|On Dezeo, Chilean-Cuban songstress Consuelo Luz celebrates her Sephardic roots by combining ancient Jewish prayers and ballads from the Spanish exodus with the Mediterranean flavors of her upbringing in Greece, Spain and Italy. Now living in Northern New Mexico and exploring her Jewish roots on her Chilean mother's side, she responded to Rabbi Chava Carp's invitation to sing some prayers at a service, in the overlaid Ladino language of the expatriate Jews on the Iberian peninsula.
Dezeo is an outgrowth of this exploration, co-produced by Grammy-nominated Santa Fe producer Jim Wilson, and featuring a diverse gathering of first-rate musicians like Ray Obiedo (guitar), Haig Manoukian (oud), Gabriel L. Osuna (flamenco guitar), Norbert Stachel (various saxes and duduk), Mark Van Wageningen (bass), and his brother Paul, Karl Perazzo and Mark Clark on a wide assortment of percussion including congas, bongo, jembe and the Peruvian cajon.
Explains the artist: "It was appropriate that I be introduced to this music in Taos, New Mexico at the same time that some of the local Hispanic population were becoming aware of their Jewish heritage. My friend and then New Mexico State Historian, Stan Hordes, had started his research on the subject and later invited me to sing some of these songs at a lecture he gave in Taos.
Some of the Sephardim, the Spanish Jewish families who had escaped the Inquisition and sailed to Mexico in the early 1500s, were pursued again as the Mexican Inquisition reached its height in 1596. A number of these families decided to escape north to "Nuevo Mexico" for safety and obscurity in this harsh, sparsely populated and isolated land. They established villages, mixed with the Catholic settlers and slowly left behind, at least outwardly, their ancient Jewish customs.
In the 1980s, and with members from surrounding villages, a Jewish "Havurah" had formed in Taos. As I started learning and singing these songs, something deep stirred inside me and those who heard them. This was a powerful spiritual energy, hidden for centuries. I feel honored to have been given the gift of this music, and the exciting task of taking it out into the world in a contemporary form whiIe I learn more about the mystical traditions of my ancestral people who struggled, hidden for centuries, to preserve their heritage..."
Dezeo accomplishes the very challenging. To keep intact -- or simply re-access -- the power embedded in the original Hebrew prayers and associated songs. Not for nothing are Hebrew, Tibetan and Sanskrit considered mantric languages. Their very alphabet is said to contain spiritual power whereby uttering the right words in the proper pronunciation and charged by the speaker's inner alignment with Spirit, can compel miracles.
Be that as it may, hearing is believing. Despite the fabulous WorldBeat surroundings conjuring up desert visions or secret caves in Granada; despite the fact that Ladino itself isn't pure Hebrew at all; something far more ancient is released while listening. It's not farfetched to cite the popular soundtrack to "Last Temptation". It managed a similar feat, albeit with the added benefit of powerful motion picture imagery.
The songs themselves, from Algeria, Egypt, Teheran, Sarajevo and Morocco, and associated with Rosh Hashana, Selikhot, Yom Kippur and the Sabbath, project a tangible presence that engulfs the "heathen" without any exposure or knowledge of the traditions and culture. It'll probably stir the true believer to tears. And even disregarding this magical element, the music itself is first-class, borrowing from Flamenco, Middle-Eastern and Northern African vocabulary, but transferred into today's vibrant World Music arena.
And audiophiles will welcome the stellar production values, HDCD encoding and reference-quality playback. Add a vocal delivery that more than makes up in emotional integrity what it lacks in final polish; the exotic timbres of the oud and Oriental violin; the sophisticated and eclectic rhythm section; the strangely appropriate timbres of modern saxophone juxtaposed against the archeological timbral shards of the duduk; and what you end up with is a very unique, highly commendable album indeed.
Think of it as a lens through which, somehow, are focussed centuries of religious practice by a vagabond people - literally prayers set to glistening music, in the guise of WorldMusic that would be considered first-rate even without this added dimension. It's like entering a mosque or cathedral. Regardless of personal conviction, anyone sensitive to energies can appreciate the charge that's built up over eons by the faithful. Magical, isn't it, that a li'l aluminum alloy disc inserted into a machine can set up such an ethereal temple in your living room and let you partake of Satsang, the dissemination of Spirit, Life Force, Prana, Siddhi, Shakti, Blessing - whatever you care to call it.
What more to say? Take a listen. You won't be disappointed! But leave your mind with the shoes at the door...