San Diego Men’s Choir scores a hit with ‘Kochi’

Recently, I encountered four members of the San Diego Jewish Men’s Choir, David G’mach, Steven Markowitz, Albert Shafer and David Zilberberg. They were all beaming with pride because of the many plaudits received by the choir’s second CD, “Kochi.”
SoundProfileMagazine gave it a rave review. Wouter Kellerman offered high praise to the CD in a review for Amazon. The recording is featured on two programs on One World Music Radio. It is in the top 100 CDs in the UK and it won the Akademia Music Award for the best world beat album. The San Diego Jewish Community should, indeed, take pride in the achievements of our Jewish Mens’ Choir, founded and conducted for its first fifteen years by Rhoda Gaylis, and now, under the capable direction of Ruth Weber.

“Kochi” is a recording which combines songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino from the choir’s repertoire, with accompaniments of instruments from India and conventional
Western instruments.

Three of the ten selections in this award-winning recording are in Ladino, the language spoken by the Paradisi Jews who immigrated to Cochin, India following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. The Indian instruments used to accompany the songs were probably familiar to the Jews of Cochin, the sitar (lute), santoor (dulcimer), sarangi (bowed string instrument) and the chamurra (drum). The Jews of Cochin, the first waves coming as early as 562 BCE and 70 CE, were involved in the pepper trade. Perhaps some of them were in contact with Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. In any case, the Yiddish folksong, “Sha, Shtil,” is heard in a charming arrangement. The Israeli songs, such as “Zum Gali Gali” and “Shir haShalom” may represent the Cochin Jews who made aliya to Israel, where they are now part of the diverse fabric of the Jewish state.
In any case, if this fusion of Jewish songs and Indian instruments draws attention to the fascinating history of the Jews of India, it will serve an important purpose, in addition to affording pleasurable listening.

Director Ruth Weber’s vocal arrangements are tailor-made for her two dozen male voices and Ricky Key, Vavail Vargas and Danny Flam, arrangers and instrumentalists are to be applauded for the accompaniments that enhance each song. The opening oboe solo for “Avraham Avinu,” as played by Emilia Lopez-Yanez, is particularly beguiling as it draws us into the oriental flavor of the recording.

Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, one of the world’s leading experts on the history of Jewish communities in the Far East, wrote the introduction. He emphasized, as in his lecture last August for Yom Limmud, that the Jews were welcomed in India and, during most of it’s history there, did not suffer from anti-Semitism.


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