Sephardic music

From Academic Kids

The Sephardic Jews are one of the three main ethnicities among Diaspora Jews, the others being the Ashkenazi and Mizrahi. Sephardic Jews originally referred just to the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, but now applies to most of the Mediterranean region as a whole, especially as they have also lived among the Mizrahim for centuries. The Spanish Jewish community, however, remains the center of a form of popular music referred to as Sephardic.

Sephardic music was born in medieval Spain, with cancioneros being performed at the royal courts. Since then, it has picked up influences from across Spain, Morocco, Argentina, Turkey, Greece and various popular tunes from Spain and further abroad. There are three types of Sephardic songs -- topical and entertainment songs, romance songs and spiritual or ceremonial songs. Lyrics can be in several languages, including Hebrew for religious songs, and Ladino.

These song traditions spread from Spain to Morocco (the Western Tradition) and several parts of the Ottoman Empire (the Eastern Tradition) including Greece, Jerusalem, the Balkans and Egypt. Sephardic music adapted to each of these locals, assimilating typically Moroccan high-pitched, extended ululations, obscure Balkan rhythms like 9/8 and maqam, the Turkish modal system.

Singers are traditionally mostly women, who sing while performing household tasks. These songs are usually unaccompanied. There is no harmony. Tambourines and other percussion instruments are sometimes used, especially in wedding songs. Men have added oud and kanun to the instrumentation, and more modern performers incorporate countless other imported instruments.

The early 20th century saw some popular commercial recordings of Sephardic music come out of Greece and Turkey, followed by Jerusalem and other parts of the Eastern Tradition. The first performers were mostly men, including the Turks Jack Mayesh, Haim Efendi and Yitzhak Algazi. Later, a new generation of singers arose, many of whom were not themselves Sephardic. Gloria Levy, Pasharos Sefardíes and Flory Jagoda are popular Eastern Tradition performers of this period.


  • Cohen, Judith. "Ladino Romance". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 370-379. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External Links

  • Zemerl (, the Jewish music database

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