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Yaakov Shwekey – Libi Bamizrach album review

It’s been less than a year since Yaakov Shwekey’s last album, Ad Bli Dai, hit the shelves. Now, there’s another Yaakov Shwekey album that’s been released, and there are a few things that are unusual and unique about it.

First off, this is the first time since his first and second albums that Yaakov has released back to back studio albums with new material. In the past, there was always another album in the middle of the new studio albums – B’Simcha, Behisorerus, Live in Paris, and Live in Caesaria. Secondly, this album has a totally different style from his past albums. This is the first all-Sefardi style album that Yaakov has come out with. While he has had Sefardi style songs on his past albums – Ki Hatov, Ata Shomer, Halo Yadata, and Natzliach, this is the first album to be exclusively Sefardi. The album is also different in that there’s no choir on the album. Yitzy Waldner does of the background vocals on some of the songs he composed, but otherwise it’s just Yaakov. And I only realized that when I was going through the CD booklet – it doesn’t seem to take away from the album at all.

Whenever I review an album, I don’t want to start writing anything until after I’ve gone the entire album a lot of times. I won’t start the review until I know the songs pretty much by heart, picked up on all the “K’naitches”, and I can play most of the songs on keyboard. Once I’m at the point, I feel that I know the songs, and I’m able to write up my feelings. To review an album right away, when I’ve just gotten it, wouldn’t be right to anyone who was involved in the production, and who put in tens of hours into each song.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of real Sefardi music, but I really enjoyed this album. If you look through the booklet, you’ll notice that most of the songs were composed by Ashkenazic composers, yet they have a Sefardi feel, with the style and the flat Sefardi keys. Add the Sefardi style of singing to the mix, and you’ll get a Sefardi album. But I wouldn’t classify it all as real, authentic Sefardi – a lot of it is probably closer to Ashkenazi with a Sefardi twist. I’m also curious how the idea for the album started – if they first had the material, or the idea, and then worked on the songs. Either way, it’s good.

The album was arranged by a different set of arrangers than in the past albums. They seem to be a mostly Israeli/Sefardi, which was probably to bring out the Sefardi style in the album.

One more thing that I realized: A lot of albums that come out may have some great songs, but the songs just don’t seem to make it to the wedding scene. Yaakov has had amazing success, no doubt thanks in part to his producer, Yochi Briskman, with having his songs become “musts” by all weddings. And this album is no exception – even though it has a different style, I expect to see a lot of the songs become very popular by weddings.

Enough with the details; let’s move on to the songs.

1) Libi Bamizrach – composed by Yitzy Waldner, arranged by Tamir Zur

This is the title track, and it starts off with a bang. This is the first Shwekey album to start off with a Hora, and it definitely makes sense, because the album has a bunch of them. Yitzy Waldner composed at least part of 6 songs on the album, and did a great job on this song, even though he hasn’t composed much Sefardi material before. The low and middle parts didn’t come across to me as overly Sefardi, besides the accent the words were sung in, but the high part definitely sounds Sefardi. Also, the way the words are set up on the high part is interesting – that’s a lot of “Li”s! Another thing I realized is that due to there not being any choir on the album, Yaakov is singing straight throughout pretty much the whole song (besides the interlude and intro). That’s not necessarily something bad – it just feels a bit different than a song where you’ll get a change of pace when the choir sings some parts. I also really liked the arrangement of the song – the intro was amazing, and the only complaint I had was that I would have liked the ending to be a bit more exciting, but otherwise, the arrangement brought the song out very well.

2) Modeh Ani – composed and arranged by Yoni Rohe

This is the first song I’ve heard by Yoni Rohe, and he did a very nice job on the composition, as well as the arrangement. Like I said before, I’m nowhere near an expert in Sefardi music, but the song sounded more Israeli than Sefardi to me (or is it all the same?). When I was listening to the song, it kept reminding me somewhat of Chaim Yisrael’s Malachim (which Yaakov sang on his Behisorerus album). I really like the way that the song built in intensity, and the way it ended off. The only thing I was somewhat surprised about was how short the song was – the total length (at least on my version) was 4:14, which is short even for a lot of fast songs. Maybe they just wanted to keep you moving on to the next amazing song, so let’s go next to…

3) Chabibi – composed by Yaakov Shwekey and Yitzy Waldner, arranged by Yoni Rohe

I believe this is the first song on any album where Yaakov is listed as the (partial) composer. I’m sure he was involved in tweaking other songs, but this looks like the first song that he was involved in from the composition side. This is also only the second Shwekey song (if my memory serves me right) to use a Debka beat – Ata Shomer on Shwekey 3 was the first. And this is what I might consider to be the first “real” Sefardi song on the album. But being Yaakov’s first song didn’t matter, as it came out sounding spectacular! This is one of my favorite songs on the album, from beginning to end. I love the way it starts off slowly, and then builds into something that can only be described as pumping. I just loved the “slowdown” and no drums by the third part, Nashuv, towards the end. And maybe I only really paid attention to it here, but the vocals stood out on this song – maybe it was all the Sefardi ululations, but it was definitely done very well. Just an overall amazing job on the song, composition, and arrangements.

