Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Purim Music

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My favorite Purim memory is watching my Rabbi (at a previous shul), in a lion costume, sitting on the edge of the bima during the megillah reading, holding a bottle of schnapps with one hand and his head with the other. He'd look up occasionally, hoping, I think, that we might all have gone home. I think the graggers were extra loud that year. This was a good thing.

On Purim we remind ourselves that while musical skill may be hard won, volume and enthusiasm come cheap and that electric guitars don't require an operators license. This is also good thing.

And finally, YouTube makes sure that Purim moments live on forever. This is a very good thing.







Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Speaking of Faith: Children of Abraham

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I was listening to the February 8 installment of Speaking of Faith "Children of Abraham" on the drive into work this morning. SoF is a weekly public radio show that I listen to via podcast. Here's the blurb:
The sacred story of Abraham traverses the geography of the most bitter political conflict in the modern world — beginning in what is now southern Iraq and ending in the West Bank city of Hebron. Yet Abraham is the common patriarch of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. We explore the story of Abraham in several traditions and why he might be important for people in our time. The hour also includes readings from the Bible and the Qur'an as well as music from the likes of Bob Dylan and Benjamin Britten on the figure of Abraham.
I really enjoy the SoF though I get annoyed by the "I'm more clever than religion" attitude of some of the guests. This week's guest Bruce Feller, author of "Abraham: A Journery to the Heart of Three Faiths" wasn't too bad in that regard.

Anyway, I was struck by the sound track. The SoF music producer had pulled together a number of interesting pieces that referred to Abraham and Issac. While the pieces came from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions, the tracks that interested me (surprise) were from the Jewish composers Steve Reich and Bob Dylan. While neither of them normally produce what I would consider "Jewish" music, they're both obviously heavy hitters in their own musical areas and the tracks are wonderful. You can see their contribution and those of the other musicians on the SoF Books and Music page.

You can listen online to the Children of Abraham soundtrack on the "SoF Playlist"

Sunday, February 25, 2007

West Bank Story wins Academy Award for 'Short Film (Live Action)

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I'm currently sitting in my living room working on a blog post about Veretski Pass and watching the Academy Awards with my wife. All of a sudden, she started whooping and laughing. I looked up and saw a film clip with what looked like chassids and Arab frycooks doing a line dance. Huh?

It was "West Bank Story" winning the Oscar for Short Film Live Action. According to the Internet Movie Database, it's "A musical comedy set in the fast-paced, fast-food world of competing falafel stands on the West Bank... David, an Israeli soldier, falls in love with the beautiful Palestinian cashier, Fatima, despite the animosity between their families' dueling restaurants. Can the couple's love withstand a 2000 year old conflict and their families' desire to control the future of the chic pea in the Middle East?"

The film's official website was having fits when I (and probably a zillion other people) tried to find an online trailer. Fortunately, YouTube came through:



There's a rumur that you can get the whole film from iTunes for 1.99, but I haven't been able to confirm it yet.

Ok. It's confirmed. iTunes has West Bank Story for $1.99. I checked it myself and also got a confirm from John. Thanks John.

New Veretski Pass interview

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Veretski Pass played the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne last week. While they were in town, they recorded an interview and in-studio concert with the university's "Focus 580" talk radio program. Veretski Pass is a traditional klezmer trio with Cookie Segelstein on violin and viola; Josh Horowitz on tsimbl and accordion; and Stuart Brotman on bass, bassy, tillnca, and baraban. I'll admit not being familiar with Veretski Pass's work, but I'm a big fan of Josh Horowitz's work with Budowitz. The interview is available from the Focus 580 site via streaming Real Audio and mp3 download.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Jewish Podcast produced by Ari Goldwag

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This is great. Two new Jewish music podcasts launching within the last month. I already blogged about Keith Wolzinger's new Klezmer Podcast. I listened two his first two 'casts on Thursday and they're a blast. Keith is obviously people who knows people. He's got great interviews with Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics, David Krakauer, and Socalled.

The second podcast couldn't be more different. The host of the 'Jewish Music Podcast' is Ari Goldwag. I had never heard of Goldwag prior to his podcast, but I think I'm going to become a fan. He's part of the 'shiny shoe' orthodox/chassidic pop scene and presents about a half hour of music and interviews per podcast. He also includes one of his own songs. It turns out that Ari is an accomplished musician. According to his bio, he was "accepted into the Miami Boys Choir, and went on to become star-soloist, appearing on five albums of the choir and three of their videos" Since leaving the Miami Boys Choir he has since released at least three solo albums.

