WOMEN’S VOICES at the Festival Sacred Songs, The Hague on17th November

The inaugural concert, Sacred Songs – Women’s Voices, was opened and closed by its curator Monica Akihary, herself a formidable singer with an astonishing vocal rang and dynamic style. The Belgian trio Psallentes filled the Nieuwe Kerk with the delicate songs by Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century mystic. Samihita Mundkur, originally from Mumbai, performed songs of the 13th century Indian mystics Janibai and Mukta, alone, accompanying herself by plucking one string and one single note throughout. Later her choir Zangam sang the devotional poem of the 16th century Indian Saint Mirabai in a somewhat endearing  ‘bon enfant’ way. By that point I was rather missing the sound of some of the iconic string instruments I had expected, so I was pleased to see Louries Soliman accompanying  Miriam Abouseif in her soulful rendition of Ya Maryam el Bekr, a typical song in praise of Mary, mother of Jesus of the Coptic Christian tradition so important in Egypt. The  hypnotic Karima el Fillali, half Moroccan with a Dutch classical musician for a mother, sang a text by the 8th century Sufi Saint Rabia el Basra with great delicacy. She was beautifully accompanied by Jaafar Lougmani on violin and Haytham Safia on oud, both producing wonderful dark, mournful sounds.

Though it may seem unfair to pick one performer from such an excellent programme, for me the highlight of the evening was Noam Vazana with her spirited performances of several pieces of Sephardic Jewish origin, all performed in Ladino, the Spanish equivalent of Yiddish. It was the language the Spanish Jews took with them when, between the 13th and 15th century, they fled persecution in Spain for Morocco. Music and songs were handed down from mother to daughter but seem to have retained a strong Southern-Spanish influence, if only in Noam Vazana lively and engaging delivery.     Astrid Burchardt      17th November 2018

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