Freeing ancient legacy and sacred songs

The musical trio from Israel (from Left) Victoria, Nory and Ruth, at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on Thursday.  

RUTH WEIDER - Magan, Victoria Hanna and Nori Jacoby are freedom fighters, but with a difference. They are fighting to keep ancient Jewish sacred songs and prayers from the "prisons" of Israeli extremists. Keeping the faith alive in an unusual way, the trio makes this ancient legacy relevant today by often using contemporary music.

"Most of the younger generation in Israel is moving away from the old traditions their parents clung on to, because narrow-minded people are using it as a flag of terror. And they don't want to be reminded of that violence. The younger generation feels trapped, but we want to free these ancient songs from the clutches of the extremists. "We are not interpreting these texts; we are just improvising and experimenting with them to take them out of the museums. Sometimes when I play these with electronic beats at clubs, people come to me and ask me if they are really ancient texts and are they relevant today. They are, even more today,'' says Victoria.

They came from different countries to walk the path of music together in Israel. Going back to a moment in imagined history before music and language went their separate ways, they want to bridge the gap between language, culture and time. Here in Delhi at the invitation of Tibet House, they got a chance to participate in the Festival of Sacred Chanting and Singing and learn about peace.

"It is a complete eye-opener for us that the Tibetan people have been involved in their struggle for so long, but they are fighting by chanting and singing. I think hopefully not in the far future, we could learn from the Dalai Lama," says Nori.

The Israeli Embassy also organised "Mother Tongue" - a performance workshop that improvises and uses pure sound and music to create unforgettable harmony. Mixing gibberish with ancient texts, they celebrate the miracle of voice and sing straight from their "hidden voice" they say proudly.

More than just about creating incredibly haunting music, Ruth and Victoria are stepping into "forbidden" territory. "Earlier women were not allowed to recite these texts, unless they were reading them to other women. Some places where we hold performances even know, they have not seen women do this," he says.

Touching listeners with their music, the reason people all over the world relate to this unusual experiment, is that they recognise some part of their own culture. Having worked with Theatre Company, Jerusalem for 25 years, Ruth is using another bridge to reach people - music. "The Jews escaped and went to different parts of the world. They assimilated certain traditions and people recognise some Jewish folk songs," she says.

A different "band" - they are out to fight for independence of an ancient tradition.

By Mandira Nayar

Photo: S. Subramanium