Thursday, April 26, 2007

The “Socalled” King of Klezmer

Remember my post about the Klezmer Cruise organized by Socalled and his family? It's going to be made into a movie! Aisling Chin-Yee, associate producer for the Quebec Centre of the National Film Board, just left me a comment to tip me off.

Hi! Just to let you know, that the National Film Board of Canada and Beitel/Lazar Productions is making a film on the cruise, and following Josh Dolgin. There will be a daily (or however daily as possible) blog with videos, photos, etc. from the ship, that you can check out at:
Check out their site, it more info on the film production and a video blog. Here's the first entry...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Kol Nidre, music, dancing, buffet

My knowledge of Jewish history is spotty. I was vaguely aware of "Jewish Anarchists" but had never seen anything like this video.

In someways it's pretty straight. A good solid Yiddish protest song. But it also reminds me of "Zog Nit Keyn Mol" the Vilna Partisans song I blogged about two weeks ago. There is a wonderful sense of determined self-empowerment. "Recognize your strength of steel!" It is also interesting that there is no evidence of observant Jews participating in the event. It appears to be strictly secular (or maybe Reform?).

I did some poking around and found a wonderful essay title "Anarchy in Yiddish: Famous Jewish Anarchists from Emma Goldman to Noam Chomsky" by Dr. Jesse Cohn of Purdue University. In it, Dr. Cohn discusses the conflict between observant Jews and Jewish anarchists (though there were some key anarchists who were observant). One of the colorful chapters in the conflict was the Yom Kippur ball's that took place in the 1880's.

In the late 1880s, a group of Jewish anarchists on the Lower East Side organized as a club called “The Pioneers of Freedom,” which “distributed Yiddish parodies of penitential prayers, mocking the traditions of Yom Kippur,” and organized “Yom Kippur Balls held on Kol Nidre night” (Kolel) In 1889, they leafleted to “[invite] Jewish workers to spend Kol Nidre evening at the Clarendon Hall on Thirtieth Street” – causing a “near-riot” when the proprietor, “under political pressure,” tried to call it off. In 1890, in Brooklyn, they threw a “Grand Yom Kippur Ball with theater” on the Day of Atonement (“A Life Apart: The Treyfe Medina”), advertising their celebration as “Arranged with the consent of all new rabbis of Liberty . . . Kol Nidre, music, dancing, buffet; Marseillaise and other hymns.”

Monday, April 23, 2007

Free Hugs in Tel Aviv

Videos first. Then an explanation...

This video made my day. It's earnest, sappy, and futile, and I love them for making it anyway. Somehow I missed it, but the 'Free Hugs' idea surfaced in first in Australia in 2004. A fellow calling himself "Juan Mann" made a 'Free Hugs' sign and got a friend to shoot video of him giving out free hugs in Sydney. The friend, who had a band, made it into a music video and posted it to You Tube. This video became the YouTube video of the year and has been replicated by huggers around the world. Including, as just shown, Israel. You can read more about 'Free Hugs' at Wikepedia.

The musician in the Tel Aviv 'Free Hug's video is Daniel Solomon. According to the YouTube blurb, the song is the title song from the movie "Someone to Run With." You can see the actual music video at Google Video. The musician in the Jaffa video is Hakim, from Egypt.

Hat Tip to Fred Blumenthal for writing to the Shamash Jewish Music Mailing List about this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Hardest Working Ladino Rock Band in the World

Sarah Aroeste: Ladino Rock

My find of the week is the Sarah Aroeste Band. Aroeste's band bills itself as the "the only Ladino rock band in the world." That may stretch the point a bit. Aroeste's first album "A La Una" is a fine outing, but while it may have a some rock instruments it doesn't, well, rock. This isn't a critism. It's just that Aroeste and her band put out such an authentic and engaging Sephardic sound that there isn't much room for American rock. Songs like "Hija Mia" and the lovely lullaby "Durme Durme" are classic Sephardic in style and remind me a lot of Pharoh's Daughter.

