(New York Jewish Week) — Though she grew up in Israel, Tamar Bloch’s childhood was a mishmash of cultures. With a Moroccan mother and Brazilian father, Bloch often heard Portuguese and Arabic alongside Hebrew, and felt connected with the music from all three cultures.
It wasn’t until she was in her early 20s, however, that Bloch discovered the language and culture of “Haketia,” a Romance language once spoken by Sephardic Jews in North Africa. Haketia has elements of Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Spanish and Ladino.
“I was hooked immediately,” Bloch, 33, told the New York Jewish Week. She could only find ethnographic recordings of Haketian songs at the Israel State Archives and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which she painstakingly transcribed and re-recorded herself — becoming the first modern artist to record an album in Haketia.
Over the last decade, Bloch — who goes by the stage name Lala Tamar; Lala is a Moroccan honorific meaning “Lady” or “Miss” — has traveled the world touring her music, working with bands and promoting the language and sound of Haketia.
This weekend, Bloch is traveling to New York from her home in Essouria, Morocco to perform several concerts at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The New York Jewish Week caught up with her to talk about her performances in the United States and what Haketia means to her.
New York Jewish Week: How did you become aware of Haketía and then decide to pursue it in your music?
Bloch: I did not know it as a kid. I grew up with a mom who did speak Darija, which is Moroccan Arabic, which integrated and mixed inside Haketia, and with a dad who was born in Brazil, so there was Portuguese and a lot of Latin music in the house.
So I grew up with the basics of Haketia at home — the words and the Latin languages and the Arabic languages surrounding me. But I never really spoke it because they were speaking it with the older generations, with my grandparents and not with us, the kids.
When I grew up a bit I fell in love with Moroccan music. I happened to hear Haketia music. Immediately, I was hooked. For me, it was a very condensed cultural combination of my background, of the way I grew up. Not only literally, with the words and the language, but also musically because it has this combination of Spanish and Andalusian music and North African music. It’s all fused together in Haketia. I decided that I needed to investigate and to search for more of this music. These songs were never really recorded in an artistically contemporary way. If anything, they were recorded for the sake of preservation as a part of ethnographic research for universities. But it was not out there as music for everybody. I felt that this music deserves to be heard and to be served to everybody. It doesn’t have to be a part of a long forgotten tradition that’s lost in the archives.
What has been like the most meaningful part of the last decade of bringing Haketia back into the modern world and of touring your music around the globe?
I think that the biggest moment was when I got into the playlist of Galgalatz in Israel, which is one of the country’s most popular radio stations. One of the singles got into a playlist, and it was the first time that Haketia was played on contemporary, popular radio. That was really exciting. Also when we released our album. Even though it was in the middle of COVID, so it did not get any of the attention we were expecting for it, it was still exciting to to release an album in this in this lost language, and to hear people play it at parties and to have people sending me videos in restaurants. It’s always exciting to hear it.
I didn’t feel like I had a mission to make Haketia or this music more mainstream. It just happened because I felt that this music was relevant for me. I felt very much connected to it in a way that made me just release it as if there was nothing different about it, as if I would be singing anything else.
Why did you decide to move to Morocco from Israel during the pandemic?
I started performing in Morocco and realized that it’s always been the source of my inspiration, the fountain of my creation. At one of the festivals that I did there, I met Maalem (Master) Seddik, a Muslim musician that teaches Gnawa, a specific style of religious Moroccan music that I was fascinated by and, also, I was fascinated by the connection with the Jewish history in Morocco. I was waiting for the opportunity to go and study with him and then COVID struck and I had no job, of course.
Also, my inspiration and everything in my life that I create comes from Morocco. (During the 18th and 19th centuries, Jews made up nearly half of the population of Essouira — then called Mogador.) So when I was not singing I felt that my fountain was being dried out, so I already had this dream of going to study with him and I managed to find a way to get into Morocco which was really complicated at the time. He [Seddik] was waiting for me and welcomed me in. I started studying with him and he really adopted me, almost as a daughter, cooking for me, making me all these Jewish foods that he knows how to make from his neighbors and all his Jewish friends, and I just stayed. I have a lot of followers and an audience in Morocco as well as a lot of musicians that I work with so for me, it really felt like home from the beginning.
How does it feel to be performing in New York for the first time?
I have been doing online shows for Lincoln Center, but I’ve never performed physically in New York. It’s really exciting. I can’t describe how blissful we feel to come all this way. It’s a really big honor for my band’s first live performance in the United States to be at Lincoln Center.
I can only imagine how it will be because I don’t know. I can say I perform around the world, more than in Israel these past few years. I feel that this music has something that just can reach people from whatever background they come from. I hope that’s going to be the case as well, here in New York and New Yorkers are very open minded, very aware of what’s happening around the globe culturally.
Lala Tamar will perform a series of five concerts between May 5-7 at Lincoln Center for Performing Arts (113 West 60th St.). To find concert times and purchase tickets (choose-what-you-pay), visit their website.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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