Sephardic Songs / Sarband
in the Hispano-arabic Tradition of medieval Spain
Jaro 4206-2


1998: Sonifolk/Lyricon (Jaro) 21115
"Canciones Sefardíes de la tradición hispanoárabe en la España medieval"

1999: Dorian Recordings DOR-93190
"Ballads of the Sephardic Jews"

1.   [4:53]
a. Ea Judios  — Spain
b. Yo en estando — Morocco, Tetuan
c. Yo m'estava reposandoJuan del ENCINA (1468-1529), Cancionero musical de Palacio 77
Both songs tell the story of a young man who cannot sleep for his desire of a woman who is married to an old man. The historical Spanish version in the "Cancionero musical de Palacio", set to music by Juan del Encina, contains only the first four lines of the account, while in the Sephardic version from Morocco the entire story has been preserved. The two versions are basically different in melody and structure, but exhibit several corresponding melodic elements.

2. Calvi, Calvi / Rey Don Alonso / Kol libi [3:03]
Spain, 14th century
In the 10th century, the lyric-musical genre known as muwashshaḥa became increasingly popular among Arabs, Christians and Jews alike. The last verse (kharja) was generally written in Spanish or Hispano-Arabic. The short text fragment "Calvi vi Calvi," mentioned by the Archbishop of Hita, Juan Ruiz, in his "Libro de buen amor" in the 14th century, and recorded by Francisco de Salinas as incipit in his "De musica libri septem" (Salamanca 1577), is most likely a verse of this kind, a so-called kharja, In Arabic spelling, "Calvi vi calvi calvi aravi" becomes: "Qalbī bi-qalbī qalbī ’arabī".
An increasing number of Muslims were forced to convert under Christian supremacy. Many of these moriscos met secretly in the dark hours of the night to sing songs and dance. These nighttime meetings were called zambra/zamr or leila (night). In the 16th century a text sung during the zambras appears in Luis Vélez de Gómara's comedy "La hermosura de Raquel": The dance of the moriscos, a crude parody.
The kharja "Calvi vi Calvi," concerned with the secretly kept "Arabic heart," might have been sung on these occasions. in the Hebrew print "Baqaßoth" (Constantinople, ca.1525) the melody appears as a contrafact with a Hebrew text, adopting the "heart" from the Arabic text and imitating the Arabic phonetically: 'Kol libi, kol libi, kol libi le-avi'.
Beginning in the 16th century, the melody was frequently quoted as Baile del Rey Don Alfonso in Spanish plays; even today it is sung in Spain as a folk song: 'Rey don Alonso, Rey mi Señor'

3. Caldibì Castigliano  [2:15]
Joan Ambrosio DALZA. "Intabulatura de Lauto, Libro Quarto," Venice 1508
The Venetian lutenist J. A. Dalza used the "Calvi, Calvi" melody as a treble tenor for the variation which preludes his collection "Intabulatura de Lauto."

4. Porke yorach  [11:37]
Morocco, Turkey, Bosnia, Greece
The Sephardim also sing the religious song "Odekha Ki Anitani" to the melody of this romance. The text brings together the threads of four different stories, known at least since the late Middle Ages. Only two of them appear in the most widely known version of the song:
– The Conde de Irlos leaves his young wife to seek adventure in the New World. If he does not return within seven years, his wife can marry any man whom her husband's clothing fits.
– The mother curses the ship on which her son leaves her.

5. Cados, Cados  [1:19]
Chansonnier Sevilla (F-Pn nouv. acq. fr. 4379), late 15th century
The three-part motet "Cades, cados" contains conglomerate of Arabic, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and pseudo-Hebrew words. Elements of the hymn "Alma Redemptoris Mater" as well as motifs from Hebrew piyuttim can be heard in the melody.
A similar text is part of the medieval Easter pageant of Innsbruck (1330) in which the Jews are crudely parodied: "Tunc Judae cantant Judaicum ... Chodus, chodus adonay, sabados sissim sossim ... chochum yochum ..."

6. Ayyu-hā s-sāqī / Qum Yêdīd nafsī  [6:49]
· Abū Bakr ibn Zuhr al-Ḥafīd (1113-1198): Arabic muwashshaḥa
· Don Todros ben Yehudah ha-Levi Abū'l-’Afia (1247-ca. 1306): Hebrew kharja
Music: traditional
Both Arabic and Jewish poets used the lyrical and musical muwashshaḥa form extremely popular in medieval Spain. The poet Don Todros was one of the most well-known artists and scholars at the court of Alfonso the Wise (1252-84): he was el rab de la corte.

