let that music inform my artistry and my musical style and preference.

"Many people have called me a musical ambassador," he continued, "because I really synthesize many of these musical cultures in a musical style that's very much my own. ... I try to focus in on what the text is trying to tell me. If I'm inspired by the melody of the text, then the next step is to bring people in. How do I bring people in to this centuries-old music? I make it current through the way in which I express myself with this music. It's a very emotional experience for me, and I think my audiences tend to react that way."

Given that we live in a world made increasingly smaller by globalization, has Edery found that the musical distinctiveness of various cultures is being lost?

"Often when you hear world music, it has the same production values as American pop but with certain Middle Eastern modes," or whatever modes are distinctive of the country's music, said Edery. "It ends up sounding generic."

Only 1 percent of the music that's out there is ever heard on the radio, he lamented. "Why aren't we exposed to more? There's great stuff out there!"

His concerts are a way to get such music out there, not only within the Jewish world, but into the larger community.

"The music has a universal appeal," said Edery. "It just happens to be Jewish, just like there's great Arabic music, just like there's great French music. The themes of the texts of so many of these songs are universal themes - whether I'm talking about a five-centuries-old love song or a liturgical piece or a more recent composition. ... After concerts people respond very enthusiastically to what I do. And they ask, 'How come we haven't heard this before?' It's almost like a revelation that this kind of music exists."

Focusing on the beauty music can also speak to the difficult times we're living in. Since Sept. 11, said Edery, "there has been a greater hunger for my programs."

Especially meaningful for audiences has been "Music in the Land of Three Faiths," sung in Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino, Latin, "basically trying to communicate a message of harmony among faiths," said Edery.

"It's what I've been doing, in a way, for many, many years," he said, "singing in these languages and presenting music from these three faiths."

Now, however, the context is a world rocked by terrorism and polarization.

"How can we find ways to make sense of the mindless violence that's going on?" Edery asked. "How can we find ways to stop it? I'm not a politician, but in my own small way I do believe that it's by focusing on the music, on the beautiful things that each culture has to offer. Otherwise it's depressing beyond words.

"I read the paper every day and I cry. I just cry," he said. "It's so, so painful, especially as a Middle Eastern Jew. I grew up with Moroccan Arabs They were my brothers. We were cu - The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

"Songs fiery, sad, evoke 'pain for home' "

For most New Yorkers, Jewish culture means the Yiddish-inflected world of the Ashkenazim or Eastern European Jews. Still, for most of their history, pre- and post-diaspora, Jews were a people of the Mediterranean. They lived in Rome before Christians existed and may have dwelled on the Iberian peninsula as early as the 10th century before the common era.

Some historians estimate that in the 1100s, 90 percent of Jews lived in Spain, which they called Sefarad, where they had flourished under the relatively tolerant rule of the Moorish kings. So even after being expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile in 1492, the Sephardim retained a passionate attachment to their former home. Some Sephardic Jews were buried facing Spain, not Jerusalem; and their songs, even those telling of such archetypal themes as love, the passing of time or a young soldier going off to war, burn with nostalgiaa word whose root meaning, appropriately enough, is "pain for home."

The Gerard Edery Ensemble offered a vibrant program of Sephardic songs Wednesday evening as part of the 34th annual Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival. Baritone and guitarist Edery and his ensemble—consisting of bassist Emmanuel Mann, percussionist Rex Benincasa, flamenco guitarist Christian Puig, and oud (Middle Eastern lute) virtuoso George Mgrdichian—coped good-humoredly with the challenges of playing in the urban wild. They added flourishes when an impertinent helicopter piped up, and experimented with new sonorities when the humidity made a traditional Moroccan drum sound (in their words) "like wet newspapers."

The program got off to a stirring start with the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) song "Cuando el rey Nimrod," celebrating the birth and survival of the patriarch Abraham.

As performed by the Edery Ensemble, this exultant work epitomizes the rich cultural heritage of the Sephardim, combining the gorgeous filigree of the flamenco guitar, the mysterious twang of the oud and a raucous, sometimes ululating vocal line, reminiscent of traditional North African and Middle Eastern music.

Edery's warm, flexible baritone glides with seductive ease through a variety of languages and styles: the wails and nasal intonations of "Sidi Habibi," a wedding song from Algeria and Morocco; "El encuentro nocturno," which segues from Edery's own setting of a poem by Lord Byron to a centuries-old text of longing and despair; and "Entre las huertas paseando," a rapturous song of Turkish origin, in which Puig's brilliant playing alternately stung and caressed, ending in a sigh born of a love too great to bear.

