Jewish Music

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Sephardic and Hassidic

"Sephardic" refers to the Jewish communities originating in Spain, Morocco, and Northern Africa. Many Sephardic Jews are the descendants of "conversos," Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

The sound of Sephardic Jewish music is much more Middle Eastern in rhythm and feel. In fact, it is closely associated with Arabic Music, which uses many of the same instruments and instrumentations: particularly oud (a kind of lute), and the percussion of doumbek and darbuka. Ladino is the language commonly used in Sephardic songs and life, crossing the boundaries of Hebrew and Spanish. Like Klezmer, dance is associated with Sephardic music as well, along with elaborate, colorful outfits. Major names include Fortuna and Judy Frankel.

The stereotype of a Hassidic (or Chassidic) Jewish person is an old man wearing a black suit and a long beard. While many Hassids do adhere to strict standards of dress, what sets them apart even more is their belief in Jewish mysticism, combined with a devout dedication to the many Mitzvot (laws) that go way beyond keeping kosher (dietary laws) and the Sabbath.

Niggunim is a style of vocal tunes that have been handed down through generations in Hassidic circles. Ranging from simple melodies akin to folk songs, to more complex arrangements sometimes accompanied by a musical backdrop, niggunim traditionally was a way of communicating Jewish stories and legends.

Chassidic Niggunim should not be confused with cantorial music, which are the liturgical melodies heard in the synagogue to accompany prayer. The cantor (known also as a chazzan) leads the prayers, chanting them, usually in Hebrew, to specific melodies.

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Here is a wide range of resources about Jewish music.