Thursday, July 31, 2008

Six Points Fellowship Recordings (Sway Machinery, Clare Burson, David Griffin, Divhan)

I found another cool Jewish music source this week. The site is called Imeem and claims to be a "social network where millions of fans and artists discover new music, videos, and photos, and share their tastes with friends." One nice feature of Imeem is playlists, user defined song collections. I haven't played around with creating any yet, but I spent a week in the office listing to a variety of different Jewish music themed playlists including this great one featuring musicians from the Six Points Fellowship.

About a year ago I mentioned the Six Points Fellowship when writing about Jeremiah Lockwood's Sway Machinery and David Griffin's Hebrew School, two good musicians and good guys who have gotten some grant funding through the Six Points fellowship. A year later, I'm still waiting patiently. As far as I'm aware, none of the Six Pointers have released the albums that they've been working on. Ah well. I'll tide myself over listening to these tracks. They're the same ones features on the Six Points website, but it's a lot more fun to kick off the playlist and dig back into the telemetry control system design tool I've been working on. (Yes, I consider that fun.) I get a bit of whiplash going from Burson's throaty barstool Americana to Griffan's understated tickity Casio keyboard pop to Lockwood's deep mystical funk to Divahn's whirling, growling, Mizrachi chanting, but it's a good whiplash. It'll have to do until the albums come out.

The Six Points Musicians

Hat Tip to Imeem user Lila Dobs for compiling the playlist.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Teruah - The Israel National Radio Interview

Israel Beat w/ Ben BreskyI was on the radio today! Israel National Radio to be precise. I was interviewed by Ben Bresky for his weekly music show, The Beat. I'm a big fan of the show, so it was great fun to participate. The interview was recorded last Thursday and, I'll admit, I wasn't as prepared as I'd wanted to be. I'd been on the road for work the two days before hand and my concentration was shot. I FORGOT TO TALK ABOUT JEWISH COWBOYS. ARGGH! But I had fun and hopefully it sounded ok. I got to name check some of my favorite groups (sorry if I left you or your favorite out, I didn't have much time). I talked too fast and too much. No big surprise there. Anyway, if you'd like to hear it, you can go to the download it or listen now. My bit starts about halfway through.

Because of the time difference between the US and Israel, I lost track of when it was going to be aired. I actually found out when I got a nice email from a Beat listener who wanted to chat about definitions of Jewish music. I'm a bit skeptical of the value of definitions but between the two of us we came up with "Music that celebrates or recognizes Jewish life or comes from a Jewish artistic impulse." It doesn't say much, but it doesn't remain altogether silent.

One irony of the interview is that it was recorded and aired during the Three Weeks, a traditional period of mourning where frum Jews don't listen to music (and don't have weddings, haircuts...). The result is that Ben opened the show with some poetry readings and didn't play any of the music I had picked out. Timing is everything. As the music tracks and videos I've posted lately demonstrate, I'm neither frum enough or clever enough to be Three Weeks compliant here at Teruah. I'm glad that Ben is and I'm going to steal his idea of showcasing Jewish poetry during next year's Three Weeks. But, no music for me.

Update: Ben emailed with the link to his web page for the show and say that we should "save the mp3 and share it, spread it, etc. The mp3 should last about 6 months." I've already downloaded the mp3 so if you want a copy after it's pulled from the Israel National Radio website, just give me a yell.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ghost of the Robot's "German Jewish"

Ok, this is a new one for me. Following up on yesterday's Shoah rap, here's a pop song that speculates about a romantic affair between an (American?) German and a Jew from the perspective of the German. The song specifically references the Holocaust, not only in setting up a romantic dilemma that would make the Capulates and the Montagues seem like fishing buddies, but in the use specific Holocaust images in the context of the courtship.

Talk about pushing a lot of sensitive buttons all at once.

I'm pretty bugged by the trivializing portrayal of the Holocaust implied by the song. I'm almost as bugged, though, by the power dynamic in the song. The lyric places the German "around [the Jewesses] finger." It's a cliched line that it inverts the historic power dynamic. That doesn't make me feel much better about it. I would have liked the song a whole lot better if it didn't have that undercurrent of power struggle in it.

Maybe I should lighten up, though. I'm a big fan of Say Anything's "Alive with the Glory of Love." Granted, that's a much better written song, with (I think) something profound to say about the human experience. And it uses the love affair to say something about the Holocaust, not the other way around. The song also immediately reminded me of the storied love affair / power dynamic between the Jewish Lou Reed and the German Nico. You can hear their power dynamic, Reed chasing the famously racist and anti-semitic Nico, in Reed's classic song "Pale Blue Eyes."