As evidenced by her new myspace tracks, her new album "Puertas" may go further in exploring what a fusion of rock and Sephardic can do. Aroeste doesn't have the crazy brilliance of the Uri Caine and Aaron Bensoussan's Zohar: Keter, but her tracks "Los Biblicos" and "Puertas Remix" show strong songwriter starting to let go of convention and looking to see where the Ladino rock hybird can take her. Pretty exciting stuff.

I snagged "A La Una" off of eMusic this week and it's been in heavy rotation. I've only heard the "Puertas" tracks off of her myspace page, though I'll snag the album soon. You can check her out on her home page and myspace page.

Upcoming (and Recent) Events

Sephardic Music Festival May 2007

Sephardic Music Festival
May 1st 2007 - DAVID BROZA
Makor 35 West 67th St. NYC - 8 PM - $35
Legendary Israeli rock star David Broza is a captivating, compelling artist whose unique music truly knows no borders. Critics have described this intense performer as a “post-modern Leonard Cohen.” After performing for hundreds of fans over the past six years at Makor, Broza returns for one last show on this stage before Makor moves downtown.

May 5th 2007 - Balagan Boogaloo with THE SWAY MACHINERY (feat. BRIAN CHASE the YEAH YEAH YEAH's) / SMADAR / DJ SHOTNEZ (Balkan Beat Box) / DJ BALAGAN
MAKOR 67th st. NYC
The Bhangra, Baile Funk, New Mediterranio & Afro Beat Party. A party unlike any other in the city. Village Voice dubbed the Balagan party, “Stereotype-defying music.” and the NY Time Out made it their critic's pick. Come see what all the fuss is about. The SMF Preview edition of the Balgan brings two incredible live sets by The Sway Machinery and Smadar!

May 14th 2007 - PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER CD Release Party
Highline Ballroom - NYC - 7:30pm $25
Price includes new cd, reception at 7:30p.m., and ticket. Highline is new Ballroom by the owners of BBKINGS, in the district where the elevated trains used to pass on the West Side, near Union Square.

May 16th 2007 SARAH AROESTE BAND CD Release Concert
Knitting Factory - 74 Leonard street - NYC - 8 PM / $15 Advance; $18 Door

For more info see the Sephardic Music Festival website.

KlezKanada August 2007 KlezKanada


KlezKanada was founded in 1996 to teach, nurture and present to a broad public the best of Jewish traditional arts and Yiddish/Jewish culture. Arising from the wellsprings of Jewish culture and expertise unique to Montreal and Canada, over the past decade KlezKanada has grown into an event with international resonance and cultural/artistic impact, drawing nearly 500 intergenerational participants from nearly every province of Canada, 25 U.S. states and 12 countries throughout the Americas, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Israel. KlezKanada’s program includes instrumental and vocal music, dance, drama, visual arts and folkcrafts, language, literature, film and other forms of expressive culture. Its goal is to foster Yiddish and Jewish cultural and artistic creativity as both an ethnic heritage and a constantly evolving contemporary culture and identity.

KlezKanada 2007 will be held from Monday, August 20, 2007 starting at 5 p.m. through Sunday, August 26, 2007.

The first 100 years of Sephardic recordings - April 10
"Joel Bresler Entrepreneur and expert on Sephardic Music
The first 100 years of Sephardic recordings: A lecture /demonstration featuring recordings of songs from the 78 rpm era to the iPod era."

Sorry everyone. I meant to post this before Passover and missed. Joel will be launching sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Recent and Upcoming Albums


New Balkan Beat Box album "Nu Med" out on JDUB Records.
Balkan Beat Box releases 'Nu Med'
"BBB's new record, Nu Med is a musical vision of what the Mediterranean would sound like if borders were removed, as BBB makes connections that politics often keep separate. Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, and American are united by hip hop beats and dancehall toasts. BBB's musical hitch-hiking continues as they mix things up with dub and electronics, juxtaposed with ancient Moroccan and Mediterranean melodies. The band?s uncategorizable sound gives equal weight to soulful acoustic timbres and digital rhythms creating a uniquely organic sound with electronic elements. With their fusion of Middle Eastern melodies and Balkan brass-band stomp with hip-hop, reggae, and electro beats, this internationally acclaimed collective is out to prove that the entire world is, indeed, their stage, and that we are all Gypsies."

