From Sept ’07 Spotlight: HAMSA-Fest is metro Chicago’s biannual salute to Middle Eastern music. This year’s performances were held in Lincoln Park on Saturday August 25 and Sunday August 26. The high point for me came during Saturday night’s performance by Pharaoh’s Daughter (Shanir Blumenkranz, Daphna Mor, and Basya Schechter).
Here’s how their website describes their music: “Blending a psychedelic sensibility and a pan-Mediterranean sensuality, Basya Schechter leads her band, Pharaoh’s Daughter, through swirling Hasidic chants, Mizrachi and Sephardi folk-rock, and spiritual stylings filtered through percussion, flute, strings and electronica.”
“Mizrachi” isn’t a familiar word for many Jewish-Americans, so I called Schechter and asked her to explain. “’Sephardic’ is about the community that’s come from Spain,” she told me. “Their communities disbursed into Turkey and Bulgaria and Morocco. ‘Mizrachi’ just means ‘from the East;’ Syrian, Lebanese and Yemenite Jews, they’re not Sephardic.” But Schechter agreed that strict demarcations are tricky: “The oud was from Lebanon. It traveled to Spain around 800. That’s why so much Spanish music has a lot of Arabic inflection.”
“Jewish music has developed in exile,” she concluded. “I feel so much: so much yearning, sadness, joy, memory. I can play oud and sing in Yiddish; make Middle Eastern rhythms and then sing in Ashkenazi Aramaic; have a klezmer violin but then sing something that’s very Middle Eastern inflected. My music is not targeted; I think it can be for everyone.”
For more information about HAMSA-Fest, visit www.gatc.org. The Pharaoh’s Daughter website is www.pharaohsdaughter.com.