Am I more comfortable with Alive and Pale Blue Eyes because they were written by Jews? Because they accept the proper power differential? Because they're both just better songs? I'm not sure. But it will have me thinking about it for a while.

By the way, and as a warning, the music in the video clip below is the "German Jewish" song, but the video is a fan montage from the popular TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The clips center around the power-dynamic rich (vampire, vampire slayer) love affair between German looking "Spike" and "Buffy" (who is played by a Jewish actress.) The trivializing continues. sigh. (though, as a note. I liked the show a lot).

Ghost of the Robot

Here's the full lyrics, courtesy of Sing365

I'm German, you're Jewish
How could we ever make it through this?
I've got this problem, that seems to linger
Everytime I find myself around your finger
This would make more sense, in another time
Not in America where we're westernized
But if we were, what would I do
What would I have said to what we've gone through?

War won't stop me, I'm no Nazi
That's why i'd never tell
If you were fighting, surviving hiding
Behind an old bookshelf

I'm German, you're Jewish
How could we ever make it through this?
I've got this problem, that seems to linger
Everytime I find myself around your finger

you've always been above, in some higher class
i'm just a small rockstar, you're an actress
what could i say, to ever prove to you
that there can be a love between a German and a Jew?

War won't stop me, I'm no Nazi
That's why i'd never tell
If you were fighting, surviving hiding
Behind an old bookshelf...

Hat tip to YouTube user Nawayonki for posting the video

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Remedy - Never Again

Yesterday I speculated, tongue firmly in cheek, on how (and whether) Scott Ian of Anthrax's Judaism impacts his music. Today I've got a video from a popular rapper who's connection with Judaism doesn't require much speculation. Remedy is a rapper and an affiliate of the popular hip-hop collective, The Wu-Tang Clan, and runs Code Red Entertainment and the Clan's Killa Bees project. Remedy's rap 'Never Again' picks up on the standard 'never again' response to the Holocaust, personalizing it with details about Remedy's own family members lost. The video below shows Remedy performing at the Ohio State Hillel during the 2007 Ohio Loves Israel summit.

Remedy Performing "Never Again" at OSU Hillel

Hat tip to YouTube user OSUHillel1 (the Ohio State Univiersity Hillel) for posting the video.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

JewsRock.Org - A Challah Fame

Personally, I don't invest much time in speculating on whether Scott Ian of Anthrax's Judaism impacts his music. Unless he says it does, I'm not going to think much about it. But JewsRock.Org is "devoted to illuminating the intersection of rock and roll and Jewish culture. We've heard a lot about what the Jews have contributed to science, literature, the fine arts--all the high brow stuff. Well, we're going low." Cataloging and speculating on Ian's Judaism is exactly the sort of thing that keeps JewsRock up at night. According to their website, here's how it all began...
"Do you remember the anthrax-in-the-mail panic of 2001? At the time, David Segal, who was then the pop music critic of The Washington Post, was without an angle on the most important news story of the week. He had just one idea: Call the legendary speed-metal band Anthrax and ask if the group was thinking of changing its suddenly infamous name. He wound up on a cell phone with Scott Ian, the lead guitarist, who fired off one quip after another about his groupメs new predicament. Ian said that friends had been joking about how funny it would be if he were to die from anthrax poisoning, prompting him to start taking Cipro, the anthrax antibiotic. Why?

"I have vowed that I will not die an ironic death," he deadpanned on the phone.

The story ran in the paper, and Segal soon got a call from his friend, Jeffrey Goldberg, who was, at the time, the Middle East correspondent of The New Yorker. Goldberg told him he loved the quote from Ian. "I bet that guy is Jewish," Goldberg said. Segal asked why. It was that peculiar combination of irony and hypochondria in Ianメs answer, Goldberg said, that offered the best clue. A little digging, and Goldberg and Segal found out, of course, that it was true: Scott Ian is a member of the tribe."
The article lead to a website devoted to, well, cataloging and speculating. And if you're the sort of person that grooves on knowing that Paula Abdul is of Syrian Jewish descent, that David Lee Roth is dedicated to overturning Jewish stereotypes, that you can read a d'var Torah based on Steely Dan's "Any Major Dude", or that "[m]any of Judaism's most dearly held traditions are also prevalent in indie rock" than this is the place for you.

