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The Judeo-Spanish repertoire

 Romancero, Coplas and Cancionero: Typology of the Judeo-Spanish repertoire

By Dr. Susana Weich-Shahak
 
Part Two
The Coplas
The Judeo-Spanish Coplas or Complas represent a definite repertoire, clearly differentiated from the Romancero and the Cancionero. Their content, unlike the Romances, is related to Jewish tradition and history, social and political events, always in a characteristic continuity or coherence of the text - a feature shared with the Romances - but in strophic structures - in which they differ from the romances.
 
The complas are strophic poems, with various but very definite textual structures, sung with a strophic melody, which shows clearly the impact of the influence of the surrounding musical culture of the people among whom the Jews lived. Since this genre had a rich flourishing period in Saloniki, especially in the 17th and 18th century, I can not but present several examples of Coplas from the repertoire of Saloniki Sephardim.
 
The Judeo-Spanish coplas stand out in the repertoire as an expression of Jewish creation, very much alive in the Sephardic corpus, and that in which the greatest creativity is shown both in written sources and in oral tradition. Coplas constitute a genre which does not belong exclusively to the oral tradition, but rather to both the written and the oral. As such, many coplas have been published over the years, mostly in Constantinople and Saloniki, but also in other sites known for their publishing houses, like Vienna and Livorno. Furthermore, manuscripts preserved by Jewish families or in library collections also include, among songs of other genres, many coplas. Furthermore, as a genre of great vitality and constant creation, the Coplas have also their expression in the Judeo Spanish press: many compositions in the copla genre appeared during the years in the newspapers printed in Istambul and Saloniki.
 
In these written sources we often find coplas as the expression of one precise and known author: the names of the authors are preserved, be it in the text of the coplas (as an acrostichon), or as the declared author, in the title of the printed copla.
 
Typical of the Coplas is that they deal with subjects taken from Talmudic sources, not directly from the Bible, but from the Midrashim and Agadot, the legends about the main characters of Jewish history, like, in our example, form Mose Rabenu.
 
The Coplas of our next example is sung in Shavuot, the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The text is strophic, with a refrain, each strophe (except the first one, where one verse is missing) has three rhyming verses (monorhymed tercets). The strophes are linked by the narrative about Moses in heaven and the angels' jealousy (El celo de los ángeles) based, as in the previous examples, on a Midrashic legend: the angels ("los malajim") are jealous of Moses, a human, coming up to Heaven to speak with GodHimself (named "el Verdadero"); they want to burn him with their mouths' breath ("con bafo de sus bocas”) but God orders Moses to get hold of his own chair (God's throne) to be saved and to answer himself to the angels' grudges.
 
Ex.4:
Ahí en el midbar (Moses and the Angels’ Jealousy)
Rosa Avzaradel-Alhadef (Rhodes, Greece)
Ashdod, 27.2.1990 - NSA Y7956/6
 
Ahí en el midbar vide arrelumbrar
las tablas de la Ley vidi abajar.
Mira y mira quen fue señor de Mosé,
que subió a los cielos y mos trujo la Ley.
 
Los malajim del cielo por él tienen celo,
que subió Mosé a los altos cielos,
boca con boca habló con el Verdadero.
Mira y mira quen fue señor de Mosé,
que subió a los cielos y mos trujo la Ley.
 
Los malajim del cielo lo quieren matar:
nacido de mujer, ¨que busca en santedad?
con bafo de sus bocas lo queren quemar.
Mira y mira quen fue señor de Mosé,
que subió a los cielos y mos trujo la Ley.
 
Le dijo el Dio a Mosé: - tú no te espantes,
detente de mi silla, yo te escapare,
mas quero que les hables hablas que le les agraden.
Mira y mira quen fue señor de Mosé,
que subió a los cielos y mos trujo la Ley.
 
A few coplas belong to the repertoire related to the Life Cycle. The following example is from the repertoire called Coplas de parida (Coplas for the mother of the newborn), that used to be performed during the eight days between the birth of the male child and his circumsition. At this time it is believed that both child and mother are exposed to evil forces and therefore they are never left alone. In order to show the wide diffusion of this Copla and the variability of the oral repertoire, this song - entitled The Happy Birth (El parto feliz) - is presented in two versions. The text speaks to the parida (the mother of the child) and recounts the difficulties of pregnancy until the joy following the baby’s birth. The birth scene is presented: while the midwife encourages the pregnant woman, she cries to God for help and her family agrees: Amen, amen. The first of these two examples (ex. 5) belongs to the Izmir tradition.
 
