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Basya Schechter

Concert Preview of Pharoah's Daughter -Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture Nov 21 ,2015 on 8:00

by Jane Enkin, October 19, 2015

Pharoah's Daughter

Saturday, November 21, 2015

8:00 pm

Berney Theatre



The Jewish people have travelled throughout the world, over many generations. Music provides one way to revisit the journey.


Pharaoh's Daughter offers music that is spirited, energetic and meditative, with layers of rhythm and harmony. Basya Schechter leads a seven-piece band playing Western and Middle-Eastern instruments in the rhythms and melodies of world music fusion, with lyrics in Hebrew, Aramaic, Ladino, Yiddish and English.


You can find lots of samples at pharaoh', including some pieces from their most recent recording, Dumiya -- “To You Silence is Praise.”


Basya Schechter told me some of the stories of her own musical journey. “At my core, the music that I was enlivened by and inspired by was the music I grew up with – melodies with a lot of yearning in them, emotion-filled and harmonically layered, in minor keys. That was a core part of my DNA.”


In “Yeshivish,” Ultra Orthodox Brooklyn, Schechter grew up in a culture of singing. In groups of girls and women, “we sit around and sing at lunch breaks, we sit around and sing at recess, we sit around and sing all the time, we sing at third meals [on Shabbat afternoon.] We get into a zone and we all sing and what happens is because everyone is singing together we naturally need to find our own voice; our own voice is something we can experience in finding our own harmony, so people would find very complex, very interesting layered harmonies that would allow them to be in harmony with everybody but also allow them to hear their own voice within the community.”


That's where Schechter began her life, but then she chose to make a change. “And then when I was leaving that world I became a wanderer. And I hitchhiked all over the world, I went to Turkey, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eastern Europe, Morocco, South America...and I think in every country that I went to I was inspired by the rhythms and the folk music...I recognized that there was an emotional charge to those songs too.” She was touched by “a certain feeling that I got from cultures that struggled or yearned... some similar messages that had come from my culture, but they also had other stories and other experiences, other rhythms.”


While studying at Barnard College in New York, Schechter performed as a singer-songwriter. But another turning point came for her when she was profiled in the Jewish Week – the young singer who had left an Ultra Orthodox background. Suddenly Jewish communities were inviting her to perform, and they appreciated some Jewish content in programs. At the same time, the music Schechter had heard in her travels began to influence her composing. She began to write melodies that were “Turkish-inflected, Greek-inflected, Egyptian-inflected, Peruvian-inflected” and her singer-songwriter lyrics didn't suit these new melodies and rhythms at all.


The solution was to reach into her past. In her education, Schechter had had to memorize many texts – prayers, sayings, phrases, songs, wisdom – and these all became sources for her music. “A phrase my grandfather would yell at me” became a song, as did “Ivre-Taytch,” the school-room chanting of Hebrew Bible verses with their translation into Yiddish. Since then, she has researched a wide range of Jewish sources. Some of the texts might be familiar to Jewish audiences, such as new settings of Shabbat and Chanukah songs, and others are less well known, providing a window into Jewish tradition listeners might want to explore.


A fascinating, complex example is the song “Avrohum” on the new recording Dumiyah, described this way in the liner notes: “Avrohum, - 'Abraham Abraham' Genesis 22:12- Biblical cry/prayer by angel for Abraham to stop the sacrifice of his son - text interspersed by Talmudic discussion between Sarah and Isaac. Music: Adaptation of Malian lullaby taught by Yacouba Sisoko and original music B. Schechter”


“This is in some ways the diaspora journey – about our culture, which has travelled through all these countries throughout the generations of our history, and me as someone who is American revisiting that tradition of travel and wandering and evolving a sound based on these experiences and exposures.”


Is it prayer? “I think there's something in my performance that draws from my prayers,” confirms Schechter, who has trained as a cantor with the Jewish Renewal Movement Aleph program. She sees herself as a channel connecting with something above, and describes “the idea of some kind of divinity passing through you and you're being like a speaker that creates a divine 'surround sound' for the people who are around you, who are playing with you and are listening to you.” At the same time, Schechter brings humour to her concerts. “I'm prayerful and ironic at the same time. I'm on the cusp of reverent and irreverent.”

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