In honor of JewsRock.Org's connection with Scott Ian, here's a live concert video of Anthrax covering Joe Jackson's "Got The Time." Great track. I could say that the obsessive urban work driven alienation of the song comments on Jewish cultural tendency toward knowledge- and work-based forms of identity development. But if I did, I'd be speculating.

Hat tip to YouTube user Thraxfan54 for posting the video.

Friday, July 25, 2008

East Rock Klezmer - live at the Shoreline Jewish Festival & the Cowboy Song

Sorry folks, it's been a slow week in Teruah land. I was traveling for work and didn't have much time for blogging. On the bright side, I was interviewed by Benyamin Bresky of Israel National Radio's "The Beat" program. There were about a dozen things I wanted to talk about and actually managed to remember two of them once the interview started. Hopefully I won't sound like an idiot. Ah well. It is supposed to air this coming Tuesday. I'll let everyone know when the interview is posted to their website.

Anyway, back to the music. Today's video is of the 'East Rock Klezmer' band playing at the Shoreline Jewish Festival. The video really caught my attention, both because of the musicianship and the instrumentation. Great stuff. Nothing like a low solid bass drum line as an anchor for the otherwise swirlytwirly violin, clarinet and accordion. Very well done.

I'm also partial to this video because the East Rock gang are from my home state of Connecticut and were on my short list of bands to hire for my brother's post-wedding wedding reception. (For a variety of reasons we hired Arnie Davidson who did a fabulous job.) This video is the third of three that East Rock posted to YouTube recently. Why did am I posting video 3? They're all great but I loved the moment, about half way through the video, where someone came up to the videographer and asked if he was with the press or just some random guy filming the show. A question now caught on tape forever.

East Rock Klezmer part 3 @ Shoreline Jewish Festival

If you enjoyed this video, YouTube has video 1 and video 2 to for your viewing pleasure.

I also have to point out that the East Rock Klezmer band is near and dear to my heard for recording a "Cowboy Song." As regular readers know, I have thing for Jewish Cowboys.

Cowboy Song (Live at the KlezKabaret 2007)

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Robot Friend - Walking Jewish

"there's just something 'bout a man with a talis bag..."

I've mentioned a number of times the absence of a Jewish presence on the radio. Growing up I'd hear all sorts of songs making reference to Christian religion and culture. Sometimes it was pretty explicit, e.g. Christmas songs, but often it more subtle, with lyrics spun from Christian Bible imagery or religious practice. (For some reason U2's 'One' and Tori Amos 'Crucify' jump to mind, but there are zillions). There are lots of Jews in music, where are the Jewish references? Something a little less alienating please? Anyone? Hello? (Thank you Leonard Cohen. Anyone else?)

So I'm pleased and delighted every time I hear a band let their (take their?) Jewish identity out on the public airwaves (or wires). Today I'm particularly delighted with "Walking Jewish" by the band My Robot Friend. Walking Jewish is as raunchy, rebellious, and in your face as it gets. The kind of thing that makes you jam your speakers against your dorm room wall, spin the volume to 11 and drive your neighbors out into the snow*. It's that gleefully obnoxious. The song lyrics are defiantly gay and Jewish at the same time.

"When I turned 13 the cantor took me by the hand. "Forget your Bar Mitzvah, kid, I'll make you a man."
....I may not have the foreskin, by you know I have the balls.

The singer is making a point. I'm here. I'm gay. I'm Jewish. I'm not going away. And the singer is making fun of himself too. C'mon, not only Catholics can have sex scandals. I'm a walking sex scandal. Rock and roll, even squawky, sample heavy, rock, is at it's best in songs like this. Dumb, loud, true to itself, unapologetic, brilliant. Whew. Play it again.

* umm. Don't ask about that one. It was justified. Really.

Hat tip to the ActioNext website for the music player.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Polish Chazzanut

Definitely my week for cantorial music. Shira, of the Shira bat Sarah blog just left me a comment on my post "Cantor Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke To God" pointing me (and us) to this wonderful cantorial performance. This is my favorite kind of chazzanut. Heavy on traditional nusach, light (or absent) operatic embellishments. Thanks Shira!
(From the YouTube notes) "This special piece of amazing "chazanut" was taken in an old & beautiful synagogue in Poland in a small village by the name "tiktin" the cantor is mr' Zvi Slonim - 7th generation to the old Rabbi of Lubbavivh the "Ba'al-Hatania"
Tzur Israel - Zvi Slonim

Hat tip to YouTube user noamlm for posting the video.

