Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Russian Jewish Experience: Soviet Jewish alienation with excellent production values

Ekh Lyuli Lyuli radio program posterI've been chatting on twitter with Russian/Canadian Jewish blogger @vladislavab. She did a fascinating mini-documentary recently called "Soviet-Jewish Alienation within the "Bagel-and-Lox Culture" with an accompanying blog and now radio program & podcast. She's interested in how her experience, the Soviet Russian Jewish experience, differs from and enriches the dominant North American Ashkenazi Jewish culture. I'm looking forward to chatting more with her. We share (I think) very similar views about a mutually enriching trans-national, trans-denominational Jewish community.

What we've been chatting about is, of course, Jewish music. She was looking to add to the collection of interesting Russian Jewish musicians that she plays on her show. I tossed out a few of my favorites including Lampa Ladino, Lana Ross, Psoy Korolenko, and Turetsky's Choir. This got me obsessing about Russian Jewish music and needing to find more.

Enter Yakov Yavno. Actor. Singer. Russian Jewish Icon. My new music crush.

Like Turetsky's Choir, he mixes the over-the-top theatrics and earnest sincerity that I love about Russian productions. There is no ironic detachment here. This is the Russian Jewish experience to the max, baby. More is definitely more.

Here's his blurb...
Yakov Yavno, also known as YaYa, is one of the most preeminent performers to immigrate to the United States from the former Soviet Union.
He was raised and came of age surrounded by the intertwining of a variety of cultures and peoples that have shaped and developed whom he is as a human being and as a performing artist. Within this melding of cultures, he often faced a difficult daily reality, witnessing firsthand the struggle between the ancient and modern, opposing religious factions and cultures, and in particular, the unique journey of the Jewish people of Russia.
Following studies at the Gnesin's Academy of Music in Moscow, Yavno became the leading star of the Jewish Musical Chamber Theater of Moscow. In 1987 the Russian government awarded him the coveted title of “Artist of Special Merit”.
His captivating performances are filled with a sense of purpose; a vision, as is evident with numerous sold-out concerts throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. His festive staged showcase "The Road Home" incorporates an orchestra with choirs and contemporary dancers as well as cameos by well-known local guest-stars from the countries in which he performs. It was filmed as part of a documentary by the same name. Yavno’s solo show, “Revelations”, intersperses a musical program with tales of the artist’s journey from Russia to America; it features international combos integrating storytelling and philosophical discussions. His memorable solo performance, “Songs of Our Soul”, premiered at New York’s Kauffman Concert Hall in 2007.

Unlike Turetsky's Choir, he's based out of New York City, which means I have a chance to see him perform live. I will make this happen. I will. I will.

Getting back to vladislavab's point about how Russian Jewish culture should be thought of as enriching Ashkenazi culture, and not being an inferior shadow of it. Who in the Ashkenazi community hits the stage with the energy of Yavno or Turetsky's Choir? Yeah we've got some great cantors concerts. And no shortage of klezmer bands. And my favorite Jewish pop bands. (Yes Matisyahu, I'll be seeing you on Sunday night). But they don't even get close. We Ashkenazim have got a lot to learn.

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