Last night a full "congregation" (well, some of us were there only for Vanessa) of Tangier's music lovers gathered in historic St. Andrew's Anglican church for an evening of Sephardic song.
Former Fulbright scholar Vanessa Paloma, who we've written about before (here and here), returned to her favorite city on the Strait and impressed us with her wide repertoire of songs from Morocco's (and Andalusian Spain's) past.
There's something about Sephardic music. Sometimes when you shut your eyes, you can hear the long links to its Andalusian and North African homes, a rhythm that would match the gait of a camel caravan crossing the distance of time.
This impression was enhanced by Vanessa's choice of accompanists, Tangeroises Zakia Yahlef, violinist, and percussionist Sanae Hantout. Educator and fellow blogger Anouar Majid of the University of New England provides us with a nice video excerpt on his blog Tingitana.
Vanessa Paloma explained that
Tonight's concert draws from the rich repertoire of Romances (narrative ballads) that have been sung in Morocco and Andalusia since before the expulsion from the Iberian peninsula. My work has focused on… transporting forgotten ballads out from the memories of older women and recorded archives to stages throughout the world.
Performer and audience reveled in the multi-religious and multi-cultural content of the songs and of the city in which they were performed. One Tanjawia, a Muslim, recalled how her grandmother used to sing Jewish ballads in Haketia, the Ladino dialect of northern Morocco.
Vanessa was inspired, seeing a plaque in the church dedicated to 19th century Tangier British diplomat Drummond-Hay, to adjust her program. She inserted a ballad of Solica or Suleika, the real-life Sol Hachuel, a tragic case about which Drummond-Hay wrote to the Foreign Office. Paul Bowles, in his 1984 book "Points in Time," wrote about Sol Hachuel, "favored with exceptional beauty," whose walks through the Mellah or Jewish quarter of the Fez medina attracted the attentions of her future husband, a Muslim. After straying from the boundaries of religion for love, Solica begins to regret her marriage and conversion, but her escape is short-lived and fatal.
Love, longing, loss – and all the dangers that can befall women in a dangerous world (kidnapping, seduction, abandonment of tradition) – were a common theme in Vanessa Paloma's selections. And what better ballad to conclude the evening than "Mosé salió de Misrayim," the Moses that Muslims know as Musa, and who all three great monotheistic religions venerate. Truly, it was an evening of celebration of the Mediterranean/Andalusian/Maghrebi world's "tres culturas."