The American Sephardi Music Festival was one of several events celebrating Sephardi Jewish culture in New York City across February and March this year. Such events are instrumental in promoting tolerance and inter-cultural understanding.
The American Sephardi Music Festival (ASMF) held on February 24-26 was an opportunity for New Yorkers of all backgrounds to experience and enjoy the music of an often overlooked culture.
The American Sephardi Music Festival (ASMF) held on February 24-26 was an opportunity for New Yorkers of all backgrounds to experience and enjoy the music of an often overlooked culture. The ASMF came alongside the American 22nd Annual Sephardic Jewish Film Festival as part of a month full of events celebrating Sephardi culture.
Sephardi Jews (or Sephardic Jews) are a group of Jewish people originating from Sepharad on the Iberian Peninsula. Following their exile from Iberia, beginning in the late 1400s, the Sephardi migrated to North Africa, the Levant (modern Middle East), Anatolia (modern Turkey), and many other parts of the globe. Outside of Israel, France and the United States have the largest populations of Sephardic Jews today, with around 300,000 living in each of those countries. While there are many other denominations, Sephardic Jews are most commonly distinguished from Ashkenazi Jews, a diaspora that was dispersed around the Holy Roman Empire (mainly modern Europe) towards the end of the first millennium AD.
The director of ASMF is critically acclaimed Moroccan-French opera singer and producer David Serero.
The director of ASMF is critically acclaimed Moroccan-French opera singer and producer David Serero. Serero told Inside Arabia: “The purpose of this unique festival is to showcase music talents from all over the world who are highly recognized in the Sephardic music world, and know how to entertain audiences with quality materials. I want the audience to be transported at each concert and to finish the night standing and dancing.” It seems that Serero got his wish when Moroccan oud virtuoso Rachid Halihal performed with his Andalusian orchestra, during which audience members were dancing in the aisles.
The ASMF is the only music festival in New York City entirely dedicated to Sephardic music. So far, the festival has always been held in New York, but, according to Serero, there are plans to hold it and other events in other places, especially the Arab world. At a time when many believe animosity between Jews and Muslims in on the rise, it is particularly instructive to remind both communities of their deep historical links.
This year’s ASMF singled out Morocco, featuring the North African nation at this year’s festival.
This year’s ASMF singled out Morocco, featuring the North African nation at this year’s festival. “As a Moroccan myself,” said Serero, “I feel the importance to show the power of this amazing country and its people as well as their tolerance and welcoming values.” He continued: “I want to bring to American audiences and especially New Yorkers, the beautiful diaspora of the world music and when applicable the Judeo-Arabic music culture.”
The ASMF takes place over two sessions each year and, despite the fact that the events celebrate a niche music genre from a minority culture in New York, some 1,500 people attend each session. Much of this success may be down to the prestigious profile of David Serero himself. At the age of 37, Serero has performed in over 2,000 concerts around the globe. He has appeared in 20 albums and some 100 films for which he has received international recognition and critical acclaim from all over the world. Serero believes that the arts can be used to promote cultural understanding and tolerance. Beyond its undoubted artistic merit, the ASMF is a shining example of this principle in action. In an increasingly divided world, many more events like this are needed to bring communities together.