I was taken by how much I enjoyed the 'casts. Goldwag has great taste. And for me to say that says something, since I typically don't enjoy shiny shoe recordings. His second podcast was paricularly good. I had heard of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band before, but this was my first time hearing one of their tracks. I was blown away. None of the slick production. Just hands on instruments with a strong sense of what they wanted to accomplish. And then Goldwag's track "Bemay Matisyahu" from his album "Pure Soul - Flippin In." It's over produced, slick, and dated (check the 80's guitar licks). But it worked. I've relistened to the track about 10 times and will have to buy the album. Maybe it reminds me of the early heavy metal band Blue Oyster Cult? Nah.... But it's really good.

It actually isn't easy to find the podcast. Goldwag hasn't set up a homepage for it yet, but you can search for it in iTunes. I'll grab the URL from iTunes when I'm back in the office on Monday and will post it here and to my podcast lists.

Here the RSS feed for Goldwag's podcast: http://www.puresoulband.com/podcast/AGJMpodcast.rss

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Davka & Kitka

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I got hooked on Davka a couple of years ago. Their brand of klezmer and Sephardic chamber music has a healthy (but not overpowering) jazz and avante-garde sensibility that really works for me. I find their Tzadik albums (particularly Judith) sneaking back into heavy rotation every couple of months.

I had one of my usual "to late or to far away" moments this week when I found out that Davka teamed up with Kitka to do a series of concerts that would be televised on PBS. Kitka is a female vocal ensemble specializing in "music rooted in Eastern European women's vocal traditions." I don't know much about them other than that, but will have to check them out. The PBS show was scheduled to be aired in December. You can check out this broadcast date listing to find out if your local station played it. If you missed it (like I did) you can call the station and bug them about repeating it. Or you can buy the DVD.

Here's the concert trailer:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jewish Tango Cabaret

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I've always loved moodiness and romanticism of Tango and am fascinated by the intersection of Tango and Yiddish music. Here's an upcoming performance that, as usual, is MMFH (Many Miles From Here). Go if you can.

From their website

TANGO FOR THREE PRESENTS :JEWISH TANGO CABARET-JCC AT MILKEN -22622 VANOWEN ST -CA 91307
Saturday - May 13, 2006

"JEWISH TANGO CABARET The Exciting Saga of the Jewish Expression of Love, Danger, Yearning and Life through Tango Music and Dance in Argentina, Europe and Israel. A special retrospective on a unique half-century in Jewish history, recreated for this musical play by Tango For Three: Daniel D. Noemi D. and Teresa G., Dance; Pablo Goldstein (music) and Rabi Arnold Kopikis (history). Jewish Tango Cabaret show is a perfect combination of dance, music and theatre. Mounted on a staged cabaret, illustrates the growth of tango music from the outskirts of Buenos Aires, to Europe and New York's Yiddishe Theater, and demonstrates how Jewish musicians put their own stamp on the musical form and used tango as a means to alleviate pain and suffering during the Holocaust."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shiny Shoe Music and Shuckle

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Names are important. They categorize (not this, but that) and they establish presence (it exists but once didn't). Thanks to I'm Haaretz, PhD. (via Blog In Dm) I picked up two new names names today that help categorize Jewish Music and establish the existence of a new category. The words are Shuckle and Shiny Shoe Music. Ok. I chuckled a bit too. But hang in there.

Shuckle first.

Shuckle is the new Jewish hip-hop and reggae scene that includes Matisyahu, Y-Love and DJ Handler, and Ta’Shma. The term was coined by Daniel Seliger of 12 Tribe Sound and quoted in Leah Hochbaum's Forward article "'Shuckle Rock' Puts the Pray'. According to the Hochbaum article "shuckle" is "the Yiddish term for the swaying that frequently accompanies prayer in Orthodox circles." To Seliger “you shuckle when you daven, and you shuckle when you listen to reggae… it’s shuckle music.”

For me, "Jewish Hip-Hop" is perfectly descriptive but implies a derivative, secondary music. Hip-Hop is the thing, and we do a Jewish version. Fine. but I'm excited to see that an important member of the scene thinks there's enough original energy and talent to warrant a new name. Shuckle. They do hip-hop. We do shuckle. Yes they're related, but we're going in our own direction. Cool. Now we have to live up to that.

