The Liturgy of Beta Israel - Music of the Ethiopian Jewish Prayer

Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel, vol. 26, released in 2018 by the Jewish Music Research Centre of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Here is an anthology of great significance in the history of Jewish music. It will have taken 32 years (1986-2018) for this titanic work on Ethiopian Jewish music to finally see daylight. 3 CD’s, of about 1 hour each, allow us to taste the inimitable flavour of the music of the Beta Israel (House of Israel). Like for every publication of JMRC, an important booklet, written by the best specialists (Simha Arom, Frank Alvarez-Pereyre, Shoshana Ben-Dor and Olivier Tourny), gives us a historic, liturgical and musicological analysis of the music of the Beta Israel.

It is in the early 1980’s that starts the clandestine immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The latter, improperly called Falasha (pejorative word which means “rootless” or “exiled”) flee, like many of their compatriots, civil war and famine and take refuge in Sudan. In 1984, the operation Moses organized by the state of Israel, allow to welcome 7.000 Ethiopian Jews coming from the transit camps in Sudan; shortly after, the Operation Saba (1985) repatriates 648 people; finally, the Operation Salomon succeeds in bringing by airlift 14.300 people in 24 hours. The last Beta Israel who stayed in Ethiopia emigrate to Israel between 1991 and 1994.

Since 1986, the ethnomusicologist Simha Arom conscious of the need of saving the original liturgy of the Beta Israel, starts to gather around him a multi-disciplinary staff of Franco-Israeli searchers. Between 1986 et 1989, hundreds of hours are recorded among the main holders of the tradition. In the 1990’s, this corpus of recordings becomes the foundation of a scientific project that will aim to make known the music and texts of the liturgical repertoire. As part of his PhD under the direction of Simha Arom, Olivier Tourny studies the musicological part, Frank Alvarez-Pereyre and Shoshana Ben-Dor study the ethnographic and linguistic aspect. Edwin Seroussi, director of the Jewish Music Research Centre (JMRC), had no choice but to put together the result of this study through the publication of a 3 CD boxset and a richly documented booklet. To complete the latter, the JMRC’s website will house in a short time a special section that will allow to browse complementary inbformation and hundreds of musical scores that led to this scientific work and anthology, unique of its kind.

Read the feature article on the music of Ethiopian Jews
Learn more on the history of the Beta Israel
Purchase the boxset The Liturgy of Beta Israel
Listen to the radio podcast of Olivier Tourny about the liturgical chanting of the Ethiopian Jews
Listen to the playlist The Musical traditions of the Ethiopian Jews

Listen to

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  • Yitbarek egzi’abaher - chant responsorial (Extrait)

  • Yitbarek egzi’abaher - chant antiphonal (Extrait)

  • Afqernaka - chant hémiolique (Extrait)

  • Watatfesah baba’aleka - Chant dansé de Yom Kippour

  • Bahatitu qedus qedus - Chant hémiolique tétratonique

  • Kala’ sallat - Chant hémiolique à 2 mélodies

  • Queshera - 2 prières de mariage combinant du chant antiphonal, hémiolique et responsorial (Extrait)

Lire tout

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