‘The Rough Guide To Jewish Music’ Is A Unique, Mostly Successful World Music Presentation

Courtesy: World Music Network/Galileo

Late this past May, World Music Network partnered with the German record label, Galileo, to release its latest compilation of music centered on the Jewish community in the form of The Rough Guide to Jewish Music.  The 18-song collection is an interesting new offering focused on the music and culture of the Jewish community.  That is due in part through its featured arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. While the musical content that makes up the record’s body is important to its presentation, the set is not perfect.  That is because there are no English translations for any of the songs that feature lyrics.  This will be discussed a little later.  While the lack of English translations for the lyrics is problematic, it is not enough of an issue to doom the set.  To that end, there is still one other positive in the form of the record’s liner notes. The liner notes that accompany the record’s musical content make for their own interest and will be addressed a little later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation.  All things considered they make the set yet another engaging and entertaining addition to WMN’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series.

The Rough Guide To Jewish Music is a simply-titled new presentation from World Music Network, but as simple as its title is, the 18-song record is anything but simple.  That is proven in part through the record’s musical content.  From beginning to end, the arrangements are anything but what audiences would think of when they think of Jewish music.  Yes, there are some arrangements featured here that have that familiar violin and clarinet-based instrumentations, but they are few and far between.  Rather, the arrangements take listeners on a trip around the world, showing the reach of the Jewish community and its culture.  Right from the record’s outset, audiences are treated to what sounds like a Spanish-infused composition in ‘Adio Kerida.’  Roughly translated, the title means ‘Bye, Dear.’  That would make sense, what with the mention of a corazon (or heart in English) and some of the other content that can be translated here.  The somber mood of the arrangement adds to the sense that this song is about a broken relationship.  The distinct vocal style and the use of the strings are what really bring out the Jewish influence here alongside the more familiar Spanish leaning.  It makes for an interesting start to the set, especially being that it gives way to the much more familiar Jewish style composition that is ‘Tornado Albastru’ next.  As the record progresses, audiences are eventually taken on a trip to Egypt in ‘El Rey Nimrod.’  The vocal styling and instrumentation here make that influence fully audible.  It is one of the compilation’s most notable entries.  On yet another note, audiences get a piece that exhibits some perhaps eastern European influence even later in ‘Shalom Aleykhem.’  That is made clear through the use of the string arrangement, accordion and vocals.  There is almost a certain Romanian gypsy influence here.  Meanwhile the use of what sounds like a recorder alongside it all adds the slightest Renaissance influence to make for an overall composition that is unique in its own right.  Right from there, the compilation takes audiences back to the Middle East, in ‘Sien Drahmas Al Dia.’  Translated from Judeo-Spanish, the song’s title means ‘One Hundred Drachmas A Day’.  Apparently, the song is another love song of sorts sung from a woman’s standpoint, wanting her love interest to break away from his mother.  It is a fiery composition, too, which would make sense considering the noted apparent lyrical theme here.  When this arrangement and the others examined here are considered along with the rest of the record’s entries, the overall musical presentation makes for a wonderful examination of the reach of Jewish music around the world.

While the musical content that makes up the body of The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is pivotal to its appeal, the record is not perfect.  As noted, there are not English translations for any of the songs featured here with vocals.  The end result is that audiences have to hunt down the songs and try to find said translations for themselves in hopes that those translations exist.  This can be somewhat time consuming depending on the song and what may or may not be available.  To that end, this is unquestionably problematic to the record’s presentation.  It is not enough to doom the record but is still enough of an issue to address.

Knowing that the lack of English translations in this collection is problematic but not enough so that it makes the record a failure, there is still one more positive to note.  That positive is the background on the songs provided through the record’s liner notes.  The liner notes point out right from their outset that the purpose of this compilation was not so much to focus on Jewish music but rather to examine “the value of cross-cultural exchange.”  That is done so well by showing the ties of Jewish music with that of so many nations around the world.  A very brief but concise introduction is also offered for some of the acts whose work is part of that overall body.  It is a start for any listeners who otherwise might not have known who any of them were, coming into the record.  As part of those introductions, the liner notes also point out the influences in the arrangements, adding a little bit more depth to the presentation.  The end result of that information is a nice accent to the presentation that when paired with the collection’s primary content, makes for even more appeal among audiences.  That is even considering the lack of English translations for the songs anywhere in the booklet. 

The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is a presentation that is certain to appeal to a wide range of World Music fans.  That is proven largely through its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements take traditional Jewish sounds and styles and blends them with influences from the music and culture of so many other nations and their peoples.  While the record’s musical content does so much to make the collection engaging and entertaining, the lack of any English lyrical translations for the songs does notably detract from the presentation.  It is not enough to make the record a failure, though, but definitely is still problematic.  Moving back to the positive, the record’s liner notes work with the musical content here to make for more engagement.  That is because of the brief but concise background that the notes offer for the acts whose music is featured throughout.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation’s presentation.  All things considered they make the record another interesting and mostly enjoyable offering from World Music Network.

The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is available now. More information on this and other titles from World Music Network is available online at:




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