Izzet Bana & Estreyikas d'Estambol / Un Kavretiko
by Judith Cohen
Izzet Bana & Estreyikas d'Estambol
Gözlem Gazetecilik Basin ve Yayin A.S., 2005
www.istanbul sephardic center.com
available online from Gozlem Kitap
Normally the word "charming" is not one I would use, or at least not without irony—but it's really the first word that comes to mind, and without any irony, while listening to the "Estreyikas d'Estambol", the "Little Stars of Istanbul" directed by Izzet Bana, of Pasharos Sefardies fame. And normally a CD of Judeo-Spanish songs accompanied by all sorts of instruments, many of which are not traditionally associated with Sephardic music, would not move me to positive comments. But this is a delightful recording, and one whose time has come: if children don't sing the songs inside their own community, well, who will?
Jewish life is the main theme of the selections, with songs which evoke Shabbat, as well as Purim and Hanuka songs, "Ein kelohenu" in Ladino and Hebrew, a Psalm with music by Elie Botbol, and of course "Avram Avinu" and "Un kavretiko" (Had Gadya), which lends its name to the album. The selection is a mixture of old and new—well, perhaps not VERY old—no romances, no wedding songs, and a number of new compositions. Among these are Flory Jagoda's "Ocho Kandelikas"—which by now has really entered the canon and become traditional— and songs by Matilde Koen Sarano, as well as melodies by Haim Tsur, Selim Hubes and Judy Frankel. The arrangements are credited to Izi Izak Eli.
Those who know me will not find it surprising that my own favourite on this album is not any of the "top ten" or the newly composed songs (for all that I appreciate their composers), but a traditional Purim song, "Alevanta, Mordehay" [sic]. There are two Ladino translations of Naomi Shemer hits: "Yerushalayim shel zahav" (currently being identified with a Basque melody) and "Al kol ele". I am a little bemused about the choice of a melody by Angelo Branduardi used for the Italian Sephardic "Un kavretiko" rather than the traditional tune published in the Italian Jewish album edited by Francesco Spagnolo, but it works well enough. If anything on the CD does NOT work for me, it is the uncompromisingly Ashkenazi "Maoz Tsur", especially with an organ or organ-imitating electronic keyboard, and the chidren sounding curiously like a Reform or even an Anglican choir.Otherwise, the young singers' voices are fresh and clear, and, mercifully, free of cloyingly sweet "children's choir" sounds. As the notes point out, this is to anyone's knowledge the first and only Sephardic children's choir. It is not really clear whether the main goal is to have children learn, enjoy and perpetuate the Sephardic song tradition or whether it is more to have them sing in Judeo-Spanish. If the latter is the more important, then the project certainly succeeds, and they sing with unmistakeable and infectious enjoyment and enthusiasm. Personally, I would be happier to see traditional songs more represented, more traditional instruments instead of the pervasive—and rather invasive—brass, strings, and keyboards; and, especially, to have fewer songs with very Western, rather banal in some cases, melodies. Children, in my very long experience working with all ages, appreciate good melodies and need not have "children-appropriate" tunes tailored to them.
Nevertheless, it is a tribute to Izzet Bana's vision and dedication, and, of course, the commitment of the children, that this recording succeeds in charming me despite my (probably predictable) reservations.
The booklet offers song texts in the original (Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew, Italian) and in Turkish, no other language; and clear, easily legible musical transcriptions of the melodies. The singers are all named, but it would have been nice to know their range of ages as well. I await further recordings of the "Little Stars of Istanbul" with—already affectionate—interest.
Sent to the KlezmerShack by Judith Cohen on 10-Feb-2006. Email Judith Cohen