In recent years, Sephardic culture has worked its way into mainstream consciousness, as seen in Frédéric Brenner's photographs and such novels as David Liss's "The Coffee Trader." The hundreds of stomping fans drawn to Edery's program on an oppressive summer night demonstrate that the fiery, melancholy genius of the Sephardim speaks to audiences even today, so many miles and centuries away from home.
- Newsday Long Island

""Sing to the Eternal" CD Review"

Genre: Sephardic
Description: Hearing Gerard Edery’s perfect enunciation and creamy baritone, it’s easy to spot his operatic training at work. And then there’s his virtuoso guitar and saz (Persian lute) playing, a mix of classical, flamenco and folk stylings. Winner of the 1997 Sephardic Musical Heritage Award, Edery has built up quite a distinguished career around the world on the concert and festival circuit doing Sephardic, flamenco, Middle Eastern and Jewish programs.
His ensemble includes Armenian oud player George Mgrdichian, one of the greatest Middle Eastern lute players living in the United States and electric bass player Sean Kupiscz, a musician with whom I am not familiar but who adds a great deal to “Sing to the Eternal.”
Key Tracks: The tunes on this album are from Sephardic sacred repertoire. Some are familiar Shabbat tunes like “Adon Olam” and “Ya Ribbon” set to original or traditional Moroccan melodies. Other tunes like the haunting “Shalom Alechem, Senores,” is a Ladino tune that expresses the feelings of withdrawal that sometimes comes over one when confronted with such a cruel world. Edery also includes a mystic poem, set to music by the Sufi poet Rumi, that works well in this context.
Appeal: An excellent program with a wide dynamic range performed by some excellent control. Highly recommended. Available at, Edery’s website.
- Jewish Herald-Voice

""Linda Amiga" CD Review"

The Gerard Edery Ensemble, Linda Amiga: Love Songs of the Sephardim and Renaissance Spain

In this collection of 12 songs from the Jewish and Christian sides of 15th- and 16th-century Spain, Edery’s dark baritone and Cassandra Hoffman’s soprano float over classical guitar arrangements. What separates this material from both conventional art-song and authentic instrument performances are Rex Benincasa’s percussion and Edery’s delicate, multitracked guitar settings, echoing the Spanish classical and flamenco traditions. The songs themselves (lyrics and English translations are included) are simple but haunting.
- Acoustic Guitar Hit List

""Morena" CD Review"

“Functioning in the obscure but captivatingly beautiful niche of Judeo-Spanish music, this New York-based trio performs Sephardic folk songs and music from Renaissance Spain in a sparse setting with classical guitar, light percussion, and the male-female vocal combination of Gerard Edery and Cassandra Hoffman. Singing in Spanish and Ladino - a Latin language closely related to Spanish - Edery and company offer such lovely Sephardic pieces as “Montanas Altas”, the entrancing “No la puso su madre”, and “Avrij mi Galanika.” Among the Spanish Renaissance tunes are “Linda Amiga”, “Aquella Mora Garrida”, and “En la Fuente”, all dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A music steeped in cultural heritage and rich in tonal, harmonic, and lyrical qualities.” BILLBOARD - Billboard

""Amid the Jasmine" CD Review"

The Gerard Edery Ensemble – Amid the Jasmine
For several years, Gerard Edery has been recording music of the Sephardim, Jews who trace their roots to those who lived in Spain and Portugal before the Inquisition forced them to convert or flee, if they weren’t killed. The ensuing centuries were rich with music from the places they fled – Turkey, Greece, Morocco, the former Yugoslavia, Egypt. On his latest, outing, Edery takes Sephardic poetry and lyrics and adapts them to his own arrangements, a move that, in effect, updates the ancient sounds while remaining true to their message and beauty, insofar as nearly all of these are love songs of one sort or another. One standout is “El Galanteo,” a lovely duet with Nell Snaidas. He also adds a few originals that, naturally, are in a similar vein. And all of them are sung in his pleasing baritone in either Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, or Ladino, which is a largely forgotten mix of Hebrew and Spanish. There are few artists recording such music these days, which alone makes Edery worth hearing. But it’s even more satisfying that he’s such a devoted and passionate talent.
- Dirty Linen


Gerard Edery Ensemble

Two Faiths One Voice, Sefarad Records 2008

Amid the Jasmine, 2006 Sefarad Records

Sons of Sefarad, 2002 Sefarad Records

Morena, 2002 Sefarad Records

Sing to the Eternal, 2002 Sefarad Records

Oigo/I Hear, 2000 Sefarad Records

Chansons d�Amour, 1997 Sefarad Records

Linda Amiga, 1997 Sefarad Records

Guitar Give Me Your Song, 1994 Sefarad Records

Romanzas Sefarditas, 1991 Sefarad Records



"Edery and his band are among the best interpreters of Sephardic Music in the business." - The Jewish Week

The Gerard Edery Ensemble is well noted for their instrumental virtuosity, performing songs in some dozen languages. These gifted musicians bring an ancient repertoire to the contemporary stage, bridging ancient and modern ethnic repertoires. The Ensemble has been widely praised for energizing Sephardic music with new arrangements and a contemporary sound, and fueling the evolution of Sephardic music with new arrangements and original compositions.