Sunday, February 17, 2013

G-dcast Psalm Project is looking for you!

If you haven't checked it out, G-dcast is an amazing project to bring new voices and images to the weekly parsha and other Jewish texts. I'm a huge fan.  And they're recruiting! They're holding a competition for new voices for their Psalm Project.
"If you're a young Jewish artist, singer, song-writer, musician, rapper, spoken word poet, writer, comedian, story teller or anyone else with an incredibly strong voice ...then this is aimed at you, regardless of your current knowledge of the Psalms. While the winning entries will be chosen from emerging artists aged 21 to 30, artists of all ages are encouraged to share their interpretations regardless of eligibility for the prizes."


Check out their Psalm Project page for more details!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Berhman House is looking for you!

Hey Jewish Musicians....

Recently I got a note about an opportunity at Berhman House....

"Behrman Housethe leading publishers of Jewish educational books and digital products, is looking for freelance individuals who are musically talented, write and create for kids, like to perform, like to create Jewishly relevant materials, have some video experience, and have strong Jewish knowledge and/or background.

Please send your resume and samples (can be music clips, videos, animation, lesson plans, etc) to Terry Kaye"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ljuba Davis. Never forget that your family are Sephardim.

“Never forget that your family are Sephardim. That you came from Spain.”

I'm continually surprised and delighted by the strong resurgence in Sephardic music that's been happening for the last few years. Ljuba Davis, a mainstay of the West Coast Jewish music scene, has been performing for decades and has added to that resurgence by finally put out a recording of her own. One that Ari, of Klezmershack has referred to as "one of a small (but growing!) number of traditional Sephardic music CDs worth listening to."

That's high praise. And a good thing.

Here's a recording from Davis' record release party at Drom in NYC.

Here's a bit from her official bio:
"The words of Ljuba Davis’s feisty paternal grandmother always stuck with her, as did her father’s penchant to spit at any mention of the Jewish people's expulsion from Spain. The expulsion in the 15th century sent the Sephardim moving ever further east, to the Ottoman and Russian Empires.

A gifted singer and fluent Spanish speaker, Davis was fascinated by the morsels of Sephardic melodies—secular and liturgical—she encountered as a child, and later on recordings and in songbooks. She went to nursing school (where she sang in the hospital’s resonant stairwells), raised seven children, and gradually gathered dozens of prized Ladino traditional songs into her repertoire.

A veteran performer, Davis contributed to the fascinating intersection of Jewish music revival and the folk movement, performing on major stages and in small clubs from Chicago to her Bay Area home. Berkeley was a hotspot of Jewish music creativity in the 1960s, and Davis was a sought-after singer and cultural trailblazer in the community.

But it wasn’t until she went to Barcelona—and until her son David Davis (who produced the album and plays the radiant cello on “Durme”) began to encourage her to record—that Davis contemplated making an album of her uniquely heartfelt renditions and the stunning melodies of the Ladino tradition."

While I haven't had the opportunity to hear the full album, the reviews look stellar. Delarue, author of the review "Haunting Spanish-Jewish Sounds from Ljuba Davis" in the New York Music Daily, notes the album contains
"flamenco-tinged acoustic guitars, but the lead lines are carried just as often as by Avram Pengas’ spiky, incisive bouzouki or Rachid Halihal’s oud. The melodies refer to gypsy music, the Middle East or the Balkans just as often as they evoke their Spanish home turf. Davis sings in a nuanced voice that can be quiet and plaintive but also joyous, sailing up to the end of a phrase on the album’s second track with the kind of microtonal “whoop” that’s common in Bulgarian music."

For more information, check out Davis' website and CDBaby.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crossroads: Matisyahu in Detroit

There is no doubt that, as the lead off song for his new album and last nights concert suggests, Matisyahu is at a crossroads. He's shed the visible trappings of Chassidus and Orthodoxy, losing a lot of fans in those communities in the process.  He's also continuing to make some of the most soulful, spiritual, and without a doubt Jewish, pop music made in the US in decades, bringing in new fans with each album and tour. His concert in Detroit last night, to an adoring packed house at Detorit's Fillmore Theater, showcased many of the challenges he's facing at this point in his career.

