Groove, dance or chill at Sephardic Music Festival


Attendees should expect the eclectic at the 11th annual Sephardic Music Festival (SMF), which this month comes to Los Angeles for a second consecutive year. The event will feature music from across the traditionally Sephardic terrain, as well as a multimedia candlelighting event, an eight-minute Chanukah mix-tape and … a klezmer musician?

“I know, that’s going to sound like kryptonite for a Sephardic festival,” said Erez Safar, the festival’s producer and founder. “But I’ve always wanted to work with [the band] Klezmer Juice, and they don’t typically get booked at a Sephardic festival. They’ll be performing under the name Electrik Sabra Sefarad. I’m really excited about it.”

And if you think Safar is excited, the energy of Klezmer Juice/Electrik Sabra Sefarad’s Gustavo Bulgach practically blasts through the phone as he recounts his wish to “get everybody to dance and to groove to the rhythms, not sit down and watch us play.” 

“We’ll bring so many titles to the table. Basically, we’ll be grooving on the Sepharad beat,” Bulgach says of the set he plans for the festival’s Sephardic Remix night Dec. 10. “We are going to spin some new re-creations of old music. We’ll be working in the middle of Chanukah, so we’ll do a Middle Eastern Chanukah medley.”

After making the festival a success for nine years in New York, Safar has earned the right to program adventurously. For the festival’s second year in Los Angeles, which includes nearly a dozen performers spread over four nights starting Dec. 9, Safar plans to mix up things. 

Literally. The “Sephardic Remix Night” is designed to fuse the music of East and West. Performing as DJ Diwon, Safar will mix Yemenite music with electro hip-hop and cinematic psychedelia. Two live bands will combine musical styles from multicultural locales, and celebrity food blogger Nina Safar (Erez Safar’s wife) will “remix” traditional dishes such as potato latkes with Sephardic flavors to create new delights. 

Festivalgoers not in a remixing mood can hunker down with the L.A.-based Israeli-American rock group Moshav, which performs Dec. 12. Moshav is an SMF returnee. For past festivals, Safar has lined up such artists as Yemen Blues, Yair Dalal, Matisyahu, Asefa and Asaf Avidan.

Tracing its root to the Jews of medieval Spain, Sephardic music is often composed both in Hebrew and in the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino. SMF bills itself as the first music festival to focus exclusively on the culture of the Jewish communities of Spain, Portugal, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Safar’s own Sephardic roots are traceable to Yemen via his mother’s family. Although he has been drawn to the musical traditions of the Middle East, Safar has long embraced fusion in his work. He began as a DJ and radio personality at the University of Maryland and eventually created the Jewish record labels Shemspeed and Modular Moods. Jazz and klezmer submissions were plentiful in his early producing days, but Middle Eastern and Sephardic music were scarce. Safar developed the SMF as much for his own research purposes as to bring exposure to emerging artists.

“I discovered a ton of bands,” Safar said. “By using the term ‘Sephardic’ instead of, say, the Jewish Music Festival, we gave the festival this esoteric quality. People were interested outside of feeling like it was just a Jewish community festival.” 

The festival drew strong crowds and attention from publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Over the ensuing years, the programming has become increasingly diverse, and Safar has rarely shied away from trying new things. In another shake-up from previous years, the festival will open with an acoustic evening titled “Shedding Light on Mizrahi Remembrance Day.” In partnership with the Israeli Consulate, 30 Years After and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), SMF will present music to honor Arab and Iranian Jewish refugees who were expelled from their homelands. 

The evening will feature a performance by electro-blues band Automatic Toys. The band’s upcoming 2016 album contains tracks that deal with the plight of refugees and, according to lead singer Nachum Peterseil, the band’s “City of Refuge” set at the SMF will tap into many of those issues.

“I grew up in Israel, and the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni influences are huge,” said Peterseil, who will be performing songs in Hebrew and Arabic. “At the end of the day, Jewish and Arabic people are way more similar than not. We have way more musical doorways than probably any other nation[s] that are parallel, and I want to tap into that.” 

The festival concludes Dec. 14 at the Mint, where SMF takes over Hunnypot Live. Kosha Dillz and Diwon will perform a special holiday and SMF rendition of some of their tracks and debut their eight-minute mix-tape for Chanukah. The evening will also include sets by Hot Tub Johnnie, Cameron Parkins, Barrie and the Stars, The Milky Way and Tropical Nasty. 

“The vibe almost feels like a house party,” Safar said of the festival. “The way we set things up and the performers and venues we choose, it’s definitely more chill and fun.” 

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Massive Jerusalem fire deliberately set


A fire that caused the evacuation of hundreds of residents of a Jerusalem neighborhood and nearby Moshav and burned more than 70 acres was found to be deliberately set.

The remains of two firebombs were found near where Sunday’s fire was believed to have started, the Times of Israel reported, citing Israeli radio reports.

The fire burned homes and warehouses in Moshav Even Sapir and caused the temporary closing of Route 1, the main highway into Jerusalem, which was reopened by evening. It also moved near Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, but the hospital was never threatened, according to reports.

