Belinda Sykes & JOGLARESA

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Ballads of Love and Betrayal REVIEWS

The Wire September 2002
Belinda Sykes may be professor of medieval song at Trinity College of Music, but her group Joglaresa are clearly on a mission to kick medieval music out of the academic cloister and into the marketplace. Far from the pale, anonymous and over-careful practices too often associated with this music, these are performances full of personality, infused with understanding of Balkan and Arabic music. These musicians are comfortable with improvisation, not averse to a spot of healthy showing off, and the arrangements respect the vital role of the drummer in anything medieval.

The repertoire is the Sephardic Jewish song heritage of the Mediterranean: erotic Moroccan ballads, tales of bloodthirsty Bulgarians and Spanish love songs in Arabic. Sykes is particularly good at the beautiful melodies of the latter. On Ya Hamaami she unleashes a full-blooded ululation, which triggers a colourful onslaught of bagpipes from Kim Burton. Sykes’ voice has great emotional range, luxuriating in Arabic eroticism one moment, and the next hollering the open-throated Bulgarian style and tumbling into a vocal jacuzzi of yodelling. Sykes has put together an album of great character and beauty. Clive Bell

Songlines September 2002
A superior collection of first-rate musicians. As this CD’s articulate liner notes make clear, the Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean were the original practitioners of cultural crossover so the five talented musicians of Joglaresa have grounds for begging your indulgence of the mix of rhythms and styles heard on this disc.

The riveting voice-timbre of group-leader Belinda Sykes is ideal for the song material, which ranges from the lovely cantorial Paxarico (Sarajevo) to the heavily ornamented and dark A kasar el rey salia (Bulgaria). Seamless track segues contribute much to the enjoyment and the sound quality is excellent. Marc Dubin

A live concert review of Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, London
Early Music Today September 2002

Later the same night the rumbustuous Joglaresa offered a performance of traditional Jewish Sephardic music from the Mediterranean, eastern Europe and north Africa. The repertory is a fascinating fusion of Jewish, Islamic and Christian influences, and on this showing I want to hear more of it.

In the informality of their dress and presentation, Joglaresa shun early-music performing conventions, but then they probably don’t regard themselves as merely an early-music ensemble. This was a folk or jazz-style jamming session which looked as much fun for the musicians (who grinned and grooved throughout) as it was for the audience. Periods of free drumming - or looping melodic patterns - mounted in dynamic and tessitural intensity until the next song began. There was a strong sense of improvisation and of pieces developing organically out of these interludes.

Fronting the group, Belinda Sykes is an infectious communicator gifted with a flexible and powerful vocal technique. She has studied vocal improvisation in North Africa, Spain, Bulgaria and the Middle East, and it shows - the programme rang passionately true, seeming to tap directly into ageless oral traditions. The four-piece band were superb, with the drumming especially good - such cross-rhythms.

The audience lapped up one of the best-conceived and exuberantly delivered programmes I have heard for a long time. This was an introduction of intoxicating immediacy to an ancient and mostly-ignored repertory. David Allinson