This website showcases over 100 years of recorded Sephardic music, from the 78 rpm era to the present. It first explores in detail the earliest Sephardic recordings, the artists that made them, and their repertory and performance practices. These early recordings tell a rich story of Sephardic musical life in the first half of the 20th century.
The site next covers the second half-century of recorded Sephardic music, touching on the amazing outpouring of Sephardic recordings and the diverse performing styles used in these recordings.
Appendices include a discography of Sephardic 78s ordered three different ways: by label (including information on the issuing record companies), by song and by artist (with information on the performers, scant though it often is.)
Another Appendix demonstrates what the site could ultimately encompass: a comprehensive discography of all modern era recordings (from the LP era onward), with over 10,000 song samples. This "preview" section provides a discography and samples for over 125 versions of the well-known Sephardic song, A la una yo naci.
(For more on the site's contents, please see below.)
Who are the Sephardim?
There are many different definitions of the Sephardi people. This site focuses on the music of the Jews descended from those exiled from the Iberian Peninsula. The recordings researched here arise from the music of the Jews who spread from Spain and Portugal principally into the former Ottoman lands, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria which became home to the Eastern Mediterranean tradition and to Morocco where the Western Mediterranean tradition arose.
For Sephardim in both these communities, use of Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino, was an important cultural marker. This site covers recordings of secular, para-liturgical and liturgical music in Ladino and Hebrew.
This site does not cover music from Iran, Syria, Yemen, India, etc. even though it is wonderfully enjoyable listening. (Click here for more on North African recordings originating in an Arabic-speaking milieu.)
From Niche to Worldwide Awareness
In 1957 Professor Curt Sachs memorably defined Jewish music as music "by Jews, for Jews, as Jews".
Sephardic 78 rpm recordings were surely "by Sephardim, for Sephardim, as Sephardim". The earliest recordings originated in the Ottoman Empire and performers were typically grounded in local repertory and performance practices.
This tradition-grounded approach was overwhelmed in the second half of the 20th century. Sephardic communities that might have nurtured traditional artists were ravaged by World War II and subsequent dislocation and assimilation. Meanwhile, the folk music revival, the early music movement's "discovery" of Sephardic music and the world music boom all led to tremendous changes in repertoire, performance and commercial practices.
As we enter the second century of Sephardic recorded music, most performers are Ashkenazic or non-Jewish. Similarly, their recordings are now marketed as integral parts of the early music and world music catalogs, with increasing entries in the fusion or rock-influenced categories. This site chronicles the evolution of the obscure music of one small community and how it eventually spread throughout the world performed now in every imaginable style.
For more on our future initiatives, please click here.
How You Can Help
We especially need your help locating early 78 rpm recordings or obscure L.P. (33 rpm) recordings. Alert us to any such recordings your family or friends own. Refer collectors, researchers, librarians, dealers and others that can help further our mission.
Biographical information on and pictures of 78-era performers would be very helpful (see the artist list here.)
Buying Sephardic Music from Amazon supports the artists, and also this site, if you start your shopping session by clicking here. It will bring up a list of over 200 recordings with Sephardic songs sold by Amazon (US.)
Early Music America magazine
In 2009, Dr. Judith R. Cohen and Joel Bresler collaborated on an article titled, "The Music of the Sephardim," in Early Music America magazine, Volume 15, Number 4, Winter, 2009. The article details how the Early Music movement "discovered" Sephardic music and perform it as if it were Early Music. Read the entire article here. Reprinted by kind permission of the magazine.
Haim Effendi Re-Release
The Jewish Music Research Centre and its AMTI label have released An Early 20th-Century Sephardi Troubadour: The Historical Recordings of Haim Effendi of Turkey. This monumental 4-CD re-release with 59 songs chronicles the liturgical and secular output of this extremely influential Sephardic 78-rpm recording artist. See more here.
This site is made possible in part through the generosity of the Maurice J. Amado Foundation, Mr. M. Jack Mayesh and Family, and Mr. Len Blavatnik of Access Industries. A grant from the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) provided research travel assistance.
We have also benefited from the assistance of hundreds of researchers, collectors, music enthusiasts and others. Further acknowledgments are here.
Copyright 2008 - 2012, Joel Bresler