“How wide to let things stray — that’s the question in world music,” says composer and oud player Zach Fredman, the founder of the Epichorus, a Judeo Arabic retro-folk ensemble. You can see why the question has been on Fredman’s mind.
The ensemble is known for weaving together diverse musical legacies. Its repertoire has drawn on Syrian Jewish religious songs, Sufi tunes and the music of 1930s and ’60s Egypt. Its bassist, Daniel Ori, is from Israel. And when the group performs May 13 as part of the Washington Jewish Music Festival, Bombay-raised vocalist Priya Darshini will be singing in Hebrew, Urdu, Hindi, Braj Bhasha and Punjabi.
Fredman says he is constantly on guard lest the group’s music become too much of a mishmash. “That’s a constant question for me: ‘How far is too far?’ ” he says by phone from New York City, where he is a rabbi at the New Shul.
Fredman moved to New York at 18 to study classical guitar. But one day he bought an oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument, and was hooked. The oud, he says, was “mysterious and intriguing” and seemed to offer “a path that could be pursued for a long, long time.” Seeking to make a place for oud music in 21st-century New York, Fredman created the Epichorus with Megan Gould, a violinist versed in Greek and Middle Eastern music, and Hadar Noiberg, a flutist with a track record in jazz and other genres.
“We’re all coming from these distinct places — musically, politically, culturally,” Fredman says, so the group is in some ways an experiment in “holding together dissonance.” Still, the music mostly paid homage to the Middle East, until the group recruited Darshini, an actress and classical Indian musician.
Fredman says he wondered whether introducing Indian traditions might make the group’s sound too diffuse. But so far, he says, the partnership with Darshini seems to be working.
Darshini says she appreciates the cosmopolitan approach and “top-notch” musicianship of Epichorus. “The energy onstage is so exhilarating,” she says. “I always leave a performance feeling absolutely joyous.”
Moreover, Darshini says, her training prepared her to play with Epichorus. “The north Indian forms of classical and folk music take a lot of influences from the Sufi tradition of music, which also happens to be a very prominent influence in Judeo-Arabic music,” she said by e-mail from India, where, until the earthquake in Nepal, she had been helping organize an ultramarathon on the Indo-Nepal border.
“Some of my Sherpa crew members are still stuck in the mountains, and, as I write this to you now, I am trying to figure out how to get everyone out of there safely,” she said. “Needless to say, there has been a lot of chaos, but even just talking about our music is calming my nerves.”
Fine wine was a research expense when Andrea Sedlackova was writing “Fair Play,” the Czech Republic’s nomination for the best foreign-language Oscar this year. The film, set in early-’80s Czechoslovakia, deals with performance-enhancing drugs.
When Sedlackova was getting background for the film, inspired by a newspaper article, she found athletes, doctors and trainers who had been involved in doping behind the Iron Curtain. But they hesitated to share their stories.
“It was something that no one wanted to talk about,” she says.
But gradually — over the wine she brought to meetings — Sedlackova persuaded her sources to open up, helping her craft “Fair Play,” which centers on Anna (Judit Bardos), an 18-year-old sprinter whose coach puts her on performance-enhancing drugs in the run-up to the Olympics.
Speaking via Skype from her Paris home, Sedlackova says although she was intrigued by the doping phenomenon, she principally saw that story line as a structure on which to base a coming-of-age tale. Sedlackova grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia and, in the early ’80s, was about her heroine’s age. “You knew already, at the age of 18, that you would be obliged to compromise your values on a permanent basis, would be obliged to pretend, to lie a little,” she says. “And you also sensed that, for each person, there was a line where he or she would say, ‘Stop. I’m not going to compromise anymore. I’m not going to lie anymore.’ ”
Wren is a freelance writer.
The Epichorus May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets: $15-$20. Part of the 2015 Washington Jewish Music Festival, through May 17. 202-777-3251. www.wjmf.org.
“Fair Play” May 13 at 8 p.m. at the Avalon, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-966-3464. www.theavalon.org. The director will participate in a Q&A after the screening.