Shalom Aleichem on ancient temple lyre

Shabbat shalom everyone,

To help get us in the mood, here's Michael Levy (aka Klezfiddle1) playing Shalom Aleichem on ancient temple lyre. I first showcased on of Michael's videos (Yigdal) back in December. He wrote to me recently to let me know that he has a new album coming out soon, so if you like what you hear you should swing by his myspace page for more details.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nproject - 1/Berechit - It's more than an album, it's an overriding urge...

NProject 1/Berechit album coverI've got a new toy...Deezer. Deezer is a French music on demand service that, as you'd expect, has great coverage of the European scene. One interesting disc I ran across today is Nproject - 1/Berechit from Geneva, Switzerland. The disc has a variety of Jewish standards, mostly prayers and zemirot, done in a jazzy electronica style. The concept isn't exactly new, this territory has been mined in the past by Wally Brill's "Covenant", "Forgiveness: Traditional Jewish Prayers With Contemporary Electronic Music", and Gershon Kingsley's "God is a Moog" and a variety of others. But the style of jazzy downtempo that presented here works. Maybe not A list, but solid. they said, it's more than an album. It's an overriding urge.
"NProject is more than an album, it’s an overriding urge to compose a collection of albums intended to build a musical link between men. The aim is to ask artists of all ages, from all different sorts of backgrounds, believers, atheists or agnostics, brought up in every kind of religion and tradition, to get together and merge their talents to create from traditional songs and prayers a sound that exceeds the individual and reaches out to the universe. Title after title, the collection will offer a trip round the world, visiting different cultures and questioning accepted ideas. The first album in the collection, Berechit (at the beginning), reexamines traditional Jewish prayers and songs, drawing up from the roots the juice that will revitalise the tree. Featuring singers and musicians of all ages – the youngest is only 10 and the oldest over 70 – and from all religious faiths. A soothing album, “Hebrew voices against a rich background of soaring electronic sounds and haunting jazz. From under the crushing millstone of the great religions, a breath of sweet air seeps out.” Gabriel Catagnier, Edelweiss, May 2008"
So of course, I have to grump here. (I feel like I've been doing a lot of grumping lately) While Mr. Catagnier, a reviewer, thought it was clever to be insulting to Judaism at the same time he waxes poetic about the merits of the "Hebrew voices", I can't imagine why the publishers of the disc thought it was clever to quote him. I guess you can only "visit different cultures" if you also "question accepted ideas" loudly and rudely. Whatever. But check the disc out. It's a good listen.

You can get more info about NProject through the albums Myspace page and record label webpage.

Heeb goes Jewish music bashing

As folks may know from my prior post "Diamond Days, or When Is a Jewish music fest not a Jewish music fest" I'm not so keen on Heeb magazine or the Diamond Days music fest. In my post I expressed my frustration with Heeb for sponsoring a fine, but completely non-Jewish music fest. While writing the blog post I exchanged email with Heeb editor and Diamond Days organizer Jay Diamond. Jay made it clear that he has great intentions for the fest, but that having it relate to anything Jewish wasn't one of them. Jewish magazine. Music fest with no Jewish music. Go figure.

I think that Heeb must be feeling a bit of heat about this. (The JewishSF also took them to task, as did Ari's KlezmerShack blog.) This week, though, in an interview in the San Francisco Bay Guardian Heeb magazine publisher Josh Neuman added more fuel to the fire. He said, and I quote,
"First of all, our goal isn't to showcase Jewish musicians (we couldn't care less if the musicians are “Jewish”) or "Jewish music" (a murky moniker that generally signifies some sort of backwards gaze at a mythical, "authentic" past). Like the magazine, the goal of the fest is to showcase emerging talent for an audience that identifies at some level as being Jewish."
Sigh. All of us who identify with being Jewish and do want to showcase Jewish musicians and Jewish music are looking backwards for mythical authenticity. Hmm. I like it. Maybe I should make a bumpersticker that says that. Any way, I'm a bit furious and my opinion of Heeb has dropped yet again. I posted a bit of a peeved reply to this comment on the SF Guardian website. You should too.