Ta Shma doing the shuckle "Shine"




Shiny Shoe Music

This is the Mordechai Ben David, Avraham Fried, Yaakov Shwekey brand of Chassidic pop. The music integrates Chassidic niggunim and zemirot with jazz, rock, and pop melodies. The term was popularized by MOChassid, but he gives credit to Chaim Dovid for coining the term. "We were talking and he referred to the "musicians with the shiny black shoes; I took it from there".

Again, this helps. I've referred to this music as 'frum' or 'chassidic pop' and have seen others use a variety of other descriptions for it. Most annoyingly, I typically see it referred to as "Jewish Music" by it's fans. Of course it's Jewish music, but it's a narrow genre claiming a broad name. Giving the music it's own name separates it from all the other forms of Jewish music and makes it easier to talk about. Shiny Shoe music wouldn't have been my first choice as a genre name, but it's got a great story. Shiny Shoe it is.

Avraham Fried and Mordechai ben David wearing shiny shoes at the OHEL CONCERT

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Jewish-Ukrainishe Freundschaft

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Where to start? With a swawking horn. Honk. Grind. Bump. Wail. Let's go....to a Gypsy part of town. Kick in the horns. Grind. I smiled at the world, there'll still be no changes...Lets go!

Jewish music has been bouncing off of it's neighbors musics for a long time. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, klezmer musicians and Rom (gypsy) musicians regularly shared tunes and techniques (as well as bottles and stories). The tradition continues. JUF is an extension of the group Gogol Bordello. Ground Zero for JUF and Gogol Bordello is the Balkans as imagined by JUF and GB lead singer Eugene Hurtz that mixes gypsy, flamenco, klezmer, Turkish, dancehall, reggae and Rai with industrial rock and a punk ethos. JUF adds to a distinctly New York DJ club feel.

The Jewish connection to the music is understated but clear, showing up as scales and fills in song after song. The musicians that help bring out that connection are Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan aka Balkan Beat Box. Muskat and Kaplan have played in a number of my favorite Jewish flavored New York bands including BBB, GB, Firewater, and Shot'nez.

The Balkan Beat Box album is a thing of manic beauty is much more a 'Jewish' album, and I love Gogol Bordello albums. But this week's obsession is JUF. There is something about the freedom from song structure and a love for sounds (not notes) that a DJ can brings that can help a group loosen up and let go. This is the party I wish I was ever cool enough to be invited to and the club I look hard for and never found.

Yideo Video

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I'm continually overwhelmed by the activity in the Chassidic/Orthodox music community and am constantly finding new resources to explore. One recent discovery is the Yideo Video series. It's a leased-access television show (see note below) airing in New York City, but it is also available for viewing online. They've got an update blog and RSS feed, too.

The current segment (#26) has Dov Shurin (pictured), Shlock Rock, Oif Simchas and comedic theater piece from the recent HASC concert. I've mentioned before that this isn't my favorite music, but I have to say I enjoyed the lead off Dov Shurin song "Masters of the Land." I'll leave judgements about it's fairly hardline political stance, to the listener. It's a modestly entertaining half-hour, though the music is overwhelmed a bit by the constant commercials. Such is television. The oddest was the first, a US Army recruiting spot. Now, I work for a small US defense contractor, so don't think this is a political comment. It just seemed oddly out of place.

Anyway, it's the first video of it's kind that I've seen and I'm glad it's being produced. Check it out.

I just got a nice email from Shooly at Mikshoo Productions. He wanted me to clarify that the show is not "public access" but "leased access," meaning that they are allowed to have commericals. I also should have been more clear. I understand and am very sympathetic to why Yideo Video has commercials: that's how the production costs get paid. Breaking up the video content with lots of commercials, though, is much more characteristic of TV production than Internet production. Internet production typically has web-based advertising and maybe one video advert as the show starts. I didn't mean it to sound like a big criticism. Just a small annoyance voiced in the spirit of 'viewer beware."

I really hope that folks check out the show. I know I will.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

N'Shoma - Jewish "spirit" from my home turf.

