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Divahn Delves Into Sephardic Songs

With gorgeous vocals and smooth rhythms, the Texas-based all-female quartet, Divahn, treated its Berea College audience to Jewish music with a twist at Sept. 21's convocation.

The musical group Divahn performs at Berea College.

Drawing from Middle Eastern and Sephardic traditions, Divahn turned traditional songs into arrangements full of sophistication and drive. Vocalist Galeet Dardashti sang in Hebrew, Arabic, a Judeo-Spanish language called Ladino and many other regional languages. The band also used non-traditional instruments, including the tabla, cello, violin and didgeridoo. Divahn is the only US-based all-female ensemble performing Mizrakhi-influenced music, which is Jewish music from the Middle East and North Africa. Their repertoire includes psalms, Shabbat (or Sabbath) songs, lullabies and prayers that are drawn from places like Serbia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen.

At first, Dardashti simply encouraged the audience to clap along with the music, but after performing the first couple of songs, she took a different tack. "We didn't warn you," said Dardashti, "but some of this performance involves audience participation." She noted that even though the group doesn’t sing in English, "there are plenty of songs where 'lai-lai-lai-lai-lai' is appropriate." Giving the audience a preview of the tune, the band was then able to layer the actual words over top of the audience's supportive singing.

"Now that I know you can sing, you're in big trouble," Dardashti laughed.

Performing together since 2000, the band gets its name from "divahn," which is a common word in Hebrew, Persian and Arabic languages, and means a collection of songs or poetry. They seek not only to create innovative interpretations of traditional Jewish music but also emphasize the common ground shared by diverse Middle Eastern cultures and traditions.

One of the pieces performed by Divahn was a prayer in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which took place the following day). Dardashti voiced hopes for a better year.

"It's been a hard year for the Middle East and many parts of the world," she said.

To buy Divahn's music, listen to some mp3 samples of their upcoming album, or simply find more information, visit the band's official website.

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