CT Briefs

African musical traditions mingle at W. Hartford synagogue Mar. 25

Beth El Temple of West Hartford presents a Moroccan, Sephardic, and West African music and dance festival on Sunday, Mar. 25.

By Cindy Mindell ~

WEST HARTFORD – Beth El Temple of West Hartford presents a Moroccan, Sephardic, and West African music and dance festival on Sunday, Mar. 25. The program brings together internationally renowned local performers with famed Moroccan-born Cantor Aaron Bensoussan, local jazz pianist Alex Nakhimovsky, and local West African musicians and dancers.
Beth El’s artistic director Cantor Joseph Ness has wanted to bring Bensoussan back to Beth El since the Moroccan cantor performed in a concert at the temple last June.
“He was enchanting and the audience loved the concert and I loved it,” Ness says. “He’s such an authentic human being and one of the great cantors in the world today.”
A descendant of an illustrious Moroccan rabbinical family that dates back to Maimonides, Bensoussan was ordained in 1986 from the Jewish Theological Seminary Cantors Institute. He has served as cantor of Congregation Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda in Toronto since 1999. He has composed many songs from Sephardi texts that combine Ashkenazi and Sephardi elements set against a tapestry of Near Eastern rhythms, flamenco, and even jazz.
Ness met local musician Aaron Greenberg six months ago. “I find Aaron to be a profoundly honest student of music,” Ness says. “I was trying to figure out where to put him in a concert and when Cantor Bensoussan confirmed, it seemed like a natural fit.”  The program evolved into a multi-faith, multicultural event, involving an African dance of freedom and an original Passover-themed musical piece – particularly fitting, Ness says, just before the holiday.
A Hartford resident, Greenberg grew up in Cromwell. He studied several instruments from an early age, but gave up music for creative writing until he attended the College at Brockport where he rediscovered his love of music. ““At freshman convocation, there was a procession of African drummers playing the djembe and I said, ‘That’s it,’” he recalls. Greenberg went on to earn a Master’s degree in creative writing, then combined his two passions in the traditional music of the Mandé, a West African people whose history is entrusted to djelis, or singing storytellers. While traveling in West Africa, he says,  “I first heard the djeli sing; it sounded familiar and I didn’t know why. Then I realized that it reminded me of the chanting I heard in temple as a kid. It rang true and felt organic.
I learned that a lot of cantorial music is oral tradition as well.”

For more information call (860) 233-9696.

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