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I was trolling around the web recently looking for Jewish music radio programs and ran into quite a surprise. There was one being broadcast out of my home town. Now, if I grew up in a New York suburb this might not be so surprising, but I grew up in the small town in New England. I attended Hebrew school and was bar mitzvahed and married at the nearest synagogue in the nearby college town, about a 20 minute drive. It turns out that Richard Kamins, a member of the synagogue and friend of my father's, has been doing an hour Jewish radio show on a local AM station for 10 years. The show, called N'Shoma (which is Hebrew for "spirit"), describes itself like this:

Your host, Middletown native Richard Kamins, brings you an eclectic mix of music from around the Jewish world, including Klezmer music, Broadway tunes, eastern European folk music, Israeli music, jazz, and much American creative Jewish music (can't imagine what that would be? )
I exchanged some email with Richard and hope to meet him in person next time I'm in town. I'd love to talk music with him and maybe sit in with him on his show someday. Anyway, I'm always interested in what kind of music is getting played. Here's how Richard describes his most recent show:

"After all these years, I still don't do a playlist - I pick out 12 or 13 CDs, bring them with me and them mix and match according to my mood. I have learned to stay away from the more "avant-garde" stuff, you know little or no Zorn or Anthony Coleman or the "louder" Tzadik stuff. But I love to play stuff like Paul Shapiro's Tzadik releases. So here's what's in my bag from last week and there for this week (in no particular order.)


  • Naftule Brandwein - King of the Klezmer Clarinet

  • "Nifty's Freilach" Fraidy Katz - The Eternal Question - "Vintsht Mir A Bisele Glik" (this is a new release from a Massachusetts-based vocalist - produced by Wolf Krakowski.)

  • The Klezmatics - Wonder Wheel - "Orange Blossom Ring"

  • Jewish Music of the Dance - Leon Stein (composer) - "Three Hassidic Dances" - This is from the Milken Archive of Jewish Music - they put me on the mailing list and I now have 15 of their disks.

  • Erel Paz - "Water - 3rd Movement - Rain" - Israeli classical composer, downloaded this off his website.

  • Andy Statman & David Grisman - New Shabbos Waltz - "Pischu Li" - I just love Statman's music, tough guy to interview though.

  • Safam - Greatest Hits - "A Difference in This World" - Jewish pop music but much of their music has a strong message and they
    are really nice guys. Our synagogue choir got to work with Cantor Robbie Solomon (Safam's lead songwriter) at a Choral convention and had a great time.

  • Osvaldo Golijov/Kronos Quartet/David Krakauer - The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac The Blind - "Movement III" -This is classical avant-garde yet not too screechy.

  • Brave Old World - Bless The Fire - "Flora Hora" - BOW bassist Stu Brotman is also a member of Veretski Pass, 2/3rds of whom (which?) live in Madison, CT. They just performed in Branford and I played tracks featuring all the members including the next track

  • Moshav- Misplaced - "Streets of Jerusalem" - Alt-rock band whose CD was sent to me by the Jewish Music Group distribution service. Decent, a bit like Pearl Jam at times.

  • Marilyn Lerner - Romanian Fantasy - "Rumshinsky's Bulgar" and "Araber Tants" - just downloaded this from iTunes (after reading the KlezmerShack review.) Interviewed her this week. She's played in the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and now has a duo with vocalist Adrienne Cooper. This is a piano solo disk and it's lovely.

  • Robyn Helzner Trio - Signs & Wonders - "Turn, Turn, Turn."

  • Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars - Carnival Conspiracy - "In Your Garden 20 Fecund Fruit Trees" - London is quite a character, very approachable, and his music really runs the gamut.

My listeners love Mickey Katz and most of the traditional Klez stuff but, as you can read, I like to mix it up. I enjoy doing interviews and have had Frank London, author Daniel Mendelssohn, classical composer Avner Dorman, composer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, and others. I've done shows on Jewish Genealogy and the Jewish War Veterans and even did a wine tasting (not Kosher) although they were pushing their wares for Channukah consumption! )"

Klezmer to Yiddish folk to classical to chassidic pop. A great mix. I'm glad that N'Shoma's out there and to think that it's in my home town. I'm just sorry there wasn't anything like it going on when I lived there.


N'Shoma doesn't have any internet distribution yet, though the radio station told me that a podcast might happen later this year. I hope so. I'm sure it would quickly find an audience. Send the station an encouraging email. It couldn't hurt.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Klezmatics win Grammy! (Matisyahu doesn't)

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The Klezmatics won a Grammy in the category of Best Contemporary World Music Album (Vocal or Instrumental) for their album "Wonder Wheel". Wonder Wheel is the Klezmatics take on a set of Woody Guthrie lyrics influenced by his Jewish wife and wife's family. (See CD Baby blurb for full description). Congrats to them for a much deserved award.

