Jewish musicians were of particular importance in the performance and composition of instrumental music throughout the Islamic world, despite their lowly status both among Muslims and within their own communities. Jewish ensembles, sometimes including non-Jewish musicians or accompanying Muslim male and female singers, perpetuated the repertories from the various classical music traditions in North Africa, the Middle East, Iraq, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia, serving as agents of musical exchange between the different regions of the Islamic world. In most cases Jewish ensembles served both Jewish and Muslim audiences at life-cycle events (notably weddings) and for pure entertainment (e.g. playing in coffeehouses and private residences). Although ‘Jewish musicians’ in the present context generally refers to male performers and composers, there are cases of Jewish women who crossed the boundaries of their traditional community confines and became performers of instrumental music in Jewish and, more rarely, non-Jewish events (see below, §V, 1(i)).
Jewish musicians were active in the practice of the Arabic-Andalusian music traditions in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In earlier periods there is evidence of gentiles performing instrumental music for Jews in North Africa – as Rabbi Abraham Ibn Musa (c1680–1733) testified (GB-Lbl Add.440, f.164v):
I witnessed a scandal … [Jews from Tunis] bring to their houses on Holy Days, and sometimes on weekdays, gentiles that play kinnor (kamanja) and nevel (‘ūd) and tof (drum, probably tār) and halil (wind instrument, perhaps the ghayta) … and men intermingle with women.
However, since the 19th century Jewish instrumentalists appear to have attained prominence, as testified by travellers such as the Italian Jew Samuel Romanelli and the French painter Eugène Delacroix, as well as by the evident esteem with which the Sultans (e.g. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz; ruled 1894–1908) regarded Jewish musicians.
The cities of Marrakech and Mogador in particular have a history of Jewish performers of al-‘alā al-andalusiyya (Moroccan-Andalusian music). Among the famous ensembles from Marrakech in the early 20th century was the Arba‘a al-kbīra (Arabic: ‘large’ or ‘double four’, because it included twice the number of each instrument: ‘ūd, rabāb, Western viola, and tār) led by Samuel ben Dahan. In Mogador the leading ensemble was that of Yosef Zdidi, whose musicians were trained by the Muslim master Mahdī Ibn Sūta (Ben Ami, 1970). Jews were also active in the perpetuation of Andalusian musical traditions. In Algeria the Jewish musician, publisher and impresario Edmond-Nathan Yafil (1877–1928) founded the musical society al-Mutribiyya and was considered a central figure in the renaissance of Algerian-Andalusian music (Bouzar-Kasbadji, 1980, pp.39–86). Among the Jewish masters of the Algerian nūba in the 20th century has been Saud El Medioni, also called Saoud l’Oranais. Later, instrumentalists such as Raymond Leyris and Sylvain Ghrenassia continued to excel in the performance of the Algerian-Andalusian tradition. Jewish and Muslim Arab musicians were still sharing performances in North Africa in the 1970s (e.g. on the Isle of Djerba, Tunisia; see Davis, 1999). The peace process in the Middle East has allowed for a renewal in the relations between Moroccan Muslim and Jewish musicians, with mutual exchanges and performances being staged in Israel and Morocco.
Ottoman Jewish musicians from Constantinople (Istanbul), Edirne, Salonika and Izmir were involved in the development of Ottoman classical music from the early 17th century. Among them were the miskalî (player of the miskal, an Ottoman panpipe) Yahudi Yako and the tanburî (player of the string instrument tanbur) Yahudi Kara Kash, and the composers Çelebiko (an instructor of the famous Ottoman musician Prince Cantemir), Moshe Faro (known as Musi or Tanburî Hakham Mushe, d 1776) a leading musician at the court of Sultan Mahmud I, Aharon Hamon (known as Yahudi Harun, d after 1721), and Isaac Fresco Romano (known as Tanburî Ishāq, 1745–c1814), who was the most prominent Jewish musician of the Ottoman Empire and who served at the court of Sultan Selim III. Among the distinguished Jewish musicians and composers of more recent generations in Turkey were Shem Tov Shikiar (1840–1920), from Izmir, and Abraham Levy Hayyat (Missirli Ibrahim, b 1881), who was active in Istanbul.
In Iraq Jews were conversant in all musical genres and played a particularly important role in the development of the traditional maqām ‘irāqī in the 19th and 20th centuries (Warkow, 1986). The instrumental ensemble established by Jewish musicians, called al-schālghī al-baghdādī, consisted of a singer (qāri’ al-maqām) accompanied by a santūr (a version of the Persian 72-string box zither played with two wooden sticks), jūza or al-kamāna al-baghdādiyya (3- or 4-string spike fiddle), dumbuk (clay drum) and daff (small frame drum with metal discs). More modern ensembles incorporated the Western violin, qānūn, nay and ‘ūd. At the International Congress of Arabic Music held in Cairo in 1932 the official Iraqi delegation included many Jews. They were led by the famous ‘awād (‘ūd player) Ezra Aharon (‘Azzūrī Effendi) who was involved in the introduction of ‘modern’ (i.e. Egyptian) music to Iraq. Another prominent Iraqi Jewish musician of that period was the violinist and composer Salāh al-Kuwaytī, a founding member of the Iraqi Radio Orchestra in 1936. Aharon left Iraq for Palestine in 1934 to become a leading figure in the development of modern Arab music in Israel/Palestine and the leader of the ‘Oriental’ Orchestra of the British-sponsored Palestinian Broadcasting Authority (later Kol yisrael, the Israeli Radio); the orchestra included Jewish immigrants from Iraq and Egypt as well as local Muslim and Christian Arab musicians (Warkow, 1987).