7. Yā ğawhar al-ğalālī  [2:34]
Lyrics: Ibn Quzmān (c.1086-1160)
Music: Cantiga de Santa Maria 47, late 13th century
The tall, blond Ibn Quzman was descended from an old Arabic family of noble lineage. In his often cynical, often erotic poetry, he combined classical Arabic (gharib) with the local Andalusian dialect as well as Spanish expressions.

8. Hal darà   [8:30]
Lyrics: Ibn Sahl (-1251)
Music: traditional
Ibn Sahl, a Jew converted to Islam, was a legendary poet and musician in Almohadian Seville. He was one of the last masters of the muwashshaḥa. Ibn Sahl drowned in the River Guadalquivir: "... and the pearl returned to its origins."

9. Una tarde de verano  [8:20]
Morocco, Fez – Spain
The story of this romance is based on the German epic poem "Kudrun" from the early 13th century. This song was probably transported from the Arabian Peninsula to Spain during the crusades. It tells of the rescue of Kudrun by her brother Ortwin and Prince Herwig, following thirteen years of humiliating captivity. Numerous forms of the story are contained in the oral traditions of Spain, Morocco, Greece and Turkey (including "Don Bueso y su hermana" / Don Bueso and his sister). The octosyllabic version selected for this recording is probably more recent, presumably "re-imported" to Spain from Morocco by way of Andalusia.


The Sepharad sphere of influence was initially only embodied in the word of the Bible. Its geographical location was as yet undefined when Genesis pointed the way and the Israelites left the land of their fathers. Over the centuries, the term "Sepharad" gained in cultural, religious and historical significance. Since then, in addition to a place of exile, "Sepharad" has held a promise of a religious conviction and of cultural self-determination.

Over two thousand years ago the Jews fled from Nebuchadnezzar and the ruins of the Jewish empire and gradually crossed the Mediterranean. Since Roman times there has been evidence of Sephardic Jews in the Iberian peninsula. In the year 589 Christianity was declared the official state religion by the ruling Westem Goths. Exercising repression in the form of forced baptism and death threats, these new Christians forced thousands of Jews to leave the Iberian peninsula. As a result, those Jews who remained behind viewed the Islamic conquest of Spain in the year 711 more as a liberation than a threat. In the Muslim state order Jews had the opportunity to rise to high positions in the government and administration. The Jewish communities in medieval Spain were therefore strongly linked with the Muslim emirates and especially with the caliphate of Cordoba. The Hispano-Arabic Middle Ages represent an important chapter of Judaic history. Having participated in the golden age of classical Arab culture in the Near East, Jews played an important role in Spain as mediators between Arab and Christian culture, and Jewish poetry and music consequently reached a new pinnacle. In the 13th and 14th centuries Jews were also musicians at the Castilian court. Along with Arab musicians they played an important role in the performance of the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" (eleven of which tell of Jewish life and culture in Spain), compiled by King Alfonso el Sabio (1252-84). At the court of Sancho IV, along with thirteen Christian and fifteen Arab musicians, the Jew Ismaël played the rota and accompanied his wife when she danced.

The 14th century[sic], when the Catholic reconquest of Spain made considerable progress, brought the harmonious co-habitation of Spanish Christians, Jews and Muslims to an end. The pogroms and persecutions of 1391 led to mass conversions of Jews and Muslims. The mid-15th century saw the establishment of the Inquisition, which accused many conversos (those who had converted from other religions) of practicing their original beliefs in secret

The exodus of Hispanic Jews began on August 2, 1492. In the course of just a few months it is believed that over 160,000 Jews were forced by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to leave Spain and all Spanish sovereign territories in a most undignified manner. Many Sephardic Jews fled to French Provence. Hispanic Jews who had converted to Christianity also settled as late as the 17th century in Bordeaux, Marseilles and Bayonne, after they too had been forced to leave Spain and Portugal. Many Sephardim sought to start a new life on the North African coast. The majority however, 60,000 or more in number, found a haven in the sovereign territories of the Ottoman Empire: in Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Smyrna, Adrianople (Edirne), Gallipoli, Ankara, in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and the Balkan states. As Sultan Bayezit remarked on the exodus of the Sephardim: "It is said that King Ferdinand, King of Castille and Aragon, is a clever man, but by driving the Jews from his own country, he is impoverishing his empire and enriching mine." Sephardic communities were also established in Italy (Ferrara, Livorno), after the end of Spanish role in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), in Germany, Austria and the New World.