Example 5
Oh, que mueve meses (The happy birth)
Malka Dayan-Mayish (Izmir, Turkey)
Yahud, 3.1.2010 - NSA Y7940./4
 
O, que mueve meses llevas de estrechura,
mos nació un hijo de cara de luna.
Ya es, ya es el buen simán, de esta criatura.
 
Cuando la cumadre dice: dale, dale,
y dice la parida: mi Dio, escapame,
y dice la su gente: Amen, amen, amen.
 
Ya viene el parido con sus convidados,
y traie en la su mano fista de pescado
y para la parida, sus buenos regalos
 
The second example (no.6) is from Rhodes - the Greek island that was under Italian rule for a long period. In this variant the opening strophe addresses the mother of the newborn (parida) who has filled the house and the soul of the baby’s father (the parido) with light. The refrain offers blessings for the mother and for her newborn child. The second strophe shows the parido with his hands full, bringing meat and fish for the circumsition feast and a string of ducats for the parida. The following strophes speak about food at the party: the parida has not eaten and the parido is upset and orders to bring her a chicken; the tables are prepared and the young girls are eating and enjoying the feast. The refrain expresses joy and blessings.
 
Ex.6
Parida y parida (The happy birth)
Rosa Avzaradel-Alhadef (Rhodes
Ashdod, 14.2.1989 - NSA Y7956/6
 
Parida y parida, que es lo que parites,
que la casa entera de luz me la henchites,
tambien al parido alma me le metites.
 
Que mos seia di buen simán
y este nacido.
Pino florido,
bien arrevedrido.
Mos viva 'l nacido,
tambien el parido.
porque mos trujo rijos.
 
Ya viene el parido con sus manos llenas,
en la una mano la carne, en la otra 'l piscado,
para la parida las restas de ducados.
 
Que mos seia di buen simán
y este nacido.
Pino florido...
 
Cuando el parido s'acerca de la cama,
le dice la parida: - hoy no comí nada!
Se arrabia 'l parido con todos los de casa.
- Presto que le traigan gallinas reinadas.
 
Que mos seia di buen simán
y este nacido.
Pino florido...
 
Avoltes, parida, de cara a las mesas,
y vires cómo comen todas las doncellas,
si van saludando, otrun tanto de ellas.
 
Y que mos seia di buen simán
y este nacido.
Pino florido...
 
Being at least partly a written tradition, the coplas repertoire belong to the realm of men, unlike the Romancero, which, being mostly of oral transmission, belongs to the feminine repertoire. This is most evident in the repertoire of paraliturgical coplas sung in the festivities of the Jewish year cycle. Such Coplas were sung from printed special booklets and performed at home, led by the man in the family (who knew how to read). As for instance, sung while sitting around the table on the festivity of Purim.
 
The following example is one of the many Coplas de Purim. The text tells the story of Haman and Mordechai (La historia de Amán y Mardoqueo). The poem’s text is structured in strophes of nine verses, alternating long and short verses (of 8 and 6 syllables), which the music accomodates by using adequate rhythmic values, but stressing the assimetry of the textual structure. The rhyme scheme is ababbccdd. This copla has a very long text, ordered according to the Hebrew alphabet (in which all Judeo-Spanish texts were written): the first strophe begins with “alef”, the second with “beth” and so on. Therefore only a few strophes of the original recording are presented in our example.
 
EXAMPLE 7
Empezar quero contar (The story of Aman and Mordechai)
Shmuel Altalef (Izmir, Turkey)
Tel Aviv, 14.11.2008- NSA Y 7919/1
 
Empezar quero contar hechas del Dio Alto,
de lo que quero enmentar nada yo no falto,
con bailes y saltos y con gran placer,
porque Haman el mamzer
mos quiso matarmos tambien atemarmos.
 
Oíd lo que aconteció en tiempo de avante,
de lo que aconteció, es cosa de encante,
con un rey gigante el Ahasverosh;
cantaré con grande voz
y con alegría esta maravilla.
 
Basteció él a mandar y munchas comandas,
ciento por tierra andan barcas y comarcas:
las que eran flacas las enforteció,
tambien las enalteció,
emperador fuerte fue por grande suerte
 
Gozar quiso él su bien en aquellos días,
mandó apañar tambien a sus compañías
y de muchas villas mandó a traer
a mostrarle su haber
y la su grandeza con muncha riqueza.
 