4) Boee Beshalom – composed by Yitzy Waldner, arranged by Moshe Waldner

I thought this song would fit in perfectly on any regular album. It was a very nice song, and it had some nice parts, but overall, it didn’t blow me away. I would compare it to Eishes Chayil on Shwekey 4 – I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away. Of note here is that Yitzy Waldner does background vocals, and it sounds nice, but it’s more as a background – he doesn’t take over as the choir, so Yaakov’s still singing the whole song by himself. I also thought that the transposition to a higher key was done very well.

5) Yala! – composed by Eli Schwab, arranged by Shay Reuveni

I don’t believe I’ve heard any songs from Eli Schwab before, but he definitely deserves a chance! I picked this song up very quickly, as it’s not overly complicated, but it’s just an amazing song! This song is also definitely one of my favorites, and I can see it being a very big hit by weddings. What struck me was that this song isn’t overly Sefardi – without the Sefardi accent, and maybe the ”Yala” part, it’s would go over very nicely as a regular Hora, but I think the Sefardi “additions” add to the song, and give it an extra push. The whole arrangement is very nice, and I especially liked the violin solo, the part where things kinda slowed down towards the end, and the way the song ended.

6) Shir HaYona – composed by Itay Silberstein, arranged by Shay Reuveni

It took me a bit of time to get used to this song, mainly because of the multiple key changes. It goes up 2 keys from the low part to the middle part, and then another 2 keys to the high part, according to my calculations. But after hearing it a few times, it just got to me. This is definitely my favorite slow song on the CD. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that takes the path that this one does, but I can only describe the way it builds up as innovative. It’s not easy to compose a song like that, and I’m sure it wasn’t so simple to arrange, but Itay Silberstein definitely did a great job. The vocals were also done very well, which I’m sure isn’t so easy with a song like this, and the way it jumps a key was also done very well. And the lyrics fit in very well – I’m not so well versed in Ivrit, so I went through the words with the English from the booklet, and it conveys a very inspiring message.

For some reason, after Shir HaYona, the booklet had 3 pages on Yaakov’s family and ancestors. It looks very nice, and he has some illustrious gransfathers, but I’m not sure what it’s doing In the middle of an album…

7) Baruch Hashem – composed by Moshe Wertzberger, arranged by Yoni Rohe

Yoni Rohe’s first arrangement for a Yaakov Shwekey album was actually on the last album, Ad Bli Dai. He arranged Baruch Levine’s Natzliach, and I was very impressed with his arrangement. For some reason though, on this song, it sounds like he reused part of the intro from Natzliach. It starts off sounding with a Sefardi-sounding beginning, then for some reason, launches into a line that sounds exactly the same as part of the intro from Natzliach. I have no idea why that was done, and if it was done on purpose, but let’s move on to the main part of the song. This song sounded more Sefardi than some of the previous Horas, but overall, I didn’t enjoy it as much. I didn’t feel there was any real climax in the high part, and I kind of expected a third, middle part to come after the high part. I did like the interlude a lot, and the arrangement was nice, but I just felt that this song needed something more.

8) Hakadosh – composed by Eli Laufer and Yitzy Waldner, arranged by Moshe Laufer

This song also took me some time to get used to. I listened to it a bunch of times, and I like it, but it also has a bit of a different style which didn’t exactly grab me – maybe because the song is in a major key. I didn’t love the low part as much, but the high part got to me more. I also liked the way the words went with some of the other songs better, but it’s never easy to fit the words in perfectly, especially with a song with new words. Either way, it’s a nice song – I just didn’t like it as much as some of the others.

9) Ten Lo – composed by Yitzy Waldner, arranged by Tamir Zur

This is more of an “exotic” hora – lighter and not as intense as some of the others. The low part is more basic and “laid back”, but the high part is more exciting. There’s a key change surprisingly very early on – right after the first time the song plays, but it sounds good. I like the song, but it’s hard to classify the song – it’s not exactly a typical Hora, but still in that style. I guess it has a middle eastern style, a somewhat toned down, lighter hora. I don’t think it will be played too much by weddings, because it’s in its own class, but a good song nonetheless.

10) Rau Banim – composed and arranged by Yonatan Razel

This is Yonatan’s second song for Yaakov. I’m sure that by now most people know the first one – Vehi Sheamda. But if you were expecting another Vehi Sheamda, you’re not going to get it. This seems to be more on the “real Sefardi” side, a slower rock song. I didn’t enjoy this song as much – it’s not a bad song, just not my style, though I liked the arrangements.

11) Mul E-li – tradition composition, arranged by Yoni Rohe

I never heard this song before, but it sounds like something that’s been around for a while, and more of what I think of under the “real Sefardi” category. Again, it’s not really the style I enjoy, but if you enjoy this style, it sounds like it was done nicely.

Overall, I think it’s an amazing album, and definitely worth getting. It may be targeted towards a more specific audience, but I originally thought that it wasn’t for me, and I was blown away. And when there are so many good songs, there are automatically some that will rank lower, but each song was good in its own right or style. The best part is that there’s something there for everyone, and I think that most people will really enjoy the album.

So if you haven’t gotten it yet, head over to your local music store and decide what YOU think, or head over to Mostly Music to judge it for yourself, and pick up your CD or purchase the download.

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