Sephardic music: stories and histories

In the Diaspora Hispanic Jews handed down their medieval Spanish past: customs, music and language. The traditional songs characteristic of the Sephardic Jews were and still are to this day the romanzas in the Jewish-Spanish tongue — judezmo — which is today sometimes misinterpreted as ladino (a term which actually refers to translations from Hebrew into Spanish: ladinar) and corresponds to djudiyo in the Levante and baketiya in the Maghreb. The lyrics of these songs recount the lives of Spanish Jewry and tell of Spanish history. Only a few written examples of this music have survived from the Spanish Middle Ages. However, in addition to the descriptions of Sephardic musical practice taken from medieval sources, the Sephardim's oral heritage provides a guide to this immensely rich musical culture.

The development of Sephardic music is inexorably linked to the history of Spanish Jews following their expulsion. After leaving Spain and Portugal the Sephardim settled in numerous communities in the Mediterranean region. There they sang their songs brought from Spain and sought to maintain their Spanish culture. In the new environment, usually far from Spanish influence, they lived in crowded communities, defiantly continuing to speak their Spanish mother tongue and glorifying their Spanish past.

Since the repertoire of songs was and to some extent still is a significant element of Sephardic community life, it was possible to preserve those songs over five centuries. This living tradition, in which the exiles handed down old Spanish epic stories in late medieval Castilian, was greatly influenced by the various languages and musical cultures of the countries in which the Sephardim lived. The Sephardic way of life gradually blended with local traditions in their host countries. As early as the Middle Ages Spanish Jews had worked closely with musicians from other cultures, and this tradition was continued without interruption after the exodus. Not only were melodies integrated into the performance of sacred and secular poetry, but many musical elements too, such as the modal system, rhythmic and metric characteristics, melodic embellishments and cadential formulas, all flowed into the traditional repertoire. In addition, numerous new songs developed which make up the main body of the repertoire still sung today. By the beginning of the 18th century at the latest, the Sephardic colonies of the western and eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman Empire) formed two clearly distinguishable and independent cultures. Due to its geographical proximity, the western or North African was able to maintain its ties to the Iberian peninsula, while the eastern camp was exposed to new influences to a great extent.

It is therefore possible to define two main traditions within the Sephardic song culture, with regard to repertoire, melodic structures and performance practice: that of the eastern Mediterranean, mostly under Turkish and Balkan (generally Ottoman) influence and that of the western Mediterranean, significantly influenced by Moroccan and Spanish elements. With Europe's increasing political and economic impact on the Middle East due to colonization, western musical influences increased, especially in Northern Africa.

Any formal comparison of songs from the western and eastern repertoires, that is, from two independent music traditions which enjoyed only a minimum of mutual contact, reveals the fact that, quite independently of one another, both traditions have handed down some of the repertoire and characteristics of the medieval Sephardic romance heritage of Spain.

Some Sephardic Jews continued their emigration from Thessaloniki and Constantinople, the two central colonies in the Ottoman Empire, to Jerusalem, where an important Sephardic community developed which even today is still an amalgam of Palestinian, Turkish and Balkan elements. This accounts for the many corresponding features in the lyrics and tunes of Palestinian and Balkan songs. The female voice is dominant in traditional Sephardic musical performance. Many of the topics featured in the songs are represented from a woman's point of view, since it was the women who, in the Diaspora, passed on the Sephardic traditions to their daughters. Today the singers further develop the living tradition, accompanying themselves on the frame drum (pandeiro). The Spanish monk Andrés Bernáldez was an observer of the Jews' expulsion from Spain and left the following lines, documenting the important role of women in the Sephardic song tradition: "They left the country in which they were born. Great and small, young and old, on foot, donkeys or in carts, each followed the path to his or her chosen destination. Some stopped at the wayside, some collapsed from exhaustion, others were ill, yet others dying. No fellow creature could have failed to have pity on these unhappy people. All along the way there were constant appeals for them to accept baptism, but their rabbis instructed them to refuse and implored the women to sing, beat their drums and to uplift their souls." Later, in the Diaspora, the Sephardic romances were adapted by professional male musicians and performed in coffee houses and taverns. In the same way, sacred texts were — and still are — set to romance melodies.

The Romance

As early as the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the romance or ballad was a very popular song-form in Spain. It originally survived as folk song and was not introduced to the Spanish court until near the end of the 15th century. Like most Sephardic romances, especially those handed down through the eastern tradition, the 15th century romance, as notated in various sources including the "Cancionero musical de Palacio" and in the tablatures of 16th century vihuelists (there it described as a romance viejo), has a poetic structure of sixteen syllables with assonant rhymes and a musical form with four phrases of equal length. The first musical phrase often has an arched, rising and then descending melodic contour; sometimes we encounter a purely ascending melodic line. The second melodic phrase is usually higher and touches the melodic high point. These two melodic lines are seldom identical. The third melodic section then descends stepwise to the lower cadence note. The fourth phrase often ends the melody in a cadential downward movement.

