Singer Susana Behar, in a recent concert at Next@19th, reached back in time to bring us ancient Jewish songs. Some were from the old Andalusia of Fernando and Isabella and some ancient chants from a vanquished Ottoman empire. Her concerts show her love and dedication to preserving her Sephardic musical tradition. “My mission is to find and preserve the ancient sounds of our people,” she once told me. Contemporary Latin tunes by Latin composers were interspersed with these antique airs, blending surprisingly well in this Ladino / Latin American musical potage.
Born in Havana to a Cuban/Turkish Sephardic family, Susana grew up listening to her mother’s Judeo-Spanish ‘kantikas.’ She also loved her father’s vibrant Cuban rhythms. After the family relocated to Venezuela in 1965, she steeped herself in the music of her adoptive country and to Israeli folk music. It all came together in her exploration of a geographically diverse Sephardic culture.
Susana’s music can be classified as folk art music and the musicians she selects to back her up are all classically trained. Her sultry voice and style are a perfect foil for these spellbinding songs, some of which evoke a Portuguese Fado mood. Since I could not follow the words of the songs, the music came across as exotic and a bit mysterious.
At this evening’s concert, Next@19th welcomed Behar to kick-off the second season of their Guava Rugelach Lounge series. (Guava is a nod towards Cuban and Rugelach to Jewish culinary tastes). Refreshments were offered at the bar, which featured their namesake Guava Rugelach biscuits, and Guava Rugelach cocktails made with L’Chaim vodka. I, of course, munched on these traditional pastries under the palms in this lovely atrium as I sipped a ‘kosher’ cocktail and watched the show. The musicians in the band were renowned guitarist Michel Gonzalez and percussionist Raj Bhandari. Yukie Kawanami with her exotic bandoneon sat in. Soon Federico Britos and his violin joined the band, adding an extra layer of magic to this hypnotic event. (See them in video at end of this article).
Last June, Behar enchanted an audience of adoring fans at the Morikama Japanese Garden and Museum in Del Ray Beach. She was joined by Japanese musicians Yuki Kawanami on her bandoneon and Ryoji Yamaguchi on guitar. The lush garden enhanced their beautiful music.
Susana will sing at the 4th Annual Jewish Music Festival Concert that will take place at Temple Israel of Greater Miami on June the 14, 2012.
Click on link to video - http://youtu.be/fekr8c0Q_dU