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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Martin Clayton
Reviewed work(s):
The Musical Tradition of the Bene Israel of Bombay by Eliyahoo Hanabee
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 11, No. 1, Red Ritual: Ritual Music and
Communism (2002), p. 180
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4149895
Accessed: 06/01/2009 19:46
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180 BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL. 11/i 2002
Eliyahoo
Hanabee. The musical tradition
of
the Bene Israel
of Bombay.
CD.
Beth Hatesfutsoth Records BTR
0101
(2001).
This
attractively produced
and
eye-opening
CD
presents
an introduction to the music of
the Bene
Israel,
the
longest
established of
the several distinct Jewish communities of
India. It
comprises
13
songs sung by
soloist
and harmonium
player
Pinhas Reuben
Pezarkar with a chorus of three male
singers.
The
songs
are well recorded with-
out
being over-produced,
and the CD itself
is
accompanied by
a booklet
containing
all
of the
song
texts in
English
and Hebrew
(one
is also
given
in the
original Marathi).
There are also notes
by
Drs Shalva Weil
(on
the
background
of the
community)
and
Sara Manasseh
(on
the
music),
also in both
English
and Hebrew.
The Bene Israel are a
community long
established in India -
according
to one
tradition
they
are descended from the "lost"
ten tribes of Israel exiled from 722 BCE
onwards,
and even if this
may
be
apocry-
phal,
the
community appears
to have been
in India for a
very long
time.
Although they
retained
many
Jewish
customs,
strength-
ened
by
interaction with communities of
Cochin and
Baghdadi
Jews which were
established somewhat
later,
they
were offi-
cially recognized by
the Israeli Rabbinate
only
in 1964:
many,
but
by
no means
all,
have since
emigrated
from India. From
another
perspective,
the Bene Israel
repre-
sent one of a
myriad minority
communities
in
India,
with whom
they
share the distinc-
tion of
being largely ignored by
both Indian
and
foreign musicologists (this
is not so
much a criticism as a
recognition
that with
our limited numbers we can do no more
than scratch the surface of Indian musical
life).
What this
recording
does is to
open
a window on a little-known
tradition,
and
the music -
amplified by
Sara Manasseh's
excellent notes -
gives
us a hint of the com-
plex
traces of this tradition's interactions
with countless
others, local,
Western and
Middle Eastern.
The
present
CD
certainly provides enough
information,
not to mention an
enjoyable
listening experience,
to whet one's
appetite.
I would welcome the chance in
subsequent
releases to hear a wider
variety
of instru-
ments and
performers
- such as the
sitar,
tabla,
violin and bulbul
tarang
mentioned
in the notes. It would also have been nice
to know more about the
performers repre-
sented
here,
of whom we learn no more
than their names - we have
surely pro-
gressed beyond
the
days
when faceless
performers
could be taken to stand for
"traditions".
Having
said
that,
there is
plenty
here to excite
anyone
with an interest
in Jewish or Indian musical
traditions,
or
more
generally
with issues of acculturation
and
hybridity
in the music of
long-estab-
lished
diasporic
communities.
MARTIN CLAYTON
Open University
m. r
I.
clayton@btinternet.com