Here's what I said...
"Heeb repeatedly demonstrates that it is pretty clueless when it comes to Jewish culture outside of a narrow set of tired shticks. When Neuman comments that "Jewish music" is "a murky moniker that generally signifies some sort of backwards gaze at a mythical, "authentic" past)" he's demonstrating that he has no idea what's going on in the Jewish music scene. Jewish music has never been so forward looking as it is now, there are artists all over the country (and the world) exploring what Jewish music can become. Some of these artists draw on historic musical influences, some don't. Some draw heavily on contemporary music genres ranging including rock, hip-hop, jazz, country, chamber music and more. Some don't. Some are anchored in liturgical music and prayer, some are outspoken activists, many are great entertainers, no more, no less. The point is that they are, with no more lofty goal than making great music, creating a new American Jewish culture that is as vibrant as anything that has come before. But Heeb hasn't noticed and isn't interested. In Heeb's world being Jewish is nothing more than wearing a hip "tribe" t-shirt while laughing at your grandparents. Who's looking backwards?"
ok. off the soap box. stay tuned for some forward looking blog posts. I've got a ton lined up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Traditional tradition vs happy clappy music. Or something like that.

My week for looking at and listening to cantors continues. (Check my previous posts on Cantors Leib Glantz and Erik Contzius.) I was just catching up on the JewSchool blog when I caught a set of posts about cantorial music. Go figure. Zeitgeist. Its in the air. Something like that.

It seems that the New Jersey Jewish News published an article on the state of cantorial music which first got a quick comment on JewSchool, which then got a long thoughtful essay on JewSchool. I'm going to briefly (BRIEFLY!) summarize the call and response here and add one or two of my own thoughts, but I mainly want to provide the links to the articles.

Ok. Here are the money quotes from each article

NJJN article "Sing to the Lord a new song" by Johanna Ginsberg :
  • "As congregations seek to engage more unaffiliated Jews, many see music as the key. But to the chagrin of some cantors, the lure is not traditional liturgical music but more contemporary American styles and melodies — sometimes derisively referred to as “happy clappy” music."
  • "The problem cantors are facing is actually twofold: traditional chanting styles being supplanted by the sounds of contemporary American music, and cantorial solos giving way to congregational participation. “This is the issue confronting the Conservative movement right now,” said Cantor Henry Rosenblum, dean of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “In the last 20 years, there has been an anticlerical move. You see this in the increase in the minyanim with no cantors and no rabbis. People say, ‘As long as we have tunes we can sing, we’ll be fine,’” Rosenblum said."
  • Musical outreach poses a dilemma, she said. If contemporary music does indeed get “more people in the door,” is that worth “raising a generation of people ignorant of the depth of the traditional service?” asked [Cantor Erica Lippitz of Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange]. Her biggest concern, she said, is the “profound illiteracy of the American-Jewish community.”
The argument here is that we've moved away from operatic cantors because we're all anti-clerical and illiterate. The article also notes
  • Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion “Jack” Mendelson of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY (and the subject of the 2004 documentary film A Cantor’s Tale), thinks so. At the Conservative movement’s Cantors Assembly convention — held this month at the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson, NY — he led a session designed to show how to fuse the new and the old.
  • Cantors aren’t adapting alone; the educational institutions behind them are also changing. As Rosenblum said, “Today, we have to teach students to be as eclectic as possible. They must do Carlebach, Debbie Friedman, Joe Black, and Craig Taubman —you have to make it all part of their repertoire. If it were all traditional hazanut, we’d lose people. Those who find a niche are the ones who say, ‘I’m flexible. You want vanilla today? I’ve got the best vanilla around.’”

So, cantors need to adapt, but adapting means being "vanilla."

JewSchool post #1 "Can you marry Yossele Rosenblatt and Debbie Friedman?" by Reb Yudel.
  • This is pretty much old news, but one interesting tidbit describes the efforts of Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion “Jack” Mendelson of Temple Israel Center in White
    Plains, NY (and the subject of the 2004 documentary film A Cantor’s Tale) to merge the old and the new
  • As a community, we at Jewschool are more likely to daven to Automatic For the People than to old-style nusach. Or are we? Surely there’s something worth rediscovering and renewing in the traditional melodies, isn’t there?
Reb Yudal main contribution was noting that there are attempts find hybrids and that we shouldn't loose the traditional melodies, even as we're drawn to new forms of liturgy. (By the way, he gets hero points from me for pointing me to someone who actually composed a Shabbat liturgy around one of my favorite albums. I don't know that I'd want to do it every Friday, but it makes me happy to know someone tried.

