Scroll below for the interview…
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 7:30 pm
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Interview by Jane Enkin
Winnipeg audiences are very lucky to have the opportunity to hear the Borochov Dynasty in their only North American performance.
I had a wonderful conversation with New York jazz trumpeter Itamar Borochov. He, his brother, bass player Avri Borochov and his father, multi-instrumentalist Yisrael Borochov, form the core of the Borochov Dynasty.
The Borochov family are Israelis of Bukharian Jewish heritage. Their culture is an ancient Central Asian tradition, from the areas that are now Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, although now most Bukharian Jews live in Israel and the US.
Itamar Borochov is the leader of a jazz quartet, but in this ensemble he arranges music collaboratively with his father and brother. “We are a three-headed monster,” he said. “It’s intense.” His brother is also a member of his jazz quartet. “We meet on the road which is great because I get to see him a lot.” His father is the founder of the Israeli world music group East West Ensemble.
Borochov gives Tarbut’s Karla Berbrayer credit for planting the seed for the family group. “She said she would like me and my brother and my dad to come and play a show and I said that’s a great idea, but we don’t have a show.” A few years later, they put together a repertoire for the Piyut Festival in Jerusalem. “Then I called Karla – that idea you had, we’re doing it.” Since then they have performed in Israel and Europe, and will appear at the 2018 Tarbut Festival in Winnipeg.
Like many other immigrants to Israel, Itamar Borochov’s grandparents, who arrived in Palestine in the 1930s, brought with them old songs. For the Borochov Dynasty project, the ensemble draws on family memories and on extensive research in folk music archives. The three Borochovs chose melodies that appealed to them, “Whatever we most want to do musically.” Borochov recalls that he heard a hazan, a cantor, sing a melody in a Bukharian synagogue and he remembered it and included it in the repertoire.
Bukharian music is rhythmically sophisticated, with some songs in challenging time signatures such as 5\8, 7\8 and 11\8. There is music in a special 9/8 rhythm, stretched so that it’s impossible to clap or dance to the song; this genre was created for Shabbat table singing when instruments are traditionally not allowed.
The words for Shabbat and sacred songs are in Hebrew, pronounced with a Bukharian accent. Some of the other songs are in Bukhari, a Jewish language analogous to Yiddish and Ladino, in this case Jewish – Tajik – Persian. All members of the band sing as well as play instruments. Some tunes are from a repertoire particular to women, including bride songs and other songs connected to women’s lives. Women are active in the musical life of the community – Borochov’s great-grandmother played the frame drum, called the doira. In addition to the doira, traditional instruments in the show will include the jumbush, a stringed metal instrument that is like a cross between an oud and a banjo , and the ney, a Persian flute.
Borochov was an arranger for the band Yemen Blues, who have played to terrific response here in Winnipeg. That music was informed by Yemenite rhythms and scales, but was almost all newly composed. Unlike that band, the Borochov Dynasty plays only traditional Bukhari songs, some quite ancient. However, they include many contemporary instruments along with the traditional ones. Borochov plays a custom-designed trumpet which allows him to play quarter tone scales like the Bukharian maqam.
I asked Borochov why the band adapts the music, rather than playing only on traditional instruments in traditional style. He explained that there are already excellent ensembles that “carry the torch of the tradition at a high level. The music doesn’t need us for that.” They choose to “keep the music alive by carrying it forward.” They bring themselves and all their musical experience to the project; they are also inspired by the music, finding it influences their art. Borochov says he has always been influenced by his traditional upbringing, but “This took it up a notch.”