25 October 2008

Music: Sephardic music website

Sephardic family history researchers now have a chance to listen online to the same recordings their ancestors heard and sang. Perhaps you'll even remember a grandparent singing some of these beautiful melodies, or recognize a synagogue liturgical piece.

Joel Bresler has created the Sephardic Music site, showcasing more than a century of recorded Sephardic music, beginning with old 78s down to today's formats.

On the home page, on the right, are samples of the earliest Sephardic recordings and others more contemporary. Bresler has compiled extensive details about the recordings, the artists and performance styles.

The next section covers the second half-century of recorded Sephardic music, touching on the increasing recordings and diverse performing styles.

There is a discography of Sephardic 78s listed by label, by artist and by song title. Included is information on the record companies, as well as early catalogs and advertisements.

Eventually, the site will offer a comprehensive list of all modern era recordings and more than 10,000 song samples. Just as one example, there is a section for the discography and samples for more than 125 versions of the Sephardic song, a la una yo naci.

Definitions and history are included with the caveat that the site focuses on the music of Jews descended from those exiled from the Iberian Peninsula and who landed in the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Morocco. An important cultural marker is the use of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) in most of the recordings.

Bresler does not cover music from Iran, Syria, Yemen, India, etc. even though he says "it is wonderfully enjoyable listening," and that explained why I didn't see our very famous cousin, the classical Persian singer Yona Dardashti, known as the Nightingale, in Teheran, Iran.

Bresler includes a plea to those who may hold old Sephardic recordings, and states that he will collaborate with collectors and record companies to spur re-release of the recordings on CD and the Web.

To date we have processed close to 8,000 song performances, along with accompanying graphics. When done, the digitized collection should include well over 90% of the modern corpus, and half or more of the 78s. The Phase II sephardicmusic.org site will list all known commercial recordings of Sephardic music, including sound samples of over 10,000 performances and cover graphics. Song titles in the broader discography will be linked as they are now for the 78s, enabling users to easily locate all versions of a particular song. We will include selected song texts as well.

He also wants to integrate the site's holdings into Hebrew University's library system, for the benefit of researchers and libraries worldwide. He's also looking for time, money and expertise to help build the future website and integrate with HU.

Contact Bresler through the site link above if you can help, have old recordings or for more information.

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