TORONTO — The Sephardic Music Festival brought renowned singers from Israel, Montreal and Toronto to the Sephardic Kehila Centre last week.
A packed audience of more than 250 people enjoyed the diverse performances of Jewish singers from around the world at the Feb. 28 event.
“It was a great success,” said Max Benaim, president of the Sephardic Kehila Centre, who organized the Toronto event. “The music brought back a lot of memories for the audience members.”
Many of the Moroccan songs were ones that members of the community recalled hearing in their homes when they were growing up. “You could see the audience singing along,” said Benaim.
Since he was 16, Benaim has been volunteering in the community, and now at the age of 60, he still plans community events. He recently brought Enrico Macias, the Algerian Jewish singer, to Toronto.
The audience was made up of both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, with everything from haredi to less traditional Jews. “It was nice to see a diverse crowd, especially many young people,” said Benaim.
David Wizman, a soloist from Israel, performed songs in Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish. Originally from Casablanca, Morocco, he has been studying Sephardi music since he was a child. After moving to France, he now lives in Israel, where he studies, teaches and performs across the country. He is knowledgeable in Bakashot and Andalusian music, rare in this generation. He started off by singing slow tunes and then quickened the pace with lots of drumbeats from the orchestra, which got the crowd clapping and whistling.
It was clear, by the thunderous applause, that the audience loved the performance by Lior Elmaliach, a soloist from Kiryat Shmonah, Israel. “Honestly, I was shocked to hear the power in his voice,” said Benaim. “All the singers were fantastic, but Lior’s vocal range is unbelievable.”
Elmaliach grew up in Israel where he began learning liturgical poems. By age 13, he was already performing across the country, and now he travels to Russia, France, the United States and around the world to perform. He is known for his strong, ringing tenor voice.
During each song, Elmaliach lengthened the notes to demonstrate his wide vocal range, which received lots of encouragement and applause from the audience, who quickly began to clap along. The event also featured Cantor Rabbi David Kadoch, from Toronto, who at the age of 24 already has a large repertoire of Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish music.
The singers were accompanied by the Moroccan Andalusian Orchestra of Montreal, made up of four Jewish musicians and one Arab musician, specializing in Andalusian music from the Middle Ages. “At one point, the orchestra’s violinist began playing the traditional Sephardic ‘lelele’ sound and everyone turned around to see if it was someone from the audience, but it was really coming from the violin,” said Benaim.
The event was a prelude to the Sephardi cultural week that will take place in June, highlighting Sephardi music, culture, food and ancient artifacts. Synagogues across the city are participating in this event.