Today, we are going on a winding journey that somehow connects cultures and generations. The connections are in my mind and heart. I hear them but I am not sure other do too.
Being a member of an East-European Jewish family, Jewish cantor music was part of life. I grew up with it. To observe the Sabbath, no radio was used on Saturday, until the evening. Then, the radio would come to life again and a new week would be welcomed, always starting with this:
Everybody who lived in Israel knew this song. It started the week on the main Israeli radio channel.
Although I never was religious, I loved the Jewish East-European cantor music. Good singers, beautiful melodies, great harmonies. Just the way a good ballad should be 😉 The Malavsky family was one the earliest to become celebrities (in the Jewish community of course). One of their big hits: הבן יקיר לי אפרים (Ephraim my dear son):
Those Israelis who were not close to this sort of music, got a “younger” taste of it much later – in 1969 – when this same song was covered by the Nahal entertainment troupe of the Israeli military with the beautiful Miri Aloni in the lead:
I don’t think the religious establishment was very enthusiastic to see this song performed by a blond bombshell in a mini skirt but who cared? It was a huge hit.
Here is a beautiful example of a cantor song in duet:
As you can see (actually, hear), Jewish cantors are very good singers. In fact, did you know that Jewish cantor-ship has its own three tenors?:
Yeah! How about that? What do you think? Which three tenors ensemble is better?:
This story is not only about Jewish cantor-ship. It is about where this music takes me. I find cantor-ship in many places – not only Jewish – and the connection is not always obvious. Still with a Jewish connection, but not the traditional orthodox as above, I find Barbra Streisand and her beautiful song from the movie Yentl: Papa, Can You Hear Me?:
I remember how my parents, who were pretty cynical people, following their terrible experiences during the holocaust, went to see the movie and returned, touched to their soul. I had never seen them like that. It took them back to their home.
When I was in my early twenties, I woke up one morning, turned on the radio and was mesmerized by a song. If ever I heard a Jewish cantor-ship song in my life that was not at all Jewish cantor-ship, that was it. It was African American soul. I was blown away by how these two so unrelated musical cultures sounded so similar. Stevie Wonder and They Won’t Go When I Go:
Since then I found more African American songs that so remind me of Jewish Cantor-ship. Here is Alicia Keys and Fallin’:
Do you also hear similar sounds? Do you hear the Malavsky family in this song?
Finally: Tamia with Stranger in My House:
So here you are. East European Jewish soul and African American soul. What a connection.