An Afro-Latin Take on Jewish Liturgy
This record is the result of many years of exploring a familial and musical Spanish Caribbean connection that has also turned out to be spiritual: my travels have not only placed me in contact with my distant family scattered throughout the Caribbean, but also with the Jewish communities in Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. Musically, the CD is an imaginary creation that envisions a syncretic Spanish Caribbean Jewish liturgical music from the synagogues of La Habana, Santiago or San Juan. My goal was to combine Afro-Caribbean culture with Jewish liturgy without sacrificing the musical or spiritual qualities of any of these traditions. As a result, there were several moments in the studio when the corriente (spiritual energy) was palpable.” – Benjamin Lapidus
Latin music’s cutting-edge musician/scholar returns with Herencia Judía, a spiritually deep yet ear-pleasing recording that is inspired by the vast musical traditions of the Spanish Caribbean and the equally vast body of Jewish liturgical music. The result is a powerful and joyous listening experience that sets the bar high for future projects in this increasingly popular hybrid genre of music.
The Jewish calendar is full of holidays, some requiring self-sacrifice and others needing only the pure joy of being alive. Most of the songs in this record are associated with specific holidays and the others are part of the weekly liturgy. Herencia Judía (Tresero Productions) begins with a traditional Ladino version of Ein Kelokeinu, a song of praise that is arranged in the majestic Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance genre called bomba. Klezmer and Bluegrass wizard Andy Statman, adds melodic coloring throughout the piece with his legendary mandolin. The title song Herencia Judía extols the virtues and uniqueness of the Jewish people while playing with bicultural references: sometimes Lapidus sings in Hebrew, sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages. Etz Chaim is a beautiful song that speaks of the torah as a tree of life and it is arranged as a bembé with chekerés. Aleinu L’Shabeach is a concluding prayer that is set in the old rumba style of yambú that utilizes wooden crates. In Las Cuatro Preguntas and Los Cuatro Hijos, the first a changüí and the other a nengón, Cuban ritual drumming master, Román Díaz of Yoruba Andavo fame recites two parts of the Passover haggadah that are meant to maintain children’s interest. Dayenu is another fun, but often tedious, song that is sung during Passover. In Lapidus’s hands (and mind), the tongue-twisting lyrics conjure up the sound of panderetas (Puerto Rican frame drums) and the contagious plena. The song also showcases Andy Statman’s virtuosity.
The Jewish New Year is characterized as the days of awe, but it is also a time of spiritual cleansing and rejoicing. Therefore, Limpieza Judía begins with the formula for kapporot and is accompanied by the batá rhythmilubanche. The shofar blasts cue the Aveenu Malkenu, a haunting melody where the chazzan (cantor) pleads to the Creator on behalf of the congregation. This is also set in the rhythm for Oddúa, the orisha who coincides with the New Year in Lucumí (Cuban Yoruba-derived) culture. The cheerful Son de Hanukah is an instrumental arrangement of three children’s songs from Hanukah that also showcases the group’s individual chops, particularly Tony de Vivo’s unique bongó style. For Lapidus, the repetition and mode that are built into Ma Nishtana, a part of the reading for Pesach(Passover), called out for a changüí from su querido guaso (his beloved Guantánamo). The pageantry of Sukkot takes many forms, but the shaking of the lulav and etrog is the most special characteristic and Lapidus arranges the Na’anu’im melody with the batá rhythm yakotá. Daniel Pearl’s murder struck a nerve in many people’s souls and it is something that Lapidus thinks about frequently. Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for mourning and theguaguancó Kaddish para Daniel has been a way for Lapidus to process something that is still incomprehensible. It is his hope that this song for Daniel Pearl will keep his memory and the crime of his murder at the forefront of people’s minds. Tzadik Katamar is a danzón version of Louis Lewandowski’s haunting melody from the nineteenth century and features two outstanding solos from Jeremy Brown (Frank London) and Onel Mulet (Albita). For Lapidus, his experiences during carnival in both Guantánamo and Santiago reminded him of the Simchat Torah celebration. The album concludes with the Comparsa de Simchat Torah, a medley of songs heard during the hakafot, when the torah is finished being read in its entirety.
Critics and fans agree that Benjamin Lapidus’ music is unique in its cutting-edge approach without sacrificing accessibility or the traditions of Spanish-Caribbean music. With Herencia Judía, Lapidus continues his dynamic vision of Spanish-Caribbean music by fulfilling a self-made promise and recording his own personal version of Jewish and Latin music. Lapidus has recorded Jewish-themed music in his previous five releases as the leader of the world-renowned Latin jazz phenomenon Sonido Isleño. However, this is the full-length album he has devoted to Jewish music. In recent years Lapidus participated in Jewish/Latin recording projects with Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles (La Mar Enfortuna, Convivencia – Tzadik 2007), Almazal (independent), and Roberto Rodriguez & Maurice El Medioni (Descarga Oriental – Piranha 2006), who won the BBC 3 Radio’s Best Crossing Cultures Award in 2007.
For Herencia Judía, Lapidus assembled an A-list of performers and friends with whom he has frequently toured and recorded: Ogduardo Román Díaz of Cuba’s legendary group Yoruba Andavo, Jorge Bringas from Omara Portuondo and Albita’s bands, Tony de Vivo of Nu Guajiro, and rising cantorial star, Samuel Levine. Special guests include Oscar Oñoz (Orlando Marin), Jeremy Brown (Frank London), Onel Mulet (Albita), and mandolin/clarinet icon Andy Statman. Lapidus joins them on the tres, the quintessential Cuban instrument with three pairs of strings on its small guitar-like body. Its unique tuning provides the skilled player with infinite range while its playing technique is at once percussive, harmonic, and melodic.