Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living Jews: Erez Safar aka Diwon

Erez Safar, aka Diwon, is moving to the head of the Yidster music scene in New York. He has organized Sephardic music festivals, put together mix tapes, and continues to push the envelope of Jewish music for the masses.

His latest CD, 'Shir Ha Shirim' takes one of the 5 Megilot (sacred scrolls) of the same name and adapts it into an almost meditation-like musical piece.

Shir Ha Shirim is basically an allegory of the relationship between God and the People of Israel, explained as the love between two people. It is traditionally read on Pesach, as we celebrate liberation of the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt.

The new CD features the voice of Benjamin Brody, singing a Moroccan melody backed by a subtle and sometimes subdued musical landscape. The deeply suggestive and intimate nature of the poem is understated in favor of the more spiritual context to create the potential to induce a trance-like state in the listener.

The St. Lou Jew recently had the opportunity to connect with Erez for a brief interview.

First of all, paint me the picture of this project: How did it get started, how did the pieces come together?

I heard a track of Benyamin singing Lecha Dodi and was blown away by how much of his soul was coming through the singing. I got in touch and told him to come by and listen to some of my music. He was into it and I played him this one song that I always meditated on since it had this vibe that you could just listen to over and over. He immediately looked over and said, "I could sing Shir HaShirim to this". The next day we recorded the entire Shir HaShirim in one take... 35 minutes. After that Dugans and I (Diwon) spent 2 weeks cutting up the chapters and making the music and breaks and such...I was on a high for 3 weeks listening to the album. I'm talking about a very spiritual high, and I was curious if it was just me or we really hit something holy so,I played it for a few spiritual people to see what they thought, including, Y-Love, my wife, DeScribe, Matis[yahu] and a few others. They were also really into it. I thnk we touched something here. Maybe some new genre of holy-hipster music.

How did you get started with Shemspeed?

I started it almost 2 years ago.....Shemspeed is basically the front/public side to all the things I have been doing for the last 6 or so years. I run a record label, Modular Moods and a Sephardic Music Festival and through both of those I have put together all sorts of events and tours and albums and releases and so Shemspeed functions as a way for fans to interact with all the things going on in this world of Jewish/Israeli music. A lot of the content are things that we produce, whether its graphics, remixes, albums, events, tours....but it's also sort of a commentary on the culture that is thriving from Jewish art........the Shemspeed Daily is the place to go for all that.

Where are you turning to get all of these diverse soundscapes that make up your musical endeavors?

Well, as a DJ I have my ear to the streets, but also to the past and the history of Jewish music both Middle Eastern and Eastern European have both influenced what I do, For instance "The Beat Guide to Yiddish" is sort of a sonic shout out to Ashkenaz culture and Yiddish music from the Barry Sisters to current musicians like Lipa Schmeltzer, but on the other side I have the more Yemenite focused, original music I produce as Diwon and that comes from my passion for Yemenite tradition which has come from my upbringing, as my mother's side are all from Yemen.

What is your vision for Jewish music?

I see so much rich tradition and melody in all the different Jewish musics and I like getting that out there, but I'm also motivated by the "Light unto the nations" concept of Judaism. I believe in unity and setting a good example and the music that Shemspeed/Modular Moods releases a lot of times is music witha positive message, a lot of times its hip hop, which is refreshing I think. The idea is to release music that speaks to everyone, but from a foundation of positivity, inspiration and truth and I believe by living that and producing music that is consistent with that, we could speak to nations and hopefully motivate them towards positivity and unity. A lot of it is fueled by Judaism.

How has Judaism shaped your perspective on the world?

see above ;)

To learn more about Erez, check out and

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