I'm sorry, but not stunned, that Matisyahu didn't win for Youth. It's just not that great an album compared to his preceding album "Live at Stubbs". Matisyahu had some serious competition and got whupped.

Nina Simone - Erets Zavat Chalav - 1962

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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.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Metal Jew and A Secret History of Jewish Punk

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I ran across the blog "Metal Jew" this morning. The author Keith Kahn-Harris describes himself as a "Semi-ambivalent Jew, ambivalent Metaller. Occasionally ambivalent sociologist, researcher and educator. Non-ambivalent husband and father." That description resonates for me, though, of course, the details are wrong (I'm a human-computer interaction scientist and not ambivalent about being Jewish). Definately non-ambivalent father and husband. The "Metal Jew" blog has been active since May of '06 and Keith's book "Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge" was published in December '06. Mazel Tov, Keith.

Another place where Keith and I diverge is that I was never an "ambivalent Meteller." I was an ambivalent punk. Black trenchcoat and beret. Dead Kennedys, the Adolescents, 7 Seconds, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I even had a mohawk hair cut once (I looked like an idiot). This was the 80's. The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were only slightly scarier than Thatcher and Regan. We watched movies like "The Day After," "War Games," "Suburbia," and "Red Dawn" and were sure that nuclear war was right around the corner. We also read the Diary of Anne Frank and watched the Marathon Man. The cold war had the shadow of the Holocaust all over it and we knew it. Punks were fascinated with Nazi symbology, either applying it to our current governments policies or (for the "skinhead/Nazi Punk" minority) getting nostalgic for it's clarity.

Keith reminded me of all this by blogging about the new book "The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk" Here's the blurb from the book's website:


Based on recent interviews with more than 125 people — among them Tommy Ramone, Chris Stein (Blondie), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Hilly Kristal (CBGBs owner), and John Zorn — this book focuses on punk’s beginnings in New York City to show that punk was the most Jewish of rock movements, in both makeup and attitude. As it originated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1970s,
punk rock was the apotheosis of a Jewish cultural tradition that found its ultimate expression in the generation born after the Holocaust.
As a kid who hung out in punk clubs in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, I have to say that I never found punk a particularly Jewish experience and never identified with it at that level. Other than the Nazi/Holocaust references, punk music was only Jew friendly in that it lacked Heavy Metal's preoccupation with Christian imagery.

So, I don't know if I agree with the author's view, but I can't wait to read the book and find out.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

New Klezmer Podcast and Klezmer Cruise

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Keith Wolzinger has launched "Klezmer Podcast". According to Keith, the goal of the podcast is "to bring you news, interviews with guest artists, and music from the Klezmer and Jewish Music scene". The first episode has been posted and features interviews with David Krakauer and DJ Socalled. KP is available for subscription through the iTunes music store or RSS feed. Keith doesn't indicate how often he plans on posting new podcasts. Congrats Keith and best wishes.

Also hosted on KlezmerPodcast.com is a website for a "Klezmer Cruise." The cruise will take place from April 29 to May 11, 2007 and is intended to be "an immersion in Yiddishkeit history and heritage." The cruise will sail from Kiev to Zaporozhye, Yalta and Odessa aboard the chartered MS Dnieper Princess. It will include the participation of notable Klezmer musicians including Michael Alpert, Josh (“Socalled”) Dolgin, David Krakauer, and scholars including Eugene Orenstein, Acting Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

This is the best idea I've heard all year and I wish my family could go. Maybe someday.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Verfremdungsklezmer! Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird

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I love big joyful noise. And I mean noise, squawnky, grindy, heartbreaking and uplifting noise. And I found a great source recently: Daniel Kahn. Kahn is a native Michiganian who's lived in New Orleans, New York, and now Berlin picking up a range of musical styles and influences. Kahn describes his latest project "Painted Bird" as Verfremdungsklezmer "Punk Cabaret + Radical Yiddish Song + Gothic American Folk + Klezmer Danse Macabre." This is my kind of noise. Painted Bird is available through Chasma Records, a "collective of independent musicians based out of Europe and the US ... specializ[ing] in the music of these very related cultures...Eastern European, Klezmer, Yiddish, Gypsy Jazz and Balkan." I have a feeling I'll be picking up a bunch of Chasma recordings in the near future.