Four years ago, also at the Fillmore, I attended my first Matis concert. The audience was about half full and was one of the most diverse crowds I'd ever seen. They were in jeans and t-shirts, in black hats or modest skirts, over 60, and under 10. Some clearly, visibly Jewish. Many not so clearly or not at all.  The two years that followed were much the same. Though the shows moved to the sauna-hot St. Andrews around the corner, the crowds were mixed and enthusiastic. Each year the crowds were a bit bigger and a bit more enthusiastic. This year, Matis' first Detroit appearance since shaving his beard, the concert was back at the Fillmore. The hall was packed and crowd was far less mixed. I still saw some kids, but didn't see a single black hat or visible yarmulke.

So did he sell out to bring in more fans, as some have charged? Is he continuing on his own religious exploration as he claims? I went to the show, having spent the last week listening to his new album Spark Seeker, hoping to find out. How would this album and show compare? Would this be the same Matisyahu, who's music has meant so much to so many?

My answer is mostly yes, though also no in a surprising way. First the yes. Sitting up in the mezzanine (if you look carefully at the fantastic stage diving picture above, you can see my wife's elbows all akimbo holding binoculars right above Matis' right knee), I closed my eyes and attempted, as Matis has suggested, to "dream awake." And he makes it easy. His rich voice and his uplifting image-laden lyrics were warm and familiar. His new songs blended well with his old favorites (fans will always argue if the new album is as good as the last. I say it doesn't have a single as catchy as One Day or Miracle and doesn't have any tracks that have grabbed me like the amazing Shattered ep from two years go, but it's pretty darn good).  He still called for Moshiach Now! in King without a Crown. He still exhorted me to be better, still pushed me love God, man, and myself better, and still gave me a room filled with people with whom to sing. So yes. Matisyahu is still Matisyahu, visible Jewish beard and jacket aside.

But there was one unexpected no. There was something that Matisyahu's beard and jacket gave him that he lacked last night and that's gravitas. Strictly from a theatric performance point of view, Matis' Chassidic garb set him apart from his audience and peers in a manner that suggested age, wisdom, and authority. It's arguable that this association was misplaced, a jacket and a beard do not earn the wearer any of those attributes nor do all those of age, wisdom, and authority look like a Chassidic Rebbe. But the association was real. And seeing Matis on bouncing around stage in a white t-shirt, jean jacket, stylish hair and sunglasses lessened that gravitas in a real way. With my eyes closed, I dreamed awake. With them open, I was at a very good rock concert.

So to those who now dismiss Matis as having sold out or, perversely view his previous persona as merely a shtick, you're deeply wrong and need to get over your own preconceptions. But as wonderful as last nights show was, for me there was something a bit less about it.  Maybe I need to get over my preconceptions too. Or maybe Matis, having reached this crossroad needs to find a new path where he can be true to himself but retain the gravitas that his vision and music demands.

Matisyahu - Crossroads (feat. J. Ralph)

Update: John Wofford, writing for New Voices, the National Jewish Student Magazine, reviewed Matisyahu's Aug 4, Grand Rapids, Michigan concert.  I think John and I mostly agree, though he didn't have the same feeling of loss of gravitas that I did. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Planet Hava Nagila: Aly Raisman's Olympic Floor Routine, The Wall Street Journal and Hava Nagila the Movie

It's been a big month for Hava Nagila, that favorite of bar mitzvah's, hockey games, celebrity appearances , and enterprising musicians worldwide. The excitement started on the 19th when director Roberta Grossman premiered "Hava Nagila The Movie" to a sold out crowd at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
"...featuring interviews with Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Regina Spektor and more, the film follows the ubiquitous party song on its fascinating journey from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the kibbutzim of Palestine to the cul-de-sacs of America. High on fun and entertainment, Hava Nagila (The Movie) is also surprisingly profound, tapping into universal themes about the importance of joy, the power of music and the resilient spirit of a people."

The film is getting good press and hopefully will be playing soon at a film festival near me. And you, too.

