Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yiddish Songs, Forgotten and Remembered

Being ignorant in public is a bit of hobby for me, so I'll fess up. I don't know much about urban Yiddish music. I've got all the usual stereotypes about Yiddish music...sentimental lullabies, rural folk songs, and the occasional immigrant 'so this is America' angst. Clearly there's a lot more to it, and I need to get in gear and get my head around it. (I'm about to get scolded by my buddy, vocalist Lori Cahan Simon to learn Yiddish. I just know it.)

I got a bit of help today from the folks on the Klezmershack mailing list. One of them pointed to a great recording on YouTube of a song called Budapescht, sung by the German Yiddish art song vocalist, Karsten Tryoke on the album Forgotten Yiddish Songs. (The album is unavailable on Amazon, but there are a few copies on Ebay at the moment.) Forgotten Yiddish Songs is a collaboration between Tryoke and Sara Sliwka, a Holocaust survivor who taught him an entire repertoire of Yiddish songs from her youth. There's a nice writeup on her story at

Budapescht is a classic unrequited, cross-cultural, love song, sung from the perspective of a Jewish boy pining over a Polish girl. (See the YouTube page for the full lyrics)

Wail ich bin a Bucher jîng în frisch,
´ch gai sech ous mamesz far a Kîsch,
tref iech mir a Lodze Ponienka,
sie red poilisch în ich mîss stenkn:
Ja sze kocham a ty ´spysz!

Because I'm a young lad
I aspire to a kiss
I meet a girl from Lodz
She spoke polish and I had to listen:
Ja cię kocham a ty śpisz !" /I love you and you fall asleep !
By the way, for another exercise in ignorance. I've actually been to Budapest, and have a few funny stories about being a college student abroad. What I don't have, and have kicked myself for 20 years, are stories of me wandering through the old Jewish section of Budapest. I hadn't thought through the possibilities of the trip at all. Grr. Hopefully I'll get back there some day, but until then I'll have to make do with the Jewish Virtual Library's Budapest Virtual Jewish History Tour and Yale Strom's documentary "A Man from Munkas: Gypsy Klezmer."

Hat tip to YouTube user albertdiner for posting the video and to "Heizler" for providing albertdiner, and us, with the lyrics.

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