Here's the Daniel Kahn YouTube video that got my attention, but don't stop with this one. YouTube's got a bunch.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Tumbalalaika in Angels in America

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My wife and I recently watched the HBO film adaptation of Tony Kushner play 'Angels in America.' It's an amazing movie on many levels, one of which is listening to Meryl Streep sing "Tumbalalaika." Tumbalalaika (Play the Balalaika) is a Yiddish folktune often used as a lullabye. Streep's performance is haunting.

If you haven't heard Tumbalalika, there are a number of audio/video clips on line here, here and here that will give you a feel. Fortunately, while Streep version wasn't includes on the Angels in America soundtrack, Hatikva Music can set you up with an excellent Theodore Bikel version.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Tracking down 'Yonah Matzah'

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This week I'm learning about zemirot (zemiros, z'mirot, z'miros), hymns and songs sung on Shabbat in the home. While they're a pretty standard part of traditional Jewish practice, I've only had minimal exposure to them through synagogue functions. I ran across a discussion of them them while I was researching piyyut and mentioned them to my wife thinking that it would be nice to add some to our Shabbat dinner ritual. Not only was she interested in the idea, it turned out that she even had a favorite zemer (song). She learned it at an oneg (post-Shabbat service celebratory gathering) honoring Rabbi Schmuel Sandberg in Boston. The only problem was that the gathering was years ago and she could only remember part of the chorus. Yonah Matzah. Was that the name?

I did some digging on the web and found references to 'Yonah Matzah' but couldn't find any lyrics sheets or recordings. Fortunately, the folks on the Shamash.org Jewish Music mailing list came to the rescue. The title is 'Yom Shabbaton", "yonah matzah" is just part of the chorus. We even had the lyrics in a USY bencher. (A bencher is a handy reference book or pamphlet with Shabbat and holiday blessings, zemirot and the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals))

It turns out that Yom Shabbaton is a very popular zemer. There are a lot of recordings available online, including at the USY Z'mirot project, and SiddurAudio.com as well as a number of CD's. The CD tracks I've listened to don't move me much, but the SiddurAudio is spot on. A bunch of folks with good enough voices and a lot of heart singing the kind of lovely melody I want to hear at my family table every Shabbat.

I don't have a good primary reference, but a number of websites attribute Yom Shabbaton to Judah Halevi the 10th century Spanish poet and philosopher. I also don't have a good translation (yet) for Yom Shabbaton but the website for the Vocolot/Linda Hirschhorn recording "Gather Round: Songs of Celebration and Renewal" provides this:

Yom shabbaton eyn lishkoach.
Zichro kereyach hanichoach.
Yonah matz'ah vo manoach
vesham yanuchu yegi'ey koach.

[A day of Sabbath rest.
As hard to forget as sweet scent.
The dove finds comfort
and there the weary rest.]

Exactly.

More information about zemirot can be found at the JewishEncylopedia site.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Flamenco Sepharad

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So after writing the Flory Jagoda post, I went to YouTube to see if there were any videos. I didn't find any, but I did find this video montage of Flamenco Sepharad. This is good stuff. Not Jagoda's Bosnian rhythm, but a contemporary Spanish flamenco rhythm (listen to the clapping) with Judeo-Spanish vocals and melodies. The YouTube commentary mentions a DVD but I haven't tracked it down yet.

La Nona Kanta

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I was catching up on Nextbook podcasts on my recent business trips (the reason for my lack of posts over the last week) and enjoyed one in particular: La Nona Kanta - Flory Jagoda. Jagoda is a Sephardic folksinger originally from Bosnia who performs traditional Sephardic songs passed down through her family as well as her own compositions. She has become a sort of grande dame of Sephardic Music in the US, recording a series of albums, authoring a songbook and receiving a NEA Heritage Fellowship.

The thing that caught me, though, wasn' t the story it was the music. It was the rhythm. I didn't grow up with Sephardic music but I got hooked a while ago. It has passion and lyricism but it doesn't have this rhythm. Not a flamenco rhythm. Something else. Maybe a Bosnian influence? Anyway, go listen to the podcast and you'll hear it too. I'm going to pick up a couple of her albums and listen a lot closer.