This past weekend, Hava Nagila (the song) showed up in the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of stock tickers and pinstripe, in an article titled "At Some Happy Events, Hava Nagila Isn't Invited." WSJ author Lucette Lagnado claimed that "Hava Nagila isn't in danger of becoming a musical relic. It already is one" and backed up the claim with quotes from from sources including enthomusicologist / musician Henry Sapoznik and Klezmatics vocalist Lorin Sklamberg, Manhattan Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, and Neshoma Orchestra, a NYC simcha band, leader Elly Zomick. Lagnado noted that Hava Nagila will live on in YouTube videos, such as those I linked above, and in new Jewish music bands reinterpreting the song, including Abraham Inc (see below) but that its been retired as a Jewish American favorite. As can be imagined, the article ruffled features around the Jewish world.

Finally, Hava Nagila was the backdrop for some Olympic drama on Sunday night.  Much to the delight of the US Jewish community, Team US Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman used an upbeat Hava Nagila as the soundtrack for her floor routine, an amazing performance that edged out US team All Around favorite Jordyn Wieber and sealed Raisman's position as one of two Americans to advance to the All Around competition.  As Haaretz reports,  Raisman's use of Hava Nagila was both tactical and traditional.  Raisman, a Jew from Needham, Mass, chose the music for it's folksy appeal and ability to get the audience engaged and clapping, something that helps her as an athlete focus and connect with the judges.  As an internationally known folk tune, Hava Nagila has been used a number of times by other gymnasts for similar reasons. A JTA article, cited by Haaretz, includes links to historic videos of gymnasts Gael Mackie of Canada, 2004, and Sandra Izbasa of Romania, 2010, using Hava Nagila for their routines. Raisman repeated her routine today as the anchor exercise sealing USA's team gold medal.  Let's hope it does as well when she competes for her personal All Around medal.

Neither of her two Olympic routines are available yet, but here's Raisman performing her Hava Nagila routine from the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Best of luck, Aly. We're rooting for you!

Hat tip to YouTube users richklebanIgnitedSoul13schillidstalkerokyagul and Anim3Mast3r for posting "Jake's Bar Mitzvah", "Jerome Iginla,""Bob Dylan Hava Nagila," "Indian Hava Nagila," "Rootwater - Hava Nagila," and "Final Fantasy - Avent Children Hava Nagila Techno" respectively. Also, hat tip to YouTube users HQ4Music for "Abraham Inc. - The H Tune aka Hava Nagila (Jazz à la villette part5)" and Susaluda for "Aly Raisman Floor - 2012 USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials Day 2"

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Zion80: Carlebach Afropop

Shlomo Carlebach was a legendary American Jewish rabbi, storyteller, composer, musician. Fela Kuti was a legendary Nigerian activist, musician, and originator of Afropop.  Zion80, is a relatively new project of NYC Jewish music maven Jon Madof, a fixture on the downtown NYC Jewish and improvisational music scenes that explores Carlebach's compositions through the lens of Kuti's Afropop.

Check it out.

Zion80 - Carlebach Fela Project - Ein K'elokeinu

This recording, from a December 2011 concert at the Sixth Street Synagogue includes a who's who of the NYC Jewish music scene including Frank London, Greg Wall, and Yoshi Fructer.

You can get more info at the Zion80 website, which has a few tracks up for download.  Rumor has it an album is coming soon on John Zorn's Tzadik label.

Hat tip to Sarah V who tipped me off about Zion80 this morning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Final Witness: Murder, Television, and Foreboding Jewish Music

Cue the foreboding music.....

"Donnah Winger had everything she wanted: the perfect husband, the perfect job and now, after years of infertility, the perfect baby. But a chance meeting with an stranger sets in motion a series of events that leaves Donnah dead on her kitchen floor - bludgeoned with a hammer - fools authorities for years while her killer hides in plain sight."

Oh...and did I say the foreboding music is Ose Shalom?

Cut to April 2011.  I received an email from the music supervisor of the new ABC show "Final Witness." As she described it, "It's a true-crime show, but is unlike your typical true crime shows that probably come to mind, or even CSI or Law & Order. It's a show about real murders that combines interviews with friends and family members with highly cinematic visuals and music. It's high-quality and looks more like film than TV. Most importantly, it doesn't focus on the "whodunnit" or grisly aspects of the murder, but rather the emotional ties and pulls between all the characters."