Many of the melodies are based on a descending chromatic tetrachord which is also characteristic of the musiqà andalusiyya. In the eastern Mediterranean region melodies can often be attributed to the modes (makamât) of Islamic musical culture; the Hüsseynî, Ushâk, Bayâti, Hicâz, Hicâzkâr, Pûselik, Nihâvent and Ferahfeza modes are frequently encountered. In the western Mediterranean, especially in Morocco, the diatonic principle was often applied to the melodies, probably under later European influence, and they were made to conform with major/minor key tonality.

In the rhythmic-metric performance of the romances, metric and non-metric sections are often interwoven. The eastern tradition reveals a strong tendency towards a performance devoid of metric constraints, while in the western/Moroccan repertoire the abrupt shift from the binary to the ternary meter is popular.

The Judaic musical culture attained great significance through its preservation and dynamic modification of medieval Spanish romances on the one hand, and of the Arabic-Andalusian muwashshaḥat and kharjas on the other. This is demonstrated in the second section of our journey through time and cultures by means of the different compositional genres. It is our aim to create a living aural picture of the former symbiosis of medieval story-telling of northern Spanish, Andalusian or Hispanic-Jewish origin with oriental melodies from Asia Minor or the Balkans: the sphere of influence of "Sepharad."

— Vladimir Ivanoff

Vladimir Ivanoff

Fadia El-Hage (Lebanon): Voice
Belinda Sykes (Great Britain): Voice, Shawms, Bagpipes
Mustafa Doğan Dikmen (Turkey): Ney (flute), Kudüm (kettle drums), Voice
Ahmed Kadri Rizeli (Turkey): Kemenge (fiddle), Percussion
Ihsan Mehmet Özer (Turkey): Kanun (psaltery)
Mehmet Cemal Yesşilçay (Germany, Turkey): Ud (lute), Cura (longnecked lute), Percussion
Vladimir Ivanoff (Germany, Bulgaria): Percussion, Ud, Renaissance lute

with guest
Axel Weidenfeld: Renaissance lute (track 3)


The name Sarband stems from Persian and Arabic, and denotes the improvised joining of two parts of a musical suite. Vladimir Ivanoff founded the ensemble Sarband in 1986 and has been pursuing an archaeology of complex connections ever since. Above all, Sarband endeavors to point out possible links between European music and the Islamic and Jewish musical cultures. With sensitivity and intensity, Sarband celebrates the symbiosis of Orient and Occident. The continuous musical collaboration among the members of the ensemble ensures that a dialogue on equal terms is maintained. It is the exchange of practical musical experience between musicians from different cultures that make the performances of Sarband fascinating, lively and extremely authentic.

In their performance of European and Oriental medieval music, the Turkish, Italian, English, Bulgarian, Arab and German musicians participating in this project draw upon the colorful palette of instruments, vocal and instrumental techniques and the art of improvisation which are still to be found in Islamic culture today. Sarband's unique repertoire has won them wide acclaim internationally. Over the past few years Sarband has performed at numerous international festivals of varying orientations ranging from Early Music to Avant-garde.

Sarband's musicians do not regard their work as something sporadic but as an expression of being and life. Just as religious, economic, cultural and political differences between the Orient and the Occident play a predominant role in today's society, Sarband's work endeavors to show that music has always served as a medium of reciprocal respect, and can continue to do so today: a model for peace.

Fadia El-Hage (born in 1962 in Beirut) started her professional performing career as a pupil, with the orchestra of the brothers Rahbani. From 1978-79 she performed as a singer and actor in several TV productions in Lebanon and Jordan. From 1980-81 she performed as a soloist in two Lebanese opera productions. From 1978-81 she produced several recordings of traditional Lebanese music. From 1980-84 she studied psychology at the Lebanese University. From 1985-90 she studied voice with Professor Felix Rolke at the Richard-Strauß conservatory in Munich with further studies in opera from 1990-92. Since 1989 she has performed as a soloist with Sarband and Vox in international concerts and CD productions. She lives with her family in Beirut and teaches at the Lebanese University.