Ok, finally,

JewSchool Post #2. "Traditional Traditions" by BZ.
  • The problem with the article, as I see it, is that even though it appears to present two views/values in tension, it presents them within a single frame, and accepts this frame (promoted by the cantorial profession) uncritically. The frame goes something like this: the ideal form of Jewish congregational prayer includes cantorial music, in a cantorial style, led by cantors. If all of us were wise and all of us were learned in Torah, then all of us would prefer this style of prayer. But because the present generation is so removed from Judaism and Jewish tradition, they prefer different styles (God have pity on their souls - they don’t know any better). And therefore, out of self-preservation, it’s sometimes necessary to adapt. But this adaptation is a necessary evil, it’s a concession to harsh reality, it’s bedi’avad, it’s kiruv for the tinokot shenishbu, it’s eit la’asot lashem, it’s “engag[ing] more unaffiliated Jews”, it’s marketing to get “more people in the door”. So the tension described in the article is between how much you stand up for the ideals and how much you adapt to our less-than-ideal world.
  • But this frame simply isn’t accurate. There are Jewishly educated and Jewishly uneducated people who prefer a cantorial style in their prayer, and there are Jewishly educated and Jewishly uneducated people who prefer a non-cantorial style in their prayer. And I’m not just saying that the way I would say that there are educated and uneducated Reform Jews and educated and uneducated Orthodox Jews (which is 100% true, but everyone knows which way the correlation goes). In the case at hand, the preferences cut perpendicular to denominational lines, and there isn’t even a conventional-wisdom stereotype (let alone more solid data) about which preference is correlated with more education. I don’t know whether there’s a correlation one way or the other, but the article presents no evidence that there is, beyond cantors’ assertions.
Ok. Just go read BZ's post. There is too much good stuff for me to quote it all or summarize it well. The point, this is way more complicated than wise cantor, illiterate community.

I started writing a thoughtful response to all this and realized I'm late for work. rats. I do have a couple of thoughts and will try to write them up later. They all sum up to the idea that communities change for good reasons and traditions die for good reasons. Blaming people for being "anticlearical" and "illiterate" with out looking at the why these changes happened is pointless.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Learning David Melech Yisrael at camp

My two little ones are having the time of their lives right now. They're in their second of three weeks at the local Chabad sponsored Camp Gan Israel. I'll spare you all a recital of all the 'cute moments' so far and just say I highly recommend the CGI experience.

Ok. I won't totally spare you. My wife and I have been cracking up watching the two little campsters yodeling David Melech Yisrael, complete with spastic hand movements. They love the song and are immensely proud of themselves about mastering the choreography. And, of course, my elder wiggler, my little scholar, asked me what the words mean. So here I am, 11:00 at night, with my wife already snoozing beside me, doing my homework. Because, of course, having learned the song myself 30 years ago in no way qualified me to answer the question. I mean, it's about David the King of Israel, right? Do I get partial credit for being able to figure that out? No? rats.

Ok. The lyrics of the song are "David melech Yisrael chai vekayam" (David (is) king of Israel living and existing) with a few alternating "abba/emma" (father, mother) and "cain / lo" (yes / no). So what's going on here? Where does this phrase come from?

Here's the answer, courtesy of Rabbi Yossi Marcus of
"What it means is that the kingdom of David is forever, even if it takes a break from time to time. For G-d promised that kingship would always belong to David. His kingship is compared to the moon, which waxes and wanes. So too David’s kingdom disappears for a time, but G-d promises that it will once again be reborn like the moon is reborn each month. (That’s why we say this phrase each month when we sanctify the new moon.)

The phrase has come to express the idea that the Jewish people are alive and enduring despite our historic ups and downs and that we will ultimately triumph. It has become synonymous with the motto of “am Yisrael chai (the nation of Israel lives!)”

And its got a catchy tune and great hand gestures. Here's Camp Katan in Chico showing us all how its done. Note: these aren't my kids. But they're pretty darn cute anyway.

camp Katan day 9-David Melech

Hat tip to YouTube user harveyr for posting the video and to Rabbi Marcus for the explanation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jewish Air Guitar

Michael 'Crobar' CrolandDigression number 1. I find Google a reassuring place. I always have this moment of self-doubt when I enter a new query and hit go. Am I ridiculous for asking this question? And then, 0.38 seconds later (precisely. Google is emphatic about it's timing) I find that an answer is out there. I may be inquisitive, a dilettante with the momentary interest, but somewhere out there is someone with a passion waiting to be admired. Even for "Jewish Air Guitar." Really.