She was currently working on an episode, which airs tomorrow night, titled "The Devil You Know" and tells the story of Mark and Donnah Winger, a Jewish family in suburban Springfield, Illinois.  The music supervisor was looking for "foreboding Jewish music," music with an ethereal, tragically beautiful feel. Back to the present, I wish I could say that I suggested the piece that finally made it into the program. I didn't. The show ended up using a melancholy, toy piano sounding arrangement of Ose Shalom by composer Michael Allen Harrison. (Check it out on Amazon right now, or better yet, watch the show on ABC tomorrow night (July 25, 2012) or on after that.)

But I tried.

After a bit of discussion I suggested a stack of tracks from around the Jewish world (see below), even hitting up Jeff Janeczko from Milken Archive of American Jewish Music and Erez from Shemspeed for suggestions. And I came up with the perfect track, Black Ox Orkestar's wonderful “Papir Iz Dokh Vays” (Check it out!). The show loved it! One of my favorite Jewish bands! But ... it was not to be. Black Ox Orkestar doesn't like Disney Corp and wasn't interested in having their music used in a program by a Disney company. AARGGHH. So close.

So Harrison's Ose Shalom it is.  Not Black Ox Orkestar, but I'm sure it will do fine. We'll see tomorrow night.

UPDATE: It's tomorrow & I watched the episode on ABC last night. True crime isn't my genre (I'm a sci-fi / science documentary guy and food network junkie) so I'll leave it to others to review it, but I thought it was well produced and interesting. I was on pins and needles waiting for Ose Shalom to show up. And it did, about halfway through in a scene where the Jewish family was sitting shiva. It was perfect, setting exactly the right tone. Well done, Final Witness!

Here's the initial list of foreboding and ethereal Jewish music I put together last summer, less a few that no longer have easy to reach internet versions. Since I wasn't sure what ABC was going to respond to the list is from across the musical map.   ...

Black Ox Orkestrar


Zahava Seewald
“Don’t be frightened my son” &  
“the daughter of god's beloved rose” - 

Ofra Haza
- Ofra Haza - Kaddish
- Ofra Haza - Forgiveness

La Mar Enfortuna
- La Rosa -

Regina Spektor
Eli Eli -

Voices of Eden
Eli Eli -

Alan Goldberg 
Twilight Niggun from Chasing Stray Flames -

 “Baruch Shem” from Music for the Kabbala -

Consuelo Luz
Mar de leche or Kabbalah: Torah, from Adio -

Ana El Na from Coming Home -

Forgiveness: Traditional Jewish Prayers With Contemporary Experimental Electronic Music

Erez vs Erez Yechiel
Tikkun Klali -


Adiranne Greenbaum
Nign or Mourner’s Kaddish from FleytMuzik -

Alexandria Kleztet
Eli, Eli -

Andy Statman
Maggid -

Nokhspil (kale bazigns) -

Crackow Klezmer Band
Holef -

Mipney Ma or Dybbuk Shers -

The Beinoni Niggun

Richard Kaplan
Rav’s Niggun or Niggun of the Besh -

Maya Raviv
Avinu Malkenu -

Avinu Malkenu -

Tal Skloot
Avinu Malkenu -

Ofer Ben Amots 
Come In Peace (Haskivenu), Psalm 81, or  Niggunim -

Woj ciech Knar
Moving to the Ghetto Oct. 31, 1940 -

Aaron Blumenfield
Kel Echod -

David Gerinags
Meditation Hebraique -

Steve Reich
Tehillim -

From the Milken Archive

John Zorn
Kol Nidre -

Abravanel Henri Lazarof
Kaddish for Maurice -

Meyer Kupferman
The Shadows of Jerusalem  -

Aaron Avshalomov
Four Biblical Tableaux -

Hugo Weisgall
T'kiatot -

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Roots of Israeli Music

Israeli radio producer and personality Danny Orstav recently gave an excellent talk on the early history of Israeli music. I'm listening to it now. You should too.

The History of Israeli Music

Hat tip to VermontTV for posting the video to YouTube.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nehedar's music is catchy quirky anti-folk, but is it Jewish? And does it matter?

Nehedar, aka Emilia Cataldo, is an up-and-coming singer songwriter in the NYC area but not my usual blog post focus. While a fine musician and an observant Jew, her writing and stage persona isn’t obviously or easily categorized as Jewish. But Cataldo’s experience of becoming Orthodox and navigating pressures from the Jewish community (Orthodox, liberal, and secular) is well worth sharing and provides a lot of insight into the difficulties of being a Jewish musician in America.

