E-Hazzan: Different Music for a Different Night

Perhaps one of the best things about Pesach is that it gives us the opportunity to reconnect to age old traditions. In fact, Passover is the perfect example of the Jewish understanding of history and heritage – it is not enough to recall the travails of our ancestors; we must experience them again by reenacting their stories. The Hagadah it self states, “Bichol Dor Va Dor…In each generation every one of us must feel as though we personally came out of Egypt.” In order to accomplish this mandate, it is important to both maintain traditional melodies, foods and customs while at the same time endeavoring to re-frame these ancient elements in the idioms and genres that speak to us today.

There are lots of ways to meld new elements into a traditional Seder celebration. For example, we usually begin our Seder outside on our deck (not a good idea if it is snowing) and then liberate our guests to the dinning room for the meal. We have even build a tent in the house and dressed in traditional costumes. Sharing personal stories of deliverance is another good way to contemporize a Seder, as is including dishes from other cultures. We once had at least five variations of the Haroset, a mixture of items that represent the mortar used by the Israelites when they were slaves to Pharaoh.

Music is an excellent way to add meaning and variety to any ceremony or celebration, especially the Seder. Every Jewish tradition and culture has a collection of Seder melodies that range from the sacred to the downright silly. In every generation, talented artists explore contemporary genres in an effort to add to the ever growing and evolving collection of Pesach music. These musicians understand the vital principal of “Bichol Dor Va Dor…” adding the particular expression of their generation to that of the generations of the past.

Here are a few of the Passover goodies that I have recently found. Hopefully, you will be adding your favorites to my collection and as a community we can share some great suggestions to spice up our Passover experience.

My first selection is not new; in fact it is a classic. This is a rendition of the great hit, Go Down Moses, by the inimitable patriarch of American folk music, Pete Seger . This cut is found on his recording, American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 4, released May 25, 2006. Although many artists have recorded this classic, Seger is one of the most authentic.

Bread Of Affliction (Ha Lachma Anya) recorded by Safam, one of the original Jewish folk-rock groups dating back to 1974, is also an oldie that deserves a new listening. The ancient Aramaic invitation to all who are hungry to come and eat ends with the hope that while this year we are slaves, next year all will be free. Safam renders this old text in a mixture of modern and traditional music that is most memorable. The song can be found on the group’s first album (yes I said album) Dreams of Safam.

Rabbi Joe Black a contemporary Jewish folk singer includes this playful song; Afikoman Mambo on his 1991 release entitled Aleph Bet Boogie. With its delightful islands sound, this song provides a refreshing lightness to the often serious assortment of Seder music.

Va’amartem Zevakh Pesakh is the refrain of the traditional liturgical poem for the first night of Passover. This stirring rendition is by Divahn, the all female group featuring Middle Eastern and Sephardic music. The lovely voice of Galeet Dardashti is accompanied by a combination of western and traditional Middle Eastern instruments producing a unique musical flavor.

A combination of Hip-Hop and Reggae is provided by the internationally renowned artist Matisyahu together with Socalled & Trevor Dunn in this rendition of Eliyahu Ha Navi (Elijah the Prophet) entitled; 3rd Cup: Yahu. This song appears on an interesting, totally unusual CD called The Socalled Seder – A Hip-Hop Hagadah produced by the avant-garde Canadian artist SoCalled.

Finally, on this short list of songs, are two renderings of the Hymn, Dayenu,(it would have been enough). The artist, French bornRabbi Mikael Zerbib known as KAYAMA, presents this wonderful reggae version of Dayenu on his 2004 recording Mussareggae. 

In contrast to the reggae version above, here is an “oldies” rock and roll version of Dayeu called “Dayenu (Diana)” released by Hankus Netsky, Michael S. McCown & the Nec Jewish Music Ensemble and Chorus. This song is part of a wonderful collection of Pesach tunes entitled, A Taste of Passover co-produced by Theodore Bikel and Hankus Netsky.

If you wish to have the full version of the above songs or are looking to do some exploring of your own, here are some of my favorite places to look for Jewish music. Naturally, your local Judaica shop or Jewish book store is a great place to begin. There is nothing like being able to touch the CD in which you are interested before you buy. I must say, however that I buy most of my music on line.Tara Publications also know as JewishMusic.com is one of the oldest and most established providers of Jewish music books, sheet music and recordings. Tara is internationally recognized for their expertise in all areas of Jewish Music and can sell you a physical CD or book as well as some downloads. Another on line site devoted to Jewish music is Oy Songs. They have lots of recordings and sheet music and offer the ability to sample almost any song before you purchase it. Their pricing system is somewhat confusing but their selection of contemporary Jewish music is great. Sameiach Music, also know as jewishjukebox.com has a good selection of music specializing in “Yeshiva rock”. Unfortunately, the Jewish Juke box site is down until the beginning of April 2009.The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is a fascinating collection of music by American Jewish artists and composers covering a multitude of genres. This is a source that is defiantly worth checking out. General music sites such as Amazon.com, CD Baby and, my favorite, the iTunes store all have excellent collections of Jewish Music as well and are always a good resource. The last resource I will mention is an incredible, ever-expanding collection of Jewish Music for listening only; The Florida Atlantic University Judaica Sound Arcahives.

If you have more resources or other favorite songs to share, leave them in a comment below and we will all be able to share them.

Just like searching for new ways to cook traditional foods, part of our Passover preparation should involve searching for new methods of expressing classical Passover songs and themes. By finding ways of linking our magnificent heritage with modern day understandings, we help forge our unique link in the chain of tradition that began with Moses, Miriam and the first Pesach experienced by our Israelite ancestors in Egypt; “Bichol Dor Va Dor…”

Best Wishes to all for a Zissen (sweet) Pesach.

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10 thoughts on “E-Hazzan: Different Music for a Different Night

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