Digression number 2. I will now admit, in public, a dark secret that I've kept to myself for years. I'd say that even my wife doesn't know, other than a) she claims she knows all my secrets and b) nothing I could tell her at this point would surprise her enough to disavow a). It's true. I used to air guitar myself. More accurately, I lip-synched. During high school (a long long time ago) I would take to the talent-show stage pretending to be Tom Lehrer, Weird Al Yankovic, or Dan Aykroyd (a la Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers). And I was good. Really good.

The Struggle of a Jewish Air Guitarist. Which all brings me to today's post. Earlier this week, as I'm sure you've gathered by now, I punched the phrase "Jewish Air Guitar" into Google and was rewarded with links to the blog of Jewish Air Guitarist Michael "Crobar" Croland. Crobar has played at regional competitions affiliated with the U.S. Air Guitar Championships, been mentioned in the book "To Air is Human," was interviewed for the film Air Guitar Nation (though his clip wasn't included in the released film). And he's Jewish, has air guitared to Jewish music (Yidcore's cover of "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav") and has written some great posts in his own blog about the struggles of being a Jewish air guitarist.
Why is it such a struggle to be a Jewish air guitarist? My hero, To Air Is Human author Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane, is a Jewish air guitarist. 2006's Los Angeles air guitar champion is a Schwartz, so he's probably a member of the tribe. But have Crane or Schwartz ever had this identity struggle?

I thought about wearing a yarmulke and performing to Jewdriver's "Manischewitz" last night, but I doubt that would have gone over well with the crowd. When I paraded around like Santa Claus at an air guitar contest in May and paused before telling a Jewess that I was Jewish, clearly my Jewish and air guitarist identities were in conflict. I also felt conflicted when I heard the Holocaust-glorifying lyrics of the song picked for that competition's air-off. Why do I have to pick and choose between Jewish events and air guitar competitions? If I plan a big vacation in the not-too-distant future, should I visit Finland (the homeland of air guitar) or Israel (the homeland of the Jewish people)? And why was the Oyhoo Festival (aka the New York Jewish Music & Heritage Festival and Sidney Krum Conference) so adamant about not letting me ("one of the world's leading Jewish air guitarists") perform? These are tough questions that are perhaps best suited for rabbis.
In a personal correspondence, Michael reinforced that "Judaism plays a major role in my life. That might not be obvious when I'm air guitaring, but Judaism is always part of the picture somehow, at least in my mind." Personally, I'm thrilled to see it. As more and more musical groups are integrating their Jewish identity into their performance identity, it's only right that this attitude should make it's way to the air guitar community as well. So Oyhoo, consider this a protest vote. Crobar in 2009! Have a whole Jewish Air Guitar contest as part of the fest. Maybe I'll even dust of my air microphone and join in. Tom Lehrer's "Who's Next" anyone?

"So Israel's getting tense,
Wants one in self defense.
"The Lord's our shepherd," says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb!
Who's next?"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cantor Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke To God

Book Cover of 'The Man Who Spoke to God'"In theory, the cantor improves and beautifies the prayer service, organizes the service, raises it to a level of Hit’la’ha’vut (enthusiasm), and to an enlightened musical level. Therefore, an analysis of cantorial must begin with the personal human attributes of the cantor."

This is my week for cantors. First, I reviewed Cantor Erik Contzius album. And now I run across the new book "Cantor Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke To God" by Jerry Glantz, the son of Cantor Glantz. The quote above is the start of Cantor Glantz essay titled "The Essence of Cha'za'nut." The essay, an apt inclusion in a book that is as much a personal biography as a collection of work, is one of many reprinted in the book. The book is accompanied by two CDs with 30 recordings of Cantor Glantz. I don't have the book yet, but it's now on my wish list.

Here are a couple of samples. I enjoyed listening to them and then going back to listen to Cantor Contzius samples in my previous post. It's a wonderful contrast. Where Contzius comes out of the Reform cantorial tradition, with pipe organ and full choir, and sings with an inclusive warmth. Cantor Glantz comes from the Orthodox operatic cantorial tradition, where the cantor packed 'em in the pews acting as rock-star showman and humble servant in equal measures. The difference in the vocal styles is striking. Go back and listen to Cantor Contzius for a minute or two and then listen to these two recordings of Cantor Glantz.

She'ma Yis'ra'el - Hear O Israel!