Nehedar, which means means “wonderful” in Hebrew, writes quirky anti-folk music that puts a strong voice and guitar lead over rock, electronica, punk, and latin music instruments and rhythms.  On her new album, High Tide, results vary from delicate observational moments (Tinkerbell) to anthemic anarchist screeds (Count Down The Days Til You’re Dead). I dig Nehedar but wish she’d dig a bit deeper into her lyrical material.  I kept wanting to compare her to the disarming personal observations of Tori Amos and Amiee Mann, or the cynical world weariness of Firewater or the Pogues.  Her lyrics, though, are a bit too shielded and externally focused. That makes them come across a bit superficial.

Here are the tracks from High Tide. Check 'em out and see what you think. Definitely worth a listen.  For more info on Nehedar and High Tide, check out her website.

As Nehedar and I were emailing back and forth I decided a more formal interview might be a good way to get share her story and she graciously obliged.

Teruah: This is a Jewish music blog so we’ll talk both music and religion, but let’s talk music first. You’ve been active in the NYC singer songerwriter scene for a while and have got a new CD “High Tide” out. In your Pens Eye View interview you were asked about your style and said “I play with genre so much that it is pretty hard to define (my sound). Anything from electronic, punk, folk, rock, and then I’ll throw in Latin beats. Then my tonal approach will vary from sarcastic to dead serious.” From my listen to the HIgh Tide, that sounds right on. I think, though, it's fair to say that the songs on High Tide are very voice and lyric centered and give the audience the experience of listening to you singing to directly to someone standing just a bit offstage. Lots of “you” in the lyrics. So, who are you singing to?

Nehedar: The you’s on this record are everything from me, to the listener, a lover, a robot, society in general, hashem.. fantasy characters...

Teruah: There’s mix of instruments across the tracks, which range from voice and strummy guitar to rock arrangements to heavy electronica. What are you playing yourself and are the other instruments your regular band or are they friends borrowed for the album? How does this compare to your live show?

Nehedar: I play most of the guitars and electronic keyboard riffs, I have preferences for certain basslines that I write. I work with producer Craig Levy (Little Pioneer) in his Brooklyn studio. He also plays bass and drums and some guitars and keys. The band is a separate entity. Only a few songs in my past 5 albums had actual live band members on the recording, but none on this album. The trumpet on "Take It Apart" is the amazing Mike Shobe who is in the band on Louis C.K's show. He's fantastic and his solos make me very very happy, but he's a session player and if I perform this song live, it will be with my friend Dan Wagner of the Long Island band "Penguin Revolution."

Teruah: The reviews I’ve seen of High Tide (Brooklyn Rocks, LyricLounce, Jamsphere, PensEyeView) were pretty positive, but what’s up with that Heeb magazine post? Chicky (from HipsterJew) had some snarky fun busting on your song “The Song No One Hears.” Honestly, I have little use for Heeb magazine, their music writing in particular, but even for them that was petty. Did you see that one coming?

Nehedar: I don't think he knew what he was doing. I'm fairly certain that he was assigned a comedy hit piece. I actually acquiesced to be "made fun of" in order to get some coverage in Heeb, but I assumed that it would be by someone who is familiar with writing about music. It was totally my fault for assuming that. That writer didn't even hurt my feelings because he was so dumbly dismissive. If he had actually analyzed my work (at all!) and found it lacking then I would care more. It's so important to remember not to care what any critic says though! I hope I can get to that point, whether it's a compliment or an insult, to remember their only purpose is to help you spread the word. The fact is that I got a lot more positive attention via the comments in that piece. At the end of the day Chicky was more insulted by that whole fiasco than I was.

Teruah: When we started emailing, you mentioned that you’re a shomer shabbas Jew and that you got your start playing gigs with Jewish themed music groups Pharoah’s Daughter and Jake Marmer's Mima'amakim. How did that hookup happen?

Nehedar: Jake Marmer was a friend and Mi'ma'amakim was an alternative poetry journal that he started. They had great launch events where their writers would read their poetry and there would be fantastic music: Pharoah's Daughter, Raquy & the Cavemen, Pitom, Jon Madoff, that sort of thing. I guess he just saw something in me that made him want to put me on the stage!

