Second CD of the ‘Diáspora’ Collection, a series of five albums dedicated to the
Sephardic most important geographical destinations after their Exodus from
the Peninsula (Morocco, Turkey, Greece, former Yugoslavia and Israel).
Prologue by the musicologist Susana Weich-Shahak
This new CD is the second in a series that offers us a view over the rich musical repertoires of
the Sephardic Jews in Diaspora. The present CD is an introduction in the musical abundance of
the Sephardi in Turkey.
The first wave of Jewish refugees arrived there after the religious persecutions of 1391, in
1492 followed by the mass immigration of those expelled by the Catholic Monarchs, Queen
Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Much later the converts, who had fled
from the Inquisition, came to Turkey, after having passed through Portugal, Italy and the
Netherlands, when arriving in Constantinople they resumed their Hebrew religion.
The expelled Jews were warmly welcomed by Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512) who, ruling over a
large territory, appreciated their high level of education and the professions they practiced,
such as doctors, craftsmen or compositors, and let them maintain their customs, their
language and their culture. Wherever they settled they stayed together according to their
provenience, which is why they denominated their synagogues correspondingly: Khal of
Aragón, of Córdoba, of Toledo, Kahl of the Italians (those who had arrived after passing
through Italy), and the one of the Portuguese (who arrived much later).
The program of this CD, arranged with such dedication and care by Mara Aranda, gives proof
of the richness of the musical repertoire of the Sephardic Jews in Turkey. It covers the three
traditional genres: Romances, which are ballads or lyrical songs, Coplas, folk songs, and
Cantigas, medieval monophonic songs.
From the Sephardic Romancero, the oldest genre of the Sephardic tradition, three examples
were chosen: One, is a romance that begins with three ladies going to the mass and whose
topic of conversation, “Beauty in Mass”, comes from the adaptation of a Greek ballad. In the
Iberian Peninsula it is also known as “The lady of Aragó”, which may have the same origin.
Precisely of the latter they picked an originally instrumental part accompanied by Mara singing
the last verses of the Sephardic romance.
The second example, the romance of “The Death of the Duke of
Gandia” tells about the sad episode of the assassination of Juan
(Giovanni) Borgia, Duke of Gandía (in those times an Valencian
city), who was the favorite son of Pope Alexander VI and brother of
Cardinal Cesar Borgia. The incident took place in Rome on June 15,
The detailed description of the rich garb the corpse was enrobed in when a fisherman found
him on the Tiber River, em phasizes that Juan wasn’t the victim of a hold up murder him but
killed for political reasons only. There are rumors that he even was murdered by his brother
Cesar, but the facts are still unaccounted. Given both date and scene of the incident it
obviously occurred only after the expulsion, it is clear that this romance found its way into
Sephardic heritage while the Sefardi were already in exile. It might have been Jewish emigrants
travelling through Italy who brought it to the Ottoman Empire, maybe the converts.
Sephardic Coplas are a genre written by Jewish ballad mongers, many of them were composed
to be sung during the Hebrew festivities. The true meaning of these songs was to transmit the
values and contents of Judaism to those who could not read Hebrew but in a language they
understood: Jewish - Spanish.
Mara offers us two typical examples:
The first, is one of the numerous coplas to celebrate Purim, the festival that commemorates
the salvation of the Jews in Persia by Queen Esther’s and her cousin Mordecai’s mediation.
Mara interprets a fragment well known among the Sephardic communities: it introduces
Mordecai, who will arise from the days of fasting which he imposed himself in order to appeal
to God’s favor for the salvation of the Jews. To celebrate that, Mordecai will be cared for and
served precisely by the insidious vizier Haman, who will wash and dress him and then,
Mordecai is crowned with the king’s crown, he will get him on the king’s horse. In another
verse, malicious Haman is being taunted, for, drunk, he did not know what the corresponding
biblical chapter was.
The second folk song (copla), is entitled “The women and the Sabbath”, and reflects the
importance of the Holy Day and its customs: the women will light the candles (beacons) and
the whole community will abide by the rules and enjoy the Holy Day. It is expressed in Hebrew,
“kama tov kdusha (t) Shabbat”, which is “how good is the sacredness of Sabbath”, as well as in
Turkish: “Oh, ne guzel Shabat”, meaning “Oh, how beautiful is Shabbat”.
The third song describes the dialog between God and the Soul, a moralizing theme, about on
the repentance of the soul of the sinner. As in other coplas Hebrew words are embedded like
“avonot”, sins, “kelayá”, death or “rehmida”, redeemed, “zehud”,honor, “ zera”, seed and
The six yet unmentioned six melodies are so called Cantigas, which are strophic songs without
a fixed order of the verses, lyrical songs which are about love, sentimental feelings, the
amorous disappointment and, very frequently, they are just funny or at least entertaining.
These 12 songs the program of this CD comprises of definitely give proof of the preservation of
Sephardic heritage in its oral tradition and its indestructible ties to its Hispanic roots.