Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hava Nagila in the Balkans

The Boban Markovic OrchestarI've had a Jewish music blog for a couple months now and never once posted about Hava Nagila. What's there to say? It's an uplifting lyric and catchy tune that has been so ruined by overexposure that it's hard to hear without wincing. I usually hear it at Christian weddings in between the Chicken Dance and YMCA. It's a pity, because it is a great song. And one, it seems, that's become a staple around the world. Not just American weddings.

After my post on Balkan group Jewish-Ukrainishe Freundschaft (J.U.F.) I received a question from "ezequiel from Argentina" who was looking for a Balkan Hava Nagila. It turns out that Hava Nagila is a staple for bands playing in the Balkan traditional and brass band music communities. These groups draw music from a lot of different cultures, though I'm not exactly clear how an Israeli Zionist folk song written in 1918 with music lifted from a Chassidic niggun got added to the mix. But it did. ( There's a great history of Hava Nagila and links to other recordings at MyJewishLearning.)

To help out Ezequiel, I found online recordings from three different Balkan groups. And you've got to hear them. They're a totally different musical take than the sentimental folky arrangements I usually hear. Kick up the speed add some crazy horns and lets party!

The Folk with Dunav website, an Israeli resource for Balkan Music and Dance, has a recording of the Boban Markovic Orchestra, a leading Balkan brass band. The Dunav site refers to Markov playing Hava Nagila at the Guca brass band festival in Serbia and Markovic has recorded Hava Nagila for his "Live in Belgrade" album so I'm not sure where the Dunav recording actually comes from.

The Jova Stojiljkovic Orkestar plays Hava NagilaI also found an Italian group Municipale Balcanica. They mix Balkan, klezmer, and Italian styles and come up with a fairly distinctive sound (at least, I've never heard anything quite like it). Their first album, Fòua, has a nice recording of Hava Nagila. Finally, I found Jova Stojiljkovic & Orkestar. Stojiljkovic is from Yugoslavia (not sure which part) and offers up a pretty spicy Hava Nagila on their album "Blow Besir Blow!". You can hear a Stojiljkovic sound sample on Amazon.

Ezequiel, I hope this is what you were looking for. If not, let me know and I'll do some more digging. I know I was pretty fascinated by this and plan on doing some more listening to groups making the Balkan - Jewish connection.

One last thing, while researching this post I ran across a moving story about a young woman's experience hearing Hava Nagila in Belgrade. I'll end with a short section, but you should go read the whole thing:
"For all anyone knew, we were typical American teenagers, invading the restaurant with our raucous chatter about what club we would go to that night—Freestyler? Or maybe that one with that waitress with the American boyfriend?—when suddenly a group of gypsy musicians encircled our table. Defying our protests ("we have no money; come back later") they began to play Hava Nagila. At first we all quieted down and some of the Jewish students chuckled in amused embarrassment. But the gypsy musicians just kept on playing and after a few moments, the Palestinian students began to belt out the words so loudly that one would have thought that they were the Jews and the Jews were the Palestinians. Their singing got so passionate; their infectious energy wrapped and sealed our table so tightly that it became for a moment impenetrable. For a moment that world, the world of Belgrade, the world where the Israeli is the enemy of the Palestinian, the world where conflict seems never-ending, passed away and we all sang and clapped and danced in our seats until we laughed, and laughed so hard that our laughter verged on tears."

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