Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Nina Simone - Erets Zavat Chalav - 1962

Tracking the interesting intersections between Jewish and African American culture has become a hobby for a lot of writers and musicians (see Don Byron and the Afro-Semitic Experience for examples) involved with Jewish culture in America. A very worthy topic, but one that can get a bit tiring at times. I recently attended a lecture titled "Contemporary Klezmer and Popular Culture" given by University of Michigan professor and culture maven Jonathon Freedman. His only interest in this talk...interesting intersections between Jewish and African American culture. Come on Prof. Freedman (and everyone else). The intersections are fascinating but not defining. There is so much more to talk about.

Anyway, this morning's grump was inspired by a post on BoingBoing titled "Nina Simone sings Hebrew folk song" Nina Simone was an amazing musician and activist whose career ran from the 1950's to the late 80's. One of her fan-sites, The Simone-Web, describes her likes this:

A protest singer; a jazz singer; a pianist; an arranger and a
composer, Nina Simone is a great artist who defies easy classification. She is all of these: a jazz-rock-pop-folk-black musician. In fact, we can find her biography in jazz, rock, pop, black and soul literature. Her style and her hits provided many singers and groups with material for hits of their own.

The BoingBoing post referred to a YouTube video of Simone's jazz trio. In the video clip they're playing the song Eretz Zavat Chalav, which consists of biblical lyrics set to music by Eliyahu Gamliel. According to the Simone-Web, Simone recorded this song on 2 albums in the 60's, at a point when Simone was exploring folk music.

Musically, this is great stuff. They use the Gamliel melody as a jumping off point for their own rhythmic and harmonic explorations. It's a recording well worth revisiting and, as a lover of all things Jewish music related, I'm grateful that this video made it onto YouTube. I'm just perplexed why, of all the Simone videos on YouTube, was this the one that jumped out to the BoingBoing poster? Why do we consider these cross-overs to be so defining?

Here's the Erets Zavat Chalav video:

But also, here's Simone singing "Porgy (I Love You Porgy)", one of the songs that made her a star.

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