Country of origin: Spain
Sephardic music comprises the songs, mainly ballads, romances (Hispanic narrative ballads) and wedding song lyrics, preserved by communities formed by the Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century. Most of the Spanish Jews set up house in Mediterranean countries, primarily in Morocco, Greece, Turkey. These Sephardic communities share many of the same lyrics and poems, but the music itself varies considerably.
In the year 1492, the Christian kings Fernando and Isabel decreed the expulsion or conversion of all Spanish Jews that since the 1st century lived in the Iberian peninsula. In a few months, more than 160.000 Jews of the peninsula departed and they headed towards the Ottoman Empire, Provence (now France), North Africa, the Balkan states and also Italy and Holland.
The Jews of the Diaspora transmitted the sons their medieval Spanish past: the customs, the music and the language. The traditional songs of the Sephardic Jews, the Romance stories, were sung in Judeo-Spanish (judezmo or haketia), which is now also known as Ladino.
According to some researchers, the feminine voice predominates in the interpretation of Sephardic traditional music. The explanation is that Jewish men participated in the Hebrew liturgy at synagogues, while women did not know, in general, the Hebrew scripture. Women, instead, sang the songs that made reference to the cycle of life: birth, growth, weddings and death.
Because so many centuries have passed since the exodus, a lot of the original music has been lost. Instead, Sephardic music has adopted the melodies and rhythms of the various countries where the Sephardim settled in. The Greek and [[Turkish traditions are fairly close. The Moroccan or 'western' Sephardic traditions are not that close to the eastern/Greek/Turkish traditions.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Sephardic colonies of the west and of the east of the Mediterranean constituted two cultures, clearly differentiated and independent. The eastern Mediterranean branch located in Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, while the western Mediterranean Sephardic communities were clearly influenced by Moroccan and Spanish elements.
Some of the popular lyric songs most often heard on recordings of Sephardic music are actually based on 19th century Spanish compositions, others are versions of the old narrative ballads, life and calendar cycle songs, or local compositions based on events or situations. Currently, there are many musicians in Israel, Spain and North America who are researching Sephardic songs, developing new music.
It is believed that at present the Jewish community in Spain totals 15,000 people.
Dr. Judith R. Cohen, from Canada, performs both solo and with her group Gerineldo. In Spain, the Pneuma record label, led by Eduardo Paniagua, has released several recordings inspired by Early Spanish Music, including Medieval Christian, Muslim and Sephardic songs and poems.
The following articles published at World Music Central contain material related with Sephardic music:
Other World Music Genres