Le'chu Ne'ra'ne'na - Let Us Sing to the Lord

Great stuff, and such a difference in style.

For more info on the book including more essay and musical samples, check out "The Man Who Spoke To God" website. Here's the rest of the "The Essence of Cha'za'nut." essay sample.

"Cha’za’nut is not just a musical profession. It is not just a trade. It is wisdom (Choch’ma). Wisdom in all its aspects: Wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The integral mission assigned to the cantor consists of demands that are not necessarily musical. A cantor is undoubtedly a singer. However, a singer is definitely not a cantor, even when he performs cantorial in a synagogue. A classical soloist, highly respected by great conductors, can be a wonderful soloist, but he is not a cantor. The greatest Italian opera singer, in order to excel, is not required to be knowledgeable about the Italian people, their history, their customs and their culture. The cantor, on the other hand, must be a complete Jew in spirit and soul. He must be a scholar of Jewish history, ancient Jewish literature, the written and oral To’rah, the Ha’la’cha (interpretation of the laws of the Scriptures) and the Mid’ra’shim (Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures). He must be familiar with the literature of the middle ages including its Pay’ta’nim (poets) and Pi’yu’tim (liturgical poems). He should be familiar with modern Hebrew literature. This Jewish consciousness is the primary basis for the wisdom of Cha’za’nut, and serves as the principle attribute of the cantor’s mission.

A second attribute, one that is no less important, is the cantor’s standard of morality. Many singers and artists conduct their lives in what is often called “bohemian” lifestyle. They frequently indulge in alcohol and unrestrained social behavior. This kind of lifestyle does not disqualify the secular artist. Cantors, as leaders of their communities, are measured according to their morality. Their behavior must be a model for the public. A cantor is not just another member of the community, but an example of which to follow. His singing must originate from holiness and purity.

A third important aspect of the Cha’zan is his credo (A’ni Ma’a’min). He must be loyal to his people and to their holy values. His religious faith must be unabridged, as he must believe in the words he is uttering, as he is required to be an interpreter of those texts.

Excerpt from: The Essence of Cha’za’nut, by Leib Glantz, 1958."

Amen to that.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Teruah learns a new word: Kumzitz!

My knowledge of Yiddish is woefully inadequate, so I'm delighted whenever I learn a new word or phrase. Today's is Kumzitz, which according to the Urban Dictionary meaning "a happening of epic proportions." Here's the sentence in which I saw the word used... "My friend Yacov ---- is giving a kumzitz in his apartment this Motzai shabbat in Washington Heights." How great a word is that? In honor of Yacov, his kumzitz, and Shabbat here's a video of another kumzitz that will get us all in the Shabbat spirit. This one was held at the Carlebach Shul back in February and features, I think, Chassidic vocalist Yehuda Green.

Carlebach Shul Kumzitz 02-7-08b

It's interesting, by the way, that I had to look up the word kumzitz in the Urban Dictionary and not an online Yiddish dictionary. Fortunately, Bashalon, the Hebrew Language Detective, can explain.
"It is very common around the Lag B'Omer bonfire to have a sing-along called a kumzits (also spelled kumzitz or kumsitz). As this article describes, kumzits is an unusual word. On the one hand, it is widely known that the origin is from Yiddish for "come [and] sit". However, the word does not appear in Yiddish dictionaries. Why is that?

It turns out that kumzits is a Yiddish word that exists only in Hebrew. It was adopted by the early pioneers in Israel, despite the establishments opposition to use of Yiddish words. Hebrew replacements were suggested such as shevna שבנא - "please sit" and the Talmudic tozig טוזיג. But nothing ever managed to displace kumzits from its place beside the fire."
Hat tip to YouTube user HolyBrotha for posting a video of a kumzitz (and lots more) and to Balashon for explaining the history of the word. Balashon is a good read, check it out. Finally, just to be honest. I can' read the article that Balashon references. My Hebrew isn't nearly that good. But he linked to it and so I did to. Ignorant in public, that's me!

A Jumping Night at the Garden of Eden

Can you tell I'm staying up late in another hotel cruising YouTube instead of going to bed? Anyway, here's another must see video...

"A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden was the first film to document the klezmer revival, tracing the efforts of two founding groups, Kapelye and Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band, to recover the lost history of klezmer music. A Michal Goldman film"

A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden

This YouTube video is only a short clip of the film. You can watch a longer version (26 minutes) on the FolkStreams website or order a