Judeo-Flamenco Group Brings Unique Music to New York City
Most men go into a bar to find a drink or a date. Alty Weinreb walked into a bar in Soho and found a band. The cantor, who has performed high-holiday services for the past 20 years, met a Gypsy guitarist named Cristian Puig, whose flamenco music he found jaw-dropping.
“The room was teaming with people,” Weinreb recalled. “I see this guitarist and a dancer and singer, and the passion coming from the stage was powerful. I was floored by what he was doing with a guitar without a pick. I hadn’t seen an acoustic guitar played like that. I had an epiphany because the songs are in Spanish but it’s like, I know them. I start singing Sephardic melodies and (Shlomo) Carlebach tunes over the melody and they’re working.”
Weinreb approached Puig, and they met to see if their musical styles could work together. The result was Lyla Cante, which combines the Hebrew word for “night” and the Spanish word for “song.” The five-person group will perform this Sunday at City Winery on Varick Street at 11:00 a.m. as part of KulturefestNYC.
Puig didn’t mind Weinreb’s chutzpah; in fact, he welcomed it.
“My impression of him was that he was a very good singer and an amazing musician,” Puig said via e-mail. “I was surprised by the nature of how the two musical cultures work together. The two cultures express joy and sadness of the past moments, musically and poetically.”
Weinreb explained that Paco De Lucia, recognized as the greatest flamenco composer and performer, said that upon examination of old Jewish musical manuscripts, it was clear that flamenco was more influenced by Jewish culture than many had thought.
Weinreb also spoke about an audio recording where Carlebach mused that flamenco could have been the music of the Beit Hamikdash — the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
“It’s a midrash of Carlebach and whether it’s true or not isn’t the point,” Weinreb said. “It shows the connection between the two worlds.”
Rounding out the band are blues guitarist Oz Noy, bassist Yonit Spiegelman, and Cuban drummer Roberto Rodriguez.
Weinreb, who often sings under the chupah at weddings, decided to use some of those songs, including an up-beat and danceable “Eshet Chayil,” an enchanting and foot-tapping “L’cha Dodi,” a touching ballad called “Simeni,” and a rousing cover of “Maaminim,” a Mordechai ben-David song about God’s protection, which is sometimes sung by Israeli soldiers. Lyla Cante gives the listener a feel of bursting into a dance party that you don’t want to leave.
“It’s not traditional flamenco as you would expect,” he said. “It is a fusion that when you play it, feel it, and hear it, is organic … and makes you want to dance and feel the love.”