Divahn–an all female band playing all Middle Eastern Jewish music

I got an email from a friend with a Denver University connection.  She’s involved in many things Jewish and helped to bring to Denver the musical group Divahn: all women, playing Middle Eastern music on authentic instruments.  Knowing my interest in world music, she thought it would be one for me.cd_s.jpg I think it was–although I got the impression that my husband & I, being gentile, were not really the intended audience.  Although Galeet Dardashti, the group’s lead singer, occasionally made asides for those “few who might not be Jewish here,” I still felt that she  didn’t realize that this was a show open to the general public.  I’m sure this was because the event was organized by DU’s Center of Judaic Studies, but still–it took place at the Oriental Theater, a funky Northwest Denver venue that generally caters to black-clad defiant punker kids and old rockers who have some Grateful Dead affiliation.  And be aware that it wasn’t the music that made me feel a bit of an outcast–I’ve listened to enough world music in general, and Middle Eastern music in particular, that I don’t pay much attention to whether  I’m the general audience for the sound.  I assume that I am not.  But I think with all of  Dardashti’s references to personal emails begging her to come, and to songs that we sing on the Sabbat, etc., and how I probably ought to know the words to join in….Well, never mind.  The singer seemed a bit put out by the whole event, which probably had something to do with academic politics and confusion, since Dardashti is an ethnomusicologist at the University of Texas. galeet-dardashti-and-divahn.jpgAll of this aside: the musicians in Divahn were a joy to watch.  Divahn means a collection of songs or poems, and the collection of musicians here created a meaningful whole.   The lyrics mix Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Judeo-Spanish, something that I particularly enjoyed.  The mixing of languages is becoming more and more popular across world music, particularly that which is aimed toward a wider audience.  Marketing considerations aside, I like the utopian implications of blending the words of many cultures, with the emphasis on unity over division.  A violinist, cellist, tabla player, multi-percussionist worked beautifully together.  When they sang harmony, the results were nearly eerie.  And Galeet Dardashti herself had a transfixing strong voice that carried in it that haunting sense of the minor key.  (Sometimes her voice was too strong, drowning out the band members, but this may have been the way she was mic-ed.)  The tabla player in particular was fascinating, as I had never seen one perform live before.  She was always smiling, in the moment, one hand working the complex rhythms while the other used the palm to place the underlying line….Every player was accomplished, professional, seemingly in sync with one another.  Each of their solos was impressive, particularly the long interlude by Sejal Kukadia.  The audience was rapt; there were few shout-outs and no cell phone cameras among this crew–no jumping up and dancing or any of that funny stuff.  I’m sure it’s one of the most staid situations ever experienced at the Oriental.  Perhaps they were simply transported, as there were times that the music was extraordinarily lovely.  Knowing the words, singing along, really means nothing when you witness that blending of sounds that clearly shows that the music is spiritual in intent and tradition.  (The work of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is similar in this regard; a hymn, a prayer, is just that, in any language.)The two most memorable songs, for me, were the ones that seemed to depart from the familiar: a new-ish song, Vashti, and  an acapella group vocal arrangement (the title of which I was unable to catch).  All of the songs, though, were fascinating–not so much because they were unusual (because, honestly, I have heard similar arrangements and approaches to Middle Eastern music), but because the musicianship was so strikingly good.  And it was simply refreshing to see a group of serious female musicians up there following their path.  The musician’s bios can be found on the group’s web site at http://www.divahn.com.  You can also purchase their CD or download (purchased) songs.  All of the musicians appear to be Western-trained.  I had the impression from their biographies that most had been born in the United States and were seeking and studying their ancestral homelands (although it is actually hard to be certain of this).”So, are you glad you went?” my friend asked, as we pulled on our coats.  Of course. 

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