In perfect harmony

Moroccan musicians spend year in Israel with Ashdod Orchestra

Five Moroccan performers are here to perform and practice with Andalusian group, an opportunity to teach and share

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Visiting Moroccan musicians playing with the Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod for the 2021-2022 year. (Courtesy: Rafi Daluya)
Visiting Moroccan musicians playing with the Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod for the 2021-2022 year. (Courtesy: Rafi Daluya)

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod, known for its medleys of traditional Sephardic and Arab-Jewish music, has always been made up of Israeli musicians who are primarily of Tunisian, Moroccan and Russian origin.

This year, their numbers include musicians born and trained in Morocco.

“The thought was always there,” said Jacob Ben Simon, the orchestra’s longtime general manager, who arranged for five Moroccan musicians to live and perform in Israel for the year with the Andalusian Orchestra.

The orchestra is currently in the midst of a round of concerts around the country, with two final ones next week, on January 24 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and January 25 at the Ra’anana Performing Arts Center.

The five musicians are living together in an apartment in Ashdod, learning the orchestra’s style and fusion, as well as making themselves at home in the city, said Ben Simon.

They have much to offer, he said, having trained at traditional Andalusian music conservatories in Morocco.

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Posted by ‎התזמורת האנדלוסית הישראלית אשדוד – The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra‎ on Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Abdellah Amli, 22, plays the tar and luth; Hicham Ayar, 37, plays the alto and violin; Abdelfettah Otmani, 33, plays the violin and rabab; Simohamed Chfari, 31, plays the luth and Hicham Morjane, 31, plays the violin.

Ben Simon met the musicians several times over the last few years, when the Andalusian Ashdod made it to Casablanca to perform at the annual Andalussyat Festival.

In 2019, the performance took place amid tremendous pressure to cancel and threats to boycott the festival from local BDS activists.

Fast forward to the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, and Ben Simon began envisioning an opportunity to bring professionally trained Moroccan musicians to Israel, having them play side by side with the local players, working with younger musicians in particular.

The opportunity for cooperation was always there, said Ben Simon, but it was stepped up with the Abraham Accords.

“Classical Andalusian music is learned in a conservatory and what’s here has a lot of influences and fusion,” said Ben Simon. “This is music that’s passed from generation to generation and they know what they’re doing.”

The Moroccan musicians, all French speakers, have all repeatedly expressed their surprise at the emphasis and presence of Moroccan music and culture in Israel, said Ben Simon.

“They’ve also learned our style and the fusion that we have,” said Ben Simon, who’s already dreaming of having several visiting Moroccan musicians each year, playing the instruments that are harder to find in Israel.

“They strengthen whoever is sitting next to them, learning from one another, and just offering so much quality with all of their knowledge and training,” he said. “It brings Moroccan culture to our doors.”



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