The festival hopes to increase understanding and appreciation of Sephardic culture, which has been given scant attention among popular perceptions of Judaism dominated by Ashkenazi images and symbols -- bagels, gefilte fish, and klezmer, says founder Erez Diwon Safar. Such references, while rich and wonderful in their own right, do not accurately reflect the totality of the Jewish experience, he points out.
The Sephardim are the descendants of Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal and were expelled during the 1492 Inquisition.
The Sephardic Music Festival showcases the remarkable diversity that exists within the Jewish community. It presents a colorful tapestry of music and culture as rich, vibrant, and diverse as the Jewish world itself and as Time Out New York noted, it's not your grandfather's klezmer.
''This year we really have something for everyone and I think it's going
to reach more people this year than any other year," says Safar. "We are bringing in the Godfather of Israeli music, Miki Gavrielov, from Israel for a show
at Le Poisson Rouge which will be followed by Heeb Magazine's infamous
HEEBOSNISM party filled with debauchery and holiday spirit. The other
nights are filled with story slams, concerts and educational events.
I'm hoping this year raises awareness for the incredible Jewish
cultures that don't always get the attention they deserve.''
Safar has always had a passion for Yemenite and Middle Eastern music, after growing up hearing it in Bet Keneset (synagogue) when he was in Israel and
it always struck him, he says. "I guess that carried through to this day,
because whenever I hear Middle Eastern styles, I always want to 'mash'
it with the rhythms in my head. As a DJ, I love to find Middle
Eastern cuts that drive people wild or inspire a sort of sonic
spirituality in the person. As a producer, I love making Middle
Eastern hip hop because it combines my two favorite musics, when I was
working on the "Shir HaShirim" record, it was with this young Moroccan
singer I had just met and the session was surreal, there was something
about the hypnotic rhythm that worked perfectly with the scripture he
was singing and the Moroccan traditional melodies that he flipped and
solo'd struck me as powerful balance of tradition, something new and a
contribution to the World music and Jewish music genre that was
significant, that was maybe even important. I think traditions and
history bring power to the medium, where as making a random hip hop
beat and laying down a synth line could be powerful, but not
The idea of the festival he explains, is to bring everyone together under the Sephardic umbrella. "I originally started it
because I wanted to get my Yemenite mixes out there but really I
saw so much attention being placed on Klezmer and I wanted Sephardic
culture to not only be seen as beautiful, but also as hip and fresh. I
always got a feeling that people viewed Sephardic music as more
traditional and less experimental and fun. The idea of the festival
is to showcase a lot of the acts that we (Shemspeed.com) work with,
but also expand it beyond that, to showcase all types of acts, to
create a dynamic and diverse series of programs. The festival is run
by Shemspeed an independent record label and promotion company that I
run. Shemspeed's goal is unifying people through culture and
education, celebrating diversity and common ground putting a public
Jewish face to multi-cultural, inter-faith, creative, and
The organizers of the festival try to do all types of programming from concerts to ethnomusicology presentations. "I think people are beginning to recognize
that Jewish stereotypes no longer fit the people and the culture that
are Jewish life today. Some may know that there's more to Jewish life
than Eastern European culture but they have little access to the range
of that diversity: Jews with origins in North Africa, the Middle East,
and Central Asia, and today’s Jewish African Americans. The Festival
gives people access by embracing the entire spectrum of Jewish
culture, radically expanding the customary notions of what Jewish
“looks like.”...it introduces the sounds and images of worldwide
Jewish culture, which is important in and of itself. That alone would
be informative, and can prompt a paradigm shift in the understanding
of what it means to 'look' or 'sound' Jewish," Safar explains.