Teruah: One thing that gets debated is how much there is, outside of the Orthodox / Chassidic community, a Jewish music scene. What do you think? Were you playing in a Jewish music scene? What about now?

Nehedar: To me, there is very much of a Jewish music scene, but I'm not sure about the distinction of religious vs. secular. I think it's more of a matter of affiliation and friendships. Some of the most religious people are in the least religious seeming bands and vice versa but I won't name names!

My first couple of shows were with Mi'ma'amakim and then I got my stage legs steady by performing at a weekly event called Hasids meets Hipsters where the amazing Sway Machinery were regulars. My band members have all been Jewish (except my dad!), and many went on to form their own bands (Glaser Drive, Stolen Brown Evergreen) We used to play shows together for years...

I've produced shows in NYC with Rav Shmuel, Y-Love, Aliza Hava, BlanketStatementStein (Back from the UK), Mick Lewis & the Fine Print, and played at shows with Sarah Aroeste, Chana Rothman, Jezzy & the Belles, and on and on. I had a good friend and roommate in college from Moshav Modi'im (the Carlebach yeshuv) I got to know all sorts of young Jewish musicians, some of whom are still active. When I first started playing live, I had the amazing Hayyim Danzig of Blue Fringe as my bassist, and this was at the peak of their popularity - he's on a couple of tracks on my first album! So yes, I think there is a scene in NYC at least, it might need a little watering now, but it's got strong roots!

Teruah: How’s it been juggling the pressures of being a gigging musician while also being an observant Jew? Are your fans aware of this? Has it created any positive or negative expectations you’ve had to deal with?

Nehedar: It's really hard. Really. I think the hardest part for me is that, there is very little opportunity to get bigger using the mainstream networks that are in place (festivals, conferences, events etc) without performing on Friday night. If someone contacts me about performing at their event, that event will usually be on a Friday. I don't really get asked to play at Jewish scene events. I also have limited opportunity to network and support other musicians in the mainstream world (either supporting them onstage or off) because so many important shows are on Shabbat. I end up in a double bind with this situation, I am too religious for the mainstream path, and not religious enough for the Jewish track (also the wrong gender).

Teruah: How about the religious community? Liberal Jews often don’t get the idea of observant Jews who aren’t cloistered inside the ultra-Orthodox / Chassidic world. And that world often doesn’t get how someone could be a Jewish musician who isn’t Torah oriented all the time. And then there are the religious limits including kol isha and sefira to deal with. How do you navigate all this?

Nehedar: Truthfully I don't navigate it well, it's all very awkward. As you can tell I haven't made any kind of peace on this issue. I strive to be good at what I do, and true to what I believe. Kol Isha is bad news. I think it's flat out incorrectly followed and understood. Addressing this is so low on the priorities (or maybe the opposite of the priorities) of anyone with any power in mainstream leadership that I don't think we'll see a change any time soon. I will be writing a guest blog on Jewesses with Attitude this month that addresses this perspective in greater detail. I thank G-d that there are rebbeim like Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Saul Berman and schools like Drisha and Yeshivat Chovovei Torah here in NYC that look at orthodox Judaism with a progressive lens. I was fortunate to attend Yeshiva University and to have been taken in by a wonderful modern orthodox family in 1999. Without them I would have believed the party line and thought that uttering a sentence like "I'm supposed to nullify my own mind to the torah" actually make me sound AWESOME. My Yeshiva University education provided me with some historical context of our culture's development which helps to put it in perspective. One great class with Rabbi Hidary (I forget his first name) in Yeshiva University taught me so much about the 2nd temple period including the development of the babylonian talmud that I wonder, If people were aware that the lifestyle of the Jews in Bavel was closer to modern orthodox than so called "ultra orthodox," how would that change or improve things? People learn Gemara, they don't tend to learn about the culture in Bavel from a historical perspective.

As a musician, I'm permitted to perform on Sefirah, but I won't plan a big event in NYC during sefirah out of respect for my fams (a term lovingly borrowed from NYC band Fifth Nation).

Teruah: Are you FFB (Frum from birth) or bal teshuva (came to Orthodoxy later in life)? I’m guessing the latter, right?

