The musician and vocalist Yair Harel performs Sephardi and North African piyyutim (religious poems), basing his arrangements on traditional melodies. He has also been involved in creating educational resources to preserve and disseminate information about these songs and their history. In an interview with Sephardi Ideas Monthly, he discusses their appeal:
The music is melodic, dynamic, and even ecstatic. It’s rooted in popular music of the past and also includes a variety of influences—Spanish, Arab, African, Amazigh (Berber), and, of course, Jewish—so there are different musical elements that engage and communicate with the audience. Most deeply, for Jews today, the music facilitates a spiritual language that people are looking for. It gives voice to prayer. . . .
Historically, piyyut absorbed popular music from the surrounding environment. Take the piyyutim of Rabbi Israel Najara [ca. 1555–1625]. Najara lived in the cosmopolitan Ottoman empire and converted popular love songs into piyyutim that then became part of the ritual lifecycle. This meant that the piyyutim were sung in various contexts, from the synagogue to the Shabbat table to wedding parties. So the music was popular before it even entered the synagogue. . . . Then, once it became part of the religious ritual it assumed the status of sacred song, or prayer, which also affected the way it was musically performed. If it succeeded in touching people’s hearts across the generations, it became part of the tradition and was preserved.