Balkan Beat Box is one of my favorites and I'm counting the days until "Nu Med" shows up for download on eMusic.

New Crakow Klezmer Band album "Rememberance" out on Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture.

The Crackow Klezmer band releases 'Rememberance'
"The last release by this spectacular ensemble. Formed in 1997, the Cracow Klezmer Band has been a phenomena. Through their spectacular combination of impeccable musicianship, imaginative arrangements and passionate performances they have developed into one of the most successful groups in Radical Jewish Culture. This exciting live CD marks their dissolution after ten years and captures them performing an exciting program of colorful new music and a few of their compositional classics in their home of Warsaw, Poland."

New Transkapela (klezmer – carpathian music) album "Over The Village" available through the Transkapela website.

Transkapela releases 'Over the Village'
"The OVER THE VILLAGE record is the continuation of the musical imagination about the times of Klezmers from the Carpathians. Musicians of TRANSKAPELA, once again reaches to the roots of the Carpathian music, searches once more for the trace of the village klezmers and musicians splendour, who separately and together played on village weddings, religious holidays and festivities.

This time, it is a sort of metaphysical story about the Carpathian village. Village, like in the old days, inhabited by Bukovina highlanders, Hutsuls, Jews, Gypsies, Polish, Romanians, Hungarians and many more from the abundace of the Transcarpathian cultures.

New Rita Glassman album "Journey to Shabbat" available through CD Baby.

Rita Glassman releases 'Journey to Shabbat'
"Rita Glassman is the Cantor of one of the most historical synagogues in the Northwest. She is also a singer/songwriter with four CD recordings. Her "Shema" on the "Sacred World Chants" CD-with Deeva Primal and others has become well known in the World/New Age/Spiritual music audience. Listen to Rita Glassman and the music of "Journey to Shabbat" takes one on a journey to the heart that will want to be repeated again and again. This is the music of the mystics, songs and prayers that transcend time and space. These are contemporary songs for meditation, celebration, inspiration and renewal. An album introducing the joy and peaceful harmony that comes with the Sabbath. A sacred and soulful experience connecting us all to the One who is love and is beyond all."

Zvee Scooler: "Der Grammeister" available through Living Traditions

Zvee Scooler: 'Der Grammeister'
"From the 1930s until his death in 1985, Zvee Scooler (aka “Der Grammeister”) thrilled tens of thousands of WEVD radio listeners with his pithy, exciting and timely verse. Here, reissued for the first time, are six of Scooler’s most memorable performances — plus a Bonus Track — which best exemplify the Golden Age of Yiddish radio."

More info on Zvee Scooler can be found at

Y-Love and Yuri Lane: 7 Songs for Sefira" available through Modular Moods

Y-Love and Yuri Lane: 7 Songs for Sefira
"Y-Love and Yuri Lane. Count it. 7 songs for Sefira. Rhymes and Beat Box. All Accapella!! Y-Love (Yitz Jordan) is an MC unlike any other; he converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2000, and later took on the traditions of Hasidism (the mystical branch of Orthodox Judaism). He is among the most innovative freestylers on the scene, weaving seamless polyglot rhymes in English, Arabic, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Most unique is Y-Love's revival of Aramaic, the language used to discuss Jewish Law and Kabbalah. With each word he spits in the tongue of ancient Babylon, Y-Love breathes new life into hip-hop, one beat at a time."
Listen to tracks from the album at their myspace page.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Unexpected Connections: Passover, Paul Robeson, and The Vilna Partisans

In my last post I talked about "Go Down Moses," the African American spiritual that was drawn from Exodus and has been adopted by American Jewish community as a popular Passover song. This mutual exchange between African American and Jewish cultures has been commented on frequently, and while I'm aware of it I'm often surprised by the details.

I ran into it again just now while I was looking up "Zog Nit Keyn Mol (Never Say)." Zog Nit Keyn Mol was written by Hirsh Glick during the Second World War for the Vilna Partisans, one of the first organized Jewish resistance efforts. (The Partisans story was captured in the 1985 documentary "The Partisans of Vilna", which is available on DVD and will be shown on April 18, 2007 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage)

The Vilna Partisans

Zog Nit Keyn Mol is a song of hope, solidarity, and defiance that spread quickly across Europe and then the world.