Nehedar: I came from a biracial nuclear family with no culture other than itself. When I chose to be orthodox, it was mainly because I needed the discipline and guidelines. My parents intentionally raised me without any boundaries or any culture to glean from (other than their counter culture). So I'm surprised, when you ask, how my music is Jewishly relevant, how much I want to have a real answer. I want to say that as a student of Jewish mysticism, I infuse my work with mystic concepts, I want to say that since my social identity is orthodox, I write from A Jewish Perspective, or that when, in a song, I am begging for help or for guidance, that I'm addressing a concept of G-d that is informed by Jewish teachings. But I don't know how much that stuff matters. If Jewish people want to see Jewish culture being very very Jewish, with bagels, lox, klezmer, etc. I will never be that because I don't want to be that. If I tried to do that kind of thing it would be false and I don't intend to spread more false messages in the world.

Teruah: I totally get that. The Jewish world is pretty segmented with each segment having its own set of expectations for music or art that is “Jewish.” In the last week I chatted with an Orthodox musician trying to convince him that Jewish music can be more than music that directly praises God (e.g. another interpretation of the Psalms) and talking with some secular “bagel” Jews who love klezmer bands and Israeli pop bands because, since the musicians are Jewish and the music has a cultural connection, the music makes them feel Jewish without asking them to deal with religion. Situating yourself in all of that is tough, not doubt.

Speaking of Jewish community reaction, in our first email you lamented that the Jewish hipsterati pretty much ignore you. I’m sympathetic, the contradictions of your life as a gigging musician and observant Jew peak my interest and should theirs, but I’d also like to challenge you a bit there. Like most Jewish American musicians, but unlike Pharoah’s Daughter or Jake Marmer, you’ve made the perfectly reasonable choice of not having your Jewish identity be central to your music or stage identity. Why should the Jewish hipsters, who are looking for ways to more publicly navigate their own Jewish identity, connect with you? What do you think they’re missing?

Nehedar: When I referenced "Jewish Hipsterrati" I was speaking more to say, Heeb, and the like who will write a long honest musical review of Yael Meyer (her mainstream identity is no more Jewish than mine), for instance, but will approach a review of my music with utter distain. I don't have illusions that I'm as Jewishly relevant as (the uber Jewish artists I enjoy like) Golem or Sarah Aroeste, but if I were to become successful, you know the mainstream Jewish publications would eat up my story with a spoon.

I guess I just wish that more people were like you, intellectually curious, and open to new things. I don't know if anyone's life is missing the presence of Nehedar music. But they won't know unless they check it out for themself and, personally, I have a lot to say and I'm tired of talking to myself!

Teruah: I get that. I’ve lamented a number of times that there are few magazines or websites that are interested in exploring what it means to make Jewish music or to be a Jewish musician regardless of how those things are defined. Since so much of Jewish life is establishing our Jewish identities in a complex secular and religious world, it’s frustrating that most magazines/websites seem to just pick their default definition, fawn on anything within it and marginalize anything outside it.

And I agree...I hope more folks in the Jewish world check out your music.

Before we wrap up, any additional info you’d like me to pass along? Any upcoming gigs we should know about?

Nehedar: Thank you so much Jack! I'm playing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the Circle A Cafe on Sunday July 22 at 9PM. I'll be accompanied by my dad on Saxophone and will be dressed in costume and shooting a music video that night with the audience!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rita's Persian Album

As I've mentioned, I have hard time tracking Israeli music. So I routinely run into musicians that are described as "the most famous" in Israel, only to say...who? That happened again this week when I ran across the music of Rita whom, according to wikipedia, "is an Iranian-born Israeli pop singer and actress, notable for being the most famous female singer in Israel." Typically, I wouldn't bite on this sort of thing. Israeli pop is still pop and I usually don't find it that interesting. But Rita's new album "My Joys" is fascinating and, well, awesome. Like Ofra Haza's wonderful Yemeni music recordings, "My Joys" revisits Rita's native Persian language and the folk music her youth...both in a contemporary pop context. The album wen't gold in Israel and this video shows why....
Shah Doomad (Live From Tel Aviv 2012) - Rita

Rita's toured the US before, but not recently. I hope she comes around again soon.