A Montage of Global Jewish Sounds

November 1, 2010
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Jason Guberman-Pfeffer

The idea behind this Sh’ma sound montage is to connect Jewish sounds, broadly defined, with their actual or lineal geographic origins. For our purposes, “Jewish sounds” are vocal as well as instrumental, sacred as well as secular, traditional as well as contemporary, and authored or performed by Jews as well as non-Jews. Our selections, then, are an eclectic ensemble, spanning more than 20 countries, a myriad of languages and dialects (sometimes within a single video clip), and diverse eras of composition as well as performance.

Among the selections are: “My Yiddishe Mama,” by the Jewish-Algerian chanteur Salim Halali, in which the only Yiddish words uttered are in the title’s refrain; “Eretz Zavat Chalav,” as interpreted by Nina Simone; Jews in Manipur, India, practicing blowing the shofar; movie excerpts staring Molly Picon and Jewish-Egyptian film and recording legend Laila Mourad, respectively; a Jewish-Libyan family marking Rosh Chodesh Nissan by making bsisa (a traditional sweet and bejeweled food concoction); Josef Achron’s “Hebrew Melody” performed by violinist Abram Shtern; and Kuwaiti performing artist Emma Shah’s French and Hebrew rendition of “Hava Nagila.”

These and the other clips have been digitally mapped using technology pioneered by Diarna: Mapping Mizrahi Heritage (see: “Our Homes, Our Story” in the March issue of Sh’ma).

Mapping in this case is largely symbolic. While a few clips are mapped to the locations where they were actually filmed — the Ladino “Yo M’enamori D’Un Aire” at Bulgaria’s State Opera in Stara Zagora and Yael Naim’s “Paris” at Le Bikini, a club in Toulouse, France — most are situated according to the origins of the composition and/or its performer(s), whichever seemed most appropriate. So, for example, while Ofra Haza recorded “Im Nin’Alu” in her native Israel, the video clip is mapped to a random spot within the borders of Yemen, the provenance of her ancestors and this liturgical poem’s author. Similarly, the Yefran Jews’ Hakafot on Simchat Torah, Modzitzer Chasidim chanting “Ani Ma’amin,” and the Iraqi-Kurdistani Jews’ wedding dance all occurred in Israel, but are mapped to their native lands of Libya, Poland, and Iraq.

The sound montage requires installation of the Google Earth plug-in (free download, here). To view a video clip, single-click on the movie reel icon and then single-click again on the video itself. When done, click outside the pop-up box to return to the map, where you then can select the next clip. Due to the close proximity of some clips, it may be necessary to zoom in on certain areas in order to fully discern how many clips are available. This is accomplished by clicking on the plus and minus buttons in the upper left-hand corner of the map.

Finally, we should note that the video clips featured are the rightful intellectual property of their owners, do not represent the views of our organizations, Digital Heritage Mapping, the Diarna Project, or Sh’ma, and are made available in compliance with YouTube’s Terms of Service.

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Jason Guberman-Pfeffer is the project coordinator of Diarna and executive director of Digital Heritage Mapping, Inc., the project’s parent nonprofit agency. For additional information, see: www.diarna.org. He wishes to give a special thanks to Diarna contributors Houda and Adam for their helpful recommendations

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