A Musical Legacy of the Sephardic Diaspora


On Wednesday, May 1st, 2019, Yunus Emre Institute held a lecture performance “A Musical Legacy of the Sephardic Diaspora”. The event started with brief, welcoming words by the Public Relations Director Casey Kim: “We’re so delighted to you all here this evening, you will not only get to know Sephardic music and stories but also how these people in exile keep their own culture alive while enriching it by contact with diverse cultures.”

During the lecture, musician Lori Sen gave an educational description of the history, language, and culture of the Sephardim. The lecture followed by a selection of classic Sephardic music. The Turkish music scholar Lori Sen is known for her versatility in many vocal genres including opera, art song, musical theatre, and jazz. She regularly collaborates with musicians and composers across a variety of genres and has performed in Turkey, Europe, and the United States. Her music, influenced by the rich musical language and spirituality of her roots and from around the world. The guitarist Jeremy Lyons is a member of two Baltimore-based contemporary music ensembles.  He applies his extensive background in Renaissance and Baroque music by performing on period instruments such as the Renaissance lute, Baroque guitar, and viola da gamba. 

The very first piece of the evening called Adio querida, a Sephardic love song. This beautiful song shares many similarities with the famous Verdi’s La Traviata.  It is due to a large portion of Sephardic songs have been inspired by music from the medieval times, and recreated throughout the Sephardic community. The most wondering melody of Fel sharah canet betet masha showed a mystical aspect of Sephardic songs to the audiences. This song referred to as “a secret world hit with many names, a tune that can be traced all over South-Eastern Europe and in some parts of the Mediterranean area, the Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia, the Far East, and North America.” There is no accurate information about where it has come from. The tune of the song just like one visa to many countries that every nation recognized it, adopted it and treasured it.

Other key highlights of the one-hour performance included the playful and briskly tune of Arvolicos d’almendra which composed by Spanish composer Matilde Salvador. The romantic ballad La rosa enflorece conducted by Manuel Valls, and one of the most popular love songs Los bilbilicos. There was applause after every single song throughout the performance. Since the musicians played every piece with different feelings: with intensity, gentle and joy. Audiences were extremely enjoying these great works by Roberto Pla, Manuel Valls, Lorenzo Palomo, Andrew Zohn, Ulrike Merk, and Matilde Salvador. “The performance was phenomenal,” said by one of the audiences Carlos, “The last two pieces were so glorious, I felt like as I was sinning every note right along with the musician!”

Yunus Emre Institute provided a great opportunity for the guests to enjoy these Sephardic songs when the Sephardic tradition hardly survive. Audiences can found Turkish elements, Greek elements and Arabic elements in these songs and ballads. That is the message Yunus Emre Institute would like to spread to all around the world that the most beautiful thing created by the combination of wisdom from diverse cultures.

After the Jews’ expulsion from Spain of 1492, some of them went to Palestine, some went to Portugal and more dispersed throughout the Mediterranean region. The Ottoman Empire was particularly receptive to the Sephardim, and they founded a new community in Istanbul where they grew and thrived over the next four centuries. Music is one of the major venues of Sephardic cultural expression, and it plays an interesting role in the construction of a Sephardi historical memory and narrative in the twentieth century.

“Come let us all be friends for once, let us make life easy on us, let us be lovers and loved one, the earth shall be left to no one.”                                                         

                                                                                                    --Yunus Emre 1238-1320