Dióle la su entición de hacer un convite;
siendo así su entición, no hay quien se lo quite
el su apetite y su voluntad:
venid todos ajuntar
príncipes míos, condes y sintidos.
 
Y mandara a trayer dientro de sus cortes
joyas que eran de Israel y sus sacerdotes,
mil modos de sortes del Cohen Gadol:
cuanto tenía valor,
el se las metía, y al Dio bendecía.
 
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The Sephardic communities from Northern Morocco used to sing a special copla for the festivity of Tu-biShvat, reflecting the celebration of nature’s renewal.
This text presents a discussion between the different flowers who debate which of them is worthy of praising God. Each flower presents its case, bragging about its virtues. As is frequent in the Coplas' repertoire, there are some Hebrew words: "berajot" (benedictions), and in the refrain: El Hai Sur Olamim. The text presents numerous plants and flowers: carnation, basil, lily, jasmine, rose and others whose name is unclear. One of the texts of this copla was published by Natan Sebí in Saloniki in his booklet, ca. 1800, as analyzed by Elena Romero (“Coplas de Tu-Bisvat”, in Poesía, 1974: 298-310) and comprises no less than twenty-two vegetal participants in the debate. Our recorded example, from Tangier’s oral tradition, presents only four.
 
This copla is documented in the tradition of the Eastern-Mediterranean Sephardim in various manuscripts: a Hebrew manuscript from Sarajevo (1794), one from Venice (1744), as well as in Shir Emunim (Amsterdam, 1793); and in the booklet entitled Conplas de las flores, edited by Natan Sebi in Salonica, ca.1800. It is one of several coplas about debates and was attributed by Michael Molho to the well known coplero Yehuda Cal’i of the 18th century. According to Armistead and Silverman (“Las Complas de las flores y la poesía popular de los Balcanes”, Sefarad XXVIII, 1968, 395-398), this copla has its roots in a traditional Greek song that was collected by the English folklorist G.F.Abbot, in which the situation is identical: several flowers argue which of them serves for ritual uses. In the actual oral tradition the Sephardic Flowers’ Debate (El debate de las flores) has been almost forgotten in the communities of the Eastern area, but is widely known by the Sephardim of Northern Morocco, from which we have several recordings from Tetuan, Melilla and Tangier informants.
 
The text is structured in stanzas of eight verses with a repeated two verse refrain. The stanzas have a common rhyme in verses 2,4,6,and 7 and the last verse always rhyms with the second verse of the repeated refrain. The music divides the ten verses of the textual stanza into three identical musical strophes, each strophe consisting of four musical phrases.
 
Ex. 8
Alabar quiero a Dios (The flowers’ debate)
Rina Benabu-Benarroch (Tangier, Morocco)
Holon, 31.1.1996 - NSA Yc 7951/25
 
Alabar quiero a Dios
que es grande de loores,
que creó para el hombre
muchas maneras de flores.
Y todas son diferentes
en color y en olores,
sobre todas las mejores
es el almizcle romí.
Sobre todo es alabar
a El Hai, Sur Olamim.
 
Ajuntáronse las flores
a alabar al Dio a una,
que las creó tan donosas,
lindas, sin tacha ninguna.
Dicen berajot en ellas
como dicen en la luna,
así dice cada una:
no hay más mejor que mí.
Sobre todo es de alabar
a El Hai, Sur Olamim.
 
Respondió la clavellina:
- Más grandes son las mis famas,
que gozo en mesa de novias
y me llevan en las palmas
y me mandan por presente
a todas las lindas damas,
me quieren como sus almas,
todas se adoran con mí.
Sobre todo es de alabar
a El Hai, Sur Olamim.
 
Respondió la albahaca:
- Como mí no hay tal,
que soy verde y menudita,
mi color muy natural;
a mí me crecen arboles
como barrotes de metal;
como el guisado sin sal
ansí son las rosas sin mí.
Sobre todo es de alabar
a El Hai, Sur Olamim.
 
La azucena quiso cantar
una cantica galana:
- A mí me toca alabar,
que soy rosa de ventana;
mi aceite hace crecer
el cabello a las galanas
y mi olor es muy bueno
que se desmayan por mí.
Sobre todo es de alabar
a El Hai, Sur Olamim.