Never say that you are going on your last way
Though leaden clouds may be concealing skies of blue
-Because the hour we have hungered for is near;
And our marching steps will thunder: We are here!
Because the hour we have hungered for is near;
And our marching steps will thunder: We are here!

From Zog Nit Keyn Mol by Hirsh Glick, translation by Aaron Kramer "Anthology of Folk Songs," on the web at

Back to Passover. I got interested in looking for recordings/lyrics for Zog Nit Keyn Mol after seeing a reference to it in the Shoshana Silberman's "A Family Haggada", the haggadah we used at my cousins seder. I forget where in the seder the reference was made, but the connection was clear and tightly linked to Silberman's inclusion of "Go Down Moses." The messiah hasn't come and the Exodus story isn't over. In every age, as we struggle (we being the Jews, but also the world as a whole) to overcome our bondage, the seder helps keep our hope fresh and our resolve focused. The hour we've hungered for is near! We are here! Next year in Jerusalem.

It is not surprising then that other communities have discovered and resonated with Zog Nit Keyn Mol. And it's not surprising that one of these communities would be African Americans. Specifically, Paul Robeson, the prominent singer and recorder of African American spiritual and folk songs who's version of "Go Down Moses" helped introduce it to an American Jewish audience, also recorded an amazing version of Zog Nit Keyn Mol. According to Robeson's son, quoted in the 2005 in the Toronto Star and cited on Wikipedia.
"My father learned the words to the song from a Warsaw ghetto survivor on his way to Russia... This concert was broadcast live over radio to seven time zones. Imagine somebody goes to the Soviet Union in the midst of an anti-Jewish campaign and at a concert he tells them about the affinity between blacks and Jews. Dad was sending a message to Stalin."

You can hear a long clip from both Robeson's English and Yiddish versions, as well as versions by Theodore Bikel, Jan Peerce, Adrienne Cooper, and others at

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Go Down Moses

So, I think I put my foot in it at a seder this week. But this will take a bit of explanation...

My dad's a folkie. I grew listening to Pete Seeger, Phil Och and the Kingston Trio. In our extended family, we alternate who leads the seder. Whenever my father leads it, he always pulls out his guitar and leads us in a heartfelt rendition of the African-American spiritual "Go Down, Moses." My father's connection, and mine, to the song is a deep one. The song's connection with the history of slavery in the US helps draw out one of the primary themes of the seder: that the story isn't complete yet. Next year may there be no slaves. Next year may we be in Jerusalem. Next year may the messiah have come. It echoes the Jewish focus on social justice and Tikun Olam (reparing the broken world). And this connection isn't unique to my family. While "Go Down, Moses" is certainly not a traditional passover tune with the pedigree of songs such as Adir Hu, Elyihau Hanavi, or Chad Gadya, it is popular with American Conservative and Reform Jews and has been recorded by Jewish musicians many times (for example, see Alan Eder's recording on the Craig 'n Co "Celebrate Passover" album or the Klezmatics version on "Brother Moses Smote the Water").

But until this week I'd only sung it with family and friends. This week I lead a singing of it at a seder at my cousins house. She had invited some of her friends, two lovely Christian families that were very dear to her and her daughter. Two families of mixed ethnicities.

Until this week it never occurred to me what an African American might think of my adopting (co-opting?) an African American song during a Jewish ritual. And it never occurred to me what an African American might think about my heartfelt comments about how the story of Exodus is not over. And it didn't occur to me until the song was done and I was in the middle of the comments.

And I don't know what they thought. Nobody said anything during the seder or gave me any funny looks. My wife wasn't feeling well so we scrammed pretty quickly after the seder was over. Maybe they took what I said in the spirit it was meant. I hope so. Maybe they took it as some form of condescension or patronization. I hope not. It wasn't meant that way.

Like I said, I guess I put my foot in it.

In case anyone isn't familiar with "Go Down Moses", here's Paul Robeson's version:

Paul Robeson sings Go Down Moses

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Jewish eMusic

I know I've mentioned this before, but my biggest source of Jewish music these days is eMusic. eMusic is an online music store that is subscription based and caters to the independent music crowd. I got turned on to getting Jewish music from eMusic by the SomethingJewish Show's Caroline Westbrook. That's where she gets a lot the music for SJ show.

