Vox Tablet

New Songs for Old Prayers

Epichorus, led by a rabbinical student and with a Sudanese Muslim singer, redefines devotional music

September 4, 2012
Zach Fredman (with oud) and Alsarah, near Fredman's home last week.(Tablet Magazine)

Zach Fredman (with oud) and Alsarah, near Fredman’s home last week.(Tablet Magazine)

Zach Fredman is a musician, composer, and rabbi-in-training now in his fifth year at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Over the past several years, he has worked to combine his spiritual and musical passions by composing devotional songs that draw on his favorite musical traditions. Those include Indian raga, North African rhythms and forms of chanting, as well as the Grateful Dead and Aretha Franklin.

For lyrics, he turned to Torah and other religious texts. For collaborators, he turned to musicians whose work, like his, isn’t easily categorized. Perhaps most surprising is his singer Alsarah, a Muslim woman who grew up in Sudan and Yemen, went to Wesleyan University, and now leads the band Alsarah and the Nubatones from her base in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Together, the 10-person band, which is called the Epichorus, is releasing their first album, One Bead, available here at the end of this week.

Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry talks with Zach Fredman and Alsarah in Fredman’s Harlem apartment about their musical influences, what they’re trying to accomplish with this project, and how they owe their collaboration, at least in part, to a late night YouTube bender. [Running time: 21:54.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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