Some 30 firefighting teams and at least four airplanes battled the blaze for about eight hours.

The country has been hit by a days-long heatwave, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in the Jerusalem area on Sunday.

Other fires that have burned in recent weeks near Jerusalem are believed to have been started by arsonists. Nearly 400 acres of forest in the Jerusalem area have been burned.

Calendar July 19-25


SAT | JUL 19

STORY PIRATES

If your family’s collective imagination is in need of some nourishment, the Skirball has a group of guests you won’t want to miss. This bunch of actors and teaching artists offer an interactive kid- (and parent-) friendly storytelling experience — singing and dancing included. With greatest hits and stories that are made up on the spot by you, the audience, the afternoon will be full of creative and theatrical fun. Endorsed by Jon Stewart and pirates everywhere, so you can expect the exceptional. Sat. Noon and 2 p.m. $10 (general), $7 (seniors, students, children over 12), $5 (2-12), Free (members and children under 2). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>levittla.org.


SUN | JUL 20

“SUMMER SHUL SING-ALONG”

Is the person you live with tired of hearing you sing in the shower or along with the radio? Leave him or her behind for an evening. Maybe you’ve been a John, Paul, George or Ringo your whole life and just needed some guitar accompaniment. Hazzan Mimi Haselkorn of Temple Aliyah provides song sheets, melodies from the ’60s and a judgment-free zone where everyone is a Beatle! The synagogue also will provide a dairy dinner but asks participants to bring their favorite dessert or a bottle of wine. Sounds like merry-making in the making. RSVP requested. Sun. 5:30 p.m. Free. Location shared upon RSVP. (818) 346-3545. MON | JUL 21

“THE NEWBURGH STING”

In 2009, when four men from Newburgh, N.J., were apprehended for an alleged terror plot against wealthy Jewish synagogues in New York City, the media started to speculate: Who was really behind the operation? Was there a Pakistani FBI informant? Was there entrapment? Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s new documentary includes hidden camera footage, interviews with high-level Muslim and American leaders and insiders, and personal moments with family members of the Newburgh Four. Watch the film, have an opinion, have a question — likely several. Mon. 9 p.m. HBO. WED | JUL 23

DANIEL SILVA

All right, all you mystery lovers, Silva’s newest novel, “The Heist,” needs solving. Art restorer and collector Gabriel Allon is on the trail of a stolen masterpiece. But before you bury yourself in the latest adventure from this New York Times best-selling author, here’s a chance to ask him any questions that have been on your detective’s mind. Hosted by AMIT and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe, the former NBC and CNN journalist-turned-mega-author will also be signing books. And if a good story gets you hungry, hang out for the dessert reception. No mystery here, just a good time for all. Wed. 7:30 p.m. $75 (includes  a copy of “The Heist”). Olympic Collection, 11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 204, Los Angeles. (310) 859-4885. THU | JUL 24

RICHARD BERNARD’S OY! STARS

You know what they say: If you’ve heard one klezmer band, you should hear another! A versatile artist himself — he’s played the role of orchestra conductor for films, worked with Tori Amos and Jerry Lee Lewis, been a guest artist with the L.A. Philharmonic and L.A. Jewish Symphony — Bernard might be most at home with his Oy! Stars. Get your Yiddish, Israeli, Jewish music fix with funky upbeat tempos and soulful ballads. True entertainers, the band will leave you in lifted spirits. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. Levitt Pavilion Pasadena, 85 E. Holly St., Pasadena. (626) 683-3230. FRI | JUL 25

“WISH I WAS HERE”

Zach Braff is back, as is his charming and subtle style of storytelling. Following the success of 2004’s “Garden State,” Braff’s new film is the journey of a 30-something father, husband and brother who — you know — is desperate to find the meaning and purpose of life. The star-studded cast includes Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad and Jim Parsons, so those loyal to Braff’s last feature may find themselves falling in movie-love all over again. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (seniors, ages 11 and under, bargain matinee). NoHo 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (310) 478-3836.

Moshav resident arrested for accidentally starting Jerusalem fire


A moshav resident was arrested on suspicion of starting a forest fire that led to the evacuation of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

The fire was likely started by accident as the man, who lives near Jerusalem, burned garbage in his backyard and the wind carried the flames away. The man’s age, 50, was given but his name was withheld.

Arson originally had been suspected since the fire appeared to have started in several locations.

The fire was under control by Sunday night after burning nearly 40 acres of the Jerusalem Forest and forcing the evacuation of Yad Vashem and some streets in Jerusalem neighborhoods. It reportedly began in four areas of the forest simultaneously on Sunday afternoon, leading to the arson suspicion.

Twenty-three firefighting units and 60 firefighters from the Jewish National Fund, as well as four firefighting planes, fought the fire. At least five people were treated for smoke inhalation, according to reports.

The fire approached the Har Nof and Bayit Vegan neighborhoods of Jerusalem and an oil refinery. Some homes were evacuated as a precaution and the area around the refinery was secured. Yad Vashem employees reportedly were prepared for an emergency evacuation of the museum’s most important artifacts, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The Israeli military was mobilized to help battle the blaze.

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