Passion. Love. Pain. Yearning. Palpable emotions common to the songs of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Andalusia during the Golden Age of Spain, a time when our communities shared philosophy, poetry and musical cadences and lived in peace with one another — a time past and, last Sunday evening, a brief taste of the world to come.
The unexpectedly stirring event, “Tres Suenos: When Muslims, Jews and Christians Dream Together,” was sponsored by West Park Church and the dance company Noche Flamenca. Hebrew, Ladino, Spanish, and Arabic songs from the 9th – 15th centuries were sung by Rabbi Roly Matalon, Manuel Gago and Hamed Traore, who also played the bass, accompanied by virtuoso Flamenco guitar players Salva de Maria and Eugenio Iglesias.
Although they had jammed together only a few times before the concert, the performers were totally in sync and the fusion of Andalusian cultures was revived in New York. Their performance of a 12th century Hebrew poem sung in Hebrew to an Arabic melody with Flamenco rhythms, each stanza punctuated by fervent Gypsy cries, exemplified their musical connections.
After the concert, the theme of cultural fusion was discussed by Rev. Dr. Robert Brashear, Rabbi Matalon, Chaplain Rabia Harris and Martin Santangelo, artistic director of Noche Flamenca, who described the diverse backgrounds of the performers. Rabbi Matalon of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun explained that there is no purely “Jewish” music. As Jews migrated to new places, they absorbed the local culture, transposing their music.
Chaplain Harris, founder and director of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, described a modern-day effort to share different cultures at the Center for Living Traditions, a multi-faith community in Stony Point, New York dedicated to the practice and study of hospitality, nonviolence and justice, where she is a scholar in residence.
Closing the evening, Reverend Brashear, Pastor of West Park Presbyterian Church and also a musician, praised music for its ability to “open doors” of understanding between people, a sound response to “people who want to build walls” to keep out those who are different from us.
Leaving the event, I mused, if we only kept singing together….
Caroline Harris is an attorney, writer and photographer in New York City.