Musical cheer

Ashdod’s Andalusian Orchestra plays whatever the crowd requests

In the days and weeks following the October 7 attack, this Middle Eastern music band has changed its tunes

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The Ashdod Andalusian Orchestra is performing wherever Israelis need music, in the wake of the unprecedented Hamas terror attacks on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)
The Ashdod Andalusian Orchestra is performing wherever Israelis need music, in the wake of the unprecedented Hamas terror attacks on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

As Israelis grapple with mourning the dead and helping those who survived Hamas’s October 7 massacre, the country’s musicians have joined the effort, singing at funerals, impromptu weddings, and at shelters.

It’s not just rockers and pop stars who want to spread some cheer — the orchestras want to do their part as well. For example, the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra – Ashdod is performing anywhere it is invited.

“We’re spreading out,” said Shalom Loutati, the CEO of the orchestra, which specializes in Jewish and Muslim music.

They have performed at old age homes, hostels for people with special needs, for soldiers, and for evacuated families. They even performed for a last-minute wedding with 50 guests.

One concert for evacuees from the communities of Kibbutz Zikim and Moshav Netiv Ha’asara at the Ma’ale Hahamisha Hotel outside Jerusalem was supposed to be an hour long and ended up lasting two-and-a-half hours, said Loutati.

“It’s not the usual repertoire,” he said. “People are thirsty for something, for music.”

The orchestra is based in Ashdod, one of the more southern cities that is often hit hard by rocket fire, and sustained some three hours of volleys on October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.

Once they emerged from the shock of those first 24 hours, members of the orchestra wanted to offer some respite to Israelis, starting in their own city.

The orchestra is made up of 28 musicians, most of whom are from Ashdod. Others hail from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

With people spread out around Israel, they often perform in smaller groupings, based on the musicians’ locations and trying to limit travel on the roads.

They had concert dates planned abroad, including an event in Paris on October 22 and another in Morocco, with Jewish and Arab musicians, along with rehearsal for their fall season with a Moroccan singer.

None of that is happening right now, although they have heard from their colleagues in Morocco, who wrote and checked in, “holding our hands and hoping for better days,” said Loutati. “But the atmosphere there isn’t for us right now.”

In the days following the October 7 Hamas attacks, there were rallies in Rabat, Morocco, in solidarity with Gazans.

For now, said Loutati, they will continue their impromptu concerts and performances, bringing music to every kind of audience.

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra – Ashdod Facebook page is updated daily with news of where the orchestra is performing, and includes a Facebook live concert for kids.

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