Belinda Sykes (born in 1966) studied voice with Bulgarian folk singers, going on to collect songs from Bulgaria, Morocco, Spain, Hungary and India. As an instrumentalist, she studied oboe and recorder at the Guildhall School of Music, and won the 1990 Reichenberg award for Baroque Oboe. She has performed with The New London Consort, Red Byrd, Tragicomedia, The Harp Consort, The King's Consort, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment, The English Consort, L'Orient Imaginaire and Sarband. She teaches at the Guildhall School of Music, Exeter University and the Welch College of Music, and has given workshops at the Birmingham Conservatory, Royal Academy of Music and Bremen Academy of Early Music.

Mustafa Doğan Dikmen was born in Ankara in 1958. Between 1975 and 1978 he played the kudum for Ankara State Radio and from 1979-83 studied at the Istanbul Conservatory. In 1992 he became a soloist for TRT Istanbul. With Professor Alaeddin Yavasça and Professor Kani Karaca he has worked on Ottoman art music and now teaches at various schools of music in Turkey. He is a member of the groups Ferahfeza, Emre, L'Orient Imaginaire and Sarband.
Ahmed Kadri Rizeli was born in Istanbul in 1959. He was still at school when he first learned to play the violin. He later studied Turkish art milsic with Sadi Hosses and the theory of music and the kanun with Necdet Varol. He has been a soloist with TRT since 1981. Between 1981 and 1983 he was also a soloist with the Istanbul University Ensemble. He is a member of the groups Ferahfeza, Emre, L'Orient Imaginaire and Sarband and works as a record producer for Turkish art music.

Ihsan Mehmet Özer was born in Istanbul in 1961. From 1978-82 he studied at Istanbul Conservatory and with Ruhi Ayangil. He has performed with Demirhan Altug, Tülün Korman, Metin Örser, Ergen Korkmaz and Haydar Sanal. He is a soloist with TRT Istanbul, and the orchestras of Istanbul University and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. In recent years he has also become known as a composer of modern and traditional Turkish art music. He performs as a soloist with the Ahmet Özhan group for historical Turkish music and is a member of the groups Ferahfeza, Emre, L'Orient Imaginaire and Sarband.

Mehmet Cemal Yeşilçay was born in Istanbul in 1959. From 1976-1982 he studied Islamic music with Seyyid Nusreddin Yesilcay in Istanbul. From 1980-85 he studied the ud and composition with CinuSen Tanrikorur in Ankara. In 1985 he founded the groups Sadaraban and Ferahfeza, with which he performs in Turkey and abroad. He also works as a composer of contemporary and traditional Turkish art music. His works have been performed at the Munich Biennale. He is the musical director of the ensemble Emre, a founding member of Sarband and a member of L'Orient Imaginaire.

Musical direction: Vladimir Ivanoff
Recording: Jochen Scheffter & Vladimir Ivanoff, Beirut / Istanbul / Munchen, 1994
Post production: Friedrich Thein & Vladimir Ivanoff, Bremen 1994
Producer: Vladimir Ivanoff Executive producer: Ulrich Balß
Translations: Judith Rosenthal: English - Vladimir Ivanoff: Deutsch - Shlomo Israeli: Hebrew
Cover picture adapted from: Jerusalem, centre of the world
Worldmap by Heinrich Bunting. 1585.
Coverdcsign by Rank

[DORIAN: Catalog No. DOR-93190
Booklet Copyeditor: Katherine A. Dory
Graphic Design: Kimberly Smith Co.
Cover: Jewish Musicians at Mogador, Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Louvre, Paris, France
Courtesy of Giraudon/Art Resource NY (501142899)]


Without the fundamental research, collections and publications of Léon Algazi, Higini Anglés, Samuel G. Armistead, Hanoch Avenary, Amer Bahat, Eugène Sorrel, Judith Cohen, José Antonio de Donostia, Judith Etzion, Edith Gerson-Kiwi, Garcia Gómez, Alberto Hemsi, A. Z. Idelsohn, Israel J. Katz, Isaac Levy, Leo Levy, Benjamin M. Liu, Manuel Manrique de Lara, Michael Molho, Eduardo Martínez Tomer, Ramon Menéndez Pidal, James T. Monroe, Joaquín Rodrigo, Edwin Seroussi, Almon Shiloah, Joseph H. Silverman, Samuel Miklos Stern, Susana Weich-Shahak, David Wulstan, Henrietta Yurchenco, Rodrigo de Zayas, to mention just some of the scholars, our journey through the history of Sephardic song, which is meant to be a creative reinvention based on the numerous source studies which have been undertaken over the past hundred years, would not have been possible. Our special thanks go to Dr. Eckhard Neubauer.