Ventanas explores both the traditional and the new in their second album, Arrelumbre.
Though they sprang from the same Spanish soil, flamenco singing and Sephardic Jewish song could not be more different. Flamenco singing burns with passion and fury, and performances reach an emotional fever pitch. Sephardic singers let the wry tales in the lyrics speak for themselves with reserved precision.
It is the tension between these two musical forms that fires Ventanas lead singer Tamar Ilana, and this tension is the guiding force behind the band’s second album, Arrelumbre.
“I have given up on purity,” laughs Ilana. “I draw on both the story and the emotion, infusing flamenco feeling into Sephardic stories and vice versa.”
Ilana and her trans-Mediterranean ensemble Ventanas fuse passion and intimate dialogue, embracing the varied instrumental and melodic traditions of North Africa, the Balkans, Turkey and Spain to create fresh interpretations and original songs. Oud, baglama, darbuka, and percussive flamenco footwork intertwine with surprising harmony, joy and yearning, and this unusual musical mix garnered the group two Canadian Folk Music Award nominations in 2014 and two more in 2015. It shines with a new brightness on Arrelumbre.
“I was raised to believe that we needed to preserve folk songs that might otherwise be lost,” says Ilana. “Ventanas preserves these traditions, while at the same time present them in an exciting way, both sonically and visually. We infuse them with new energy, dance and diverse instrumentation to keep things moving forward.”
This forward motion comes naturally to Ilana, who has lived and breathed the Spain's music from girlhood, travelling with her mother, who is an ethnomusicologist and singer. Ilana and her mother would performed as they went, and sometimes she found herself wishing she could be like other kids. Yet as Ilana gradually came into her own as a musician, singing on stage went from being a childhood chore to a profound joy.
These early adventures have provided the singer with a remarkably deep musical well to draw upon. The repertoire is second nature to Ilana, and includes everything from Original songs (like 'Libertad') to Eastern European folk songs (like ‘Makedonsko Devoiche’). Her two main influences come from her ongoing engagement with the Iberian past: flamenco and the songs of the Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain centuries ago and adapted to new cultures as they migrated to new lands (as heard in album’s title track, ‘Arrelumbre’, a medley of Moroccan Sephardic wedding songs).
Ventanas seamlessly incorporate other musical inspirations into very traditional forms, like the oud and violin that weave into the furious emotion of ‘La Sala del Crimen.’ Or the flamenco guitar flourishes that grace the Persian classical piece ‘Amed Nesim-i,’ a composition Ilana learned from family friends in Madrid.
Arrelumbe also features original songs. ‘Libertad’ is one such creation, inspired lyrically by the images of a favorite Sephardic song, yet sparked by musical dialogue with Athens-born oud player Demetrios Petsalakis. Their collaboration is bearing fruit: Petsalakis creates the melodies, while Ilana crafts the lyrics in Spanish or Ladino. Then the band leaps in, expanding and elaborating the arrangements together.
Ventanas braves new ground with Arrelumbre, and the result is a sound unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.