Putting the Jew into Juno

Published: March 26th 2010

Jaffa Road
Pic: Jaffa Road

They call themselves Canada’s ambassadors of cutting-edge Diaspora roots music.  Jaffa Road, a Toronto based music group, has created a unique form of music that draws from the worlds of sacred and secular Jewish songs, ancient poetry sung in Hebrew, Spanish and English and combines it with Arabic and Indian music and even modern jazz and pop.  Jaffa Road has been nominated for a 2010 JUNO award for their CD Sunplace.  The category is World Music Album of the Year.


“This kind of music is going outside the box of Jewish music and into the mainstream scene of Canadian and world music,” said Aaron Lightstone, Jaffa Road’s founder and multi-instrumentalist.


Sunplace, the band’s debut disc, was released in 2009 to a packed house at the Lula Lounge in Toronto and was recorded for CBC’s Canada live.  Jaffa Road’s songs have won them Grand Prize in the John Lennon Song Writing contest (world music category) and runner-up status in the We Are Listening Worlds of Music contest.


Originally, the band called themselves Shakshouka when they formed in 1993, said its founder Aaron Lightstone.  Composer, music therapist and musicologist, Lightstone plays the guitar, oud, saz and synthesizer.


Born in Toronto, he grew up in Thornhill and attended Associated Hebrew School.  “I was always interested in music,” he said.  “But when I heard the oud for the first time, it went straight to my heart.  It’s the ancestor of the guitar which I was already playing.”


He credits Aaron Bensoussan, Cantor at Beth Emeth and Judeo-Moroccan vocal master with starting him on the oud and into middle eastern music.  “He gave me my first oud lessons.  We became friends and he really got the ball rolling for me.”  Bensoussan is one of the guest artists on Sunplace.


From age 18, Aaron has been to Israel many times.  “I felt an instant connection to the country and the language, especially Hebrew poetry ancient and modern.  There are wonderful musicians and music festivals there.  Jews from all over the Diaspora together with Israelis, are creating new music.”


Is there a danger  of losing the original ethnic musical expression in this multi fusion?  “No,” he answered, shaking his head emphatically.  “As citizens of this multi-cultural society it’s a very natural and organic process.  We call it world music, but it’s always happened. Fusion is centuries old.  For example flamenco is a fusion of Gypsy, Arabic and Jewish music.”


Lead singer Aviva Chernick enchants with her heart-wrenching vocals.  She is also a cantorial soloist and voice teacher as well as a performing and recording artist.  Originally from London, Ontario, her father is Israeli. Her great uncle was Chief of Police in Israel during the Golda Meir government.  “I grew up with a strong Jewish identity,” she said.  “Camp Ramah, United Synagogue Youth – the family focus was always Jewish.


Aaron and Aviva have produced The Huppah Project, a CD of Jewish wedding music.


Related articles: (Jaffa Road, Juno, oud, world music)
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