It really is a gold mine. They have an amazing range of albums from old Folkways field recordings to contemporary klezmer, cantorial, classical and jazz. They have all the Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture recordings and the Reboot Stereophonic recordings. The main thing they don't have is much of the contemporary Chassidic music scene. Not sure why.

I've got a monthly subscription good for downloading about 7 albums for a very reasonable price and am pretty sad when I use them up. Some of the recent recording's I've picked up include Frank London's "Scientist At Work," J.U.F.'s "Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat", David Chevan's "Days of Awe", and Leonard Bernstein's "Symphony No 1 / Concerto for Orchestra." Just to name a few.

I don't normally shill for companies, but there a small handful that are really useful. I think eMusic is one of them. I'm absolutely hooked on the service. Here's a banner with their current deal:

Get 25 FREE MP3s!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Babi Yar Remembered

Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading Babi YarNo monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

So begins the poem Babi Yar, by Yevgeni Yevtushenko, which tells the story of a massacre of Jews in Kiev by the Nazi's but is also the story of Russian pogroms and of callous hate. (You can read the whole text at Part of my family was from the Kiev area. I didn't know this poem, but am glad I do now.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 The Museum of Jewish Heritage commemorated the 65th anniversary of the massacre last September with a concert titled "Babi Yar Remembered: Yevtushenko and Shostakovich in Word and Song." The concert begins with Yevtushenko masterfully reciting the poem. It continues with a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, which was inspired by the poem. It's a stunning performance.

I know because I'm listening to it now (for the third time). The Museum has graciously put the reading and performance up for download on their website. Listen to it. Tonight is Erev Peseach and I've been thinking a lot about freedom and slavery. Babi Yar (the massacre and the poem) are reminders of what we long to be free from

Sunday, April 1, 2007

New Afro-Semitic Experience Live Videos and David Chevan Yiskor Project Recordings

The Afro-Semitic Experience is a jazz combo out of New Haven, CT. George Robinson of the Jewish Week describes them as
"an ensemble dedicated to preserving, promoting and expanding the rich cultural and musical heritage of the Jewish and African diaspora. Imagine a band that understands and can present interpretations of music from traditions as rich as Gospel, Klezmer, Nigunim, Spirituals, and Swing and you have the Afro-Semitic Experience."
While I've got two of their albums and enjoy them a great deal, I often feel that the main players Warren Bryd and David Chevan's strong jazz sensibilities tend to pave over the subtleties of the both the Jewish and non-jazz African idioms. You may be able to hear what I mean in the first video. It's a suite of 4 melodies, "1. Let Us Break bread Together (a traditional spiritual) 2. Sente (an African drum piece that segues into) 3. On Time God (a Gospel tune) 4. Eliyahu HaNavi (souped up version)." I love all sorts of hybrids and experiments, but this jazz arrangement of Eliyahu HaNavi just doesn't work for me.

The second video, "A Song for When the Temple is Rebuilt" or "Sheh Yiboneh Beis HaMikdash", fares better. The rhythm and tone are clearly jazz influenced but still hold a connection to the source material.

David Chevan's Yiskor Project, on the other hand, is wonderful. Chevan' is working on new settings for the Yizkor service.
"Yizkor: Music of Memory and Mourning now has a MySpace address with three complete rehearsal performances of the music. I've put my settings of Psalm 23, Shiviti and the Yizkor for Martyrs on the site. All of the pieces were performed and recorded direct to Stacy Phillips' fancy mp3 recording device in my living room and include myself along with Stacy and Will Bartlett accompanying Cantor Martin Levson. These are rehearsal recordings with lots of mistakes, but you can get a good sense of how these pieces are shaping up and how I am incorporating traditional hazzanut into new pieces of music Here's the URL for my Yizkor Project:
These recordings, to me, point to what can happen when the Jewish musical content is taken as seriously as the jazz. They're only rehearsal tracks, but I've already listened to them a number of times. I can't wait for an album release.