In the Kurdish territories of Iraq, Jews shared the instrumental repertory for zurna (double reedpipe) and doira (large barrel drum that hangs from the shoulder and is played with sticks) with their Muslim counterparts. This instrumental music accompanies group dancing at Jewish weddings and other family celebrations (Squires, 1975).
In Iran (Persia) Jews played a substantial role in the conception and transmission of instrumental art and folk music. This phenomenon was particularly noticeable in Shiraz (Loeb, 1972). A census of 1903 counted 60 professional Jewish instrumentalists and singers in this community of 5000. Jewish experts on the Persian dastgāh are known by name from the late 19th century. The kamancha virtuoso Musa-Khan Kashani (1856–1939), who served under Prince Thal Al-Sultan, was considered one of the great creative geniuses of Persian classical music. In the 20th century the outstanding Jewish musician was Mortaza Ney-Davud (b c1904), a disciple of Aqa Huseyn-Qoli and Darwish-Khan, who recorded his radif in the 1970s on behalf of the Iranian government (Netzer, 1984).
In the Caucasus, from Baku to Nalchick, it was customary for Muslims to engage musicians from the Mountain Jews to play at their festivities (Eliyahu, 1999). The music profession was handed down from one generation to the next within families, and therefore the Jewish ensembles consisted of relatives. Among the musical genres performed by Jews are sections of the Azeri and Daghestani mugam repertory, with a marked preference for the modes bayati shiraz, segah, mahur hindi, chargah and shur. Suites consisting of a mugam (improvised section), täsnif (‘song’) and räng (‘dance’) are regularly played at weddings. Among the outstanding Mountain Jewish musicians were the garmoshka (Asiatic accordion) virtuoso Shamil Navakhov (1920–81) and the members of the Avdalimov and Izrailov ensembles from Derbent.
The instrumental music of Jews from Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan is mainly associated with dances, such as täräkämä, ovshori and khars. Täräkämä melodies are performed by a leading instrument (e.g. zurnov, tar or komonchä) accompanied by a dämkäsh (playing a bourdon) and ghovol (frame drum), and are usually played in mugham segah. In the northern Caucasus the dances of the Jewish communities are the yir, lezginka and suydum tayaq. The former consists of an opening improvisation in free rhythm based on motifs from well-known songs, a short middle passage hinting at the rhythm used in the next sections, a sudden return to the improvisation of the opening, and a final section that consists of several melodies, each faster than the one preceding. Occasionally the yir is performed as a purely instrumental piece without dancing, being played on the garmoshka and ghovol. A fragment from the opening section of the yir may be used as an introduction to an autonomous dance, such as the lezginka, or a song. The lezginka, a widespread dance from the northern Caucasus, has several melodies, each named after the village of its origin. It takes the form of a theme and variations and is played mainly on the zurnov (but often now on the clarinet) accompanied by the garmoshka and govhol. The suydum-tayaq (Kumiq: ‘love stick’) dance for couples is, like the lezginka, a theme and variations and is characteristically in 3/4 time; it is played on the garmoshka and ghovol.
Outstanding Jewish performers were also involved in the transmission of the shashmakom tradition of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The old Jewish style of shashmakom was chamber-like, being performed only by the Uzbeki tanbur accompanied by the doira (large frame drum). Under Soviet influence, larger ensembles were formed consisting, in addition to the traditional instruments, of the dutar (two-string lute), chang (hammered zither related to the Persian santūr), ghijak (upright spike fiddle), nāy (transverse flute) and clarinet. Among the distinguished Jewish shashmakom performers in the 20th century are Levi Bobohonov, Gabriel Mullokandov, the Talmasov brothers, Berta Davidov, Barno Izhakova and the Eliezerov family who reached Palestine in the 1930s and perpetuated their tradition there (Slobin, 1982). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Jewish musicians from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who comprised a relatively large percentage of the professional performers in their original countries, resettled in Israel and the USA (especially in the New York area), where they continue to develop their art today.
Female Jewish instrumentalists in the Islamic world have chiefly been percussionists who accompanied ensembles of female singers. From the 19th century onwards, however, there is evidence of Jewish women playing other musical instruments, but always in internal gatherings. The traveller Victor Guerin witnessed in mid-19th century Rhodes Sephardi girls and women who met regularly at the fountain in the main street and knew how to play ‘a guitar that resembled a Spanish mandolin and accompanied singing and dancing at celebrations’ (1856). The playing of string instruments such as the ‘ūd, mandolin and even the qānūn was customary among East Sephardi women in the early 20th century as part of the modernization processes affecting their communities during this period.
Examples of semi-professional female ensembles are the daqqāqāt from Iraq, a group of four or five drum players who entertained audiences at Jewish weddings and parties. Similar to them are the tañedoras in the Sephardi communities of the Ottoman Empire. Jewish women performing outside their community, however, were frowned upon. A rabbinical responsum by Rabbi Moshe Israel from the Island of Rhodes (d 1782; see Moshe yedabber, f.57a) recalls two Jewish merchants who witnessed a group of non-Jewish men and women leaving a social gathering playing drums and wind instruments. Among them were two Jewish women, who were singing and rejoicing along with the others. The merchants reported the incident to the Rabbi who summoned the women to a meeting at which he warned them about their inappropriate conduct. The women replied that while they did indeed attend the parties of gentiles, they did so solely in a professional capacity, not to socialize with the non-Jews but to sing for payment.
Jewish music, §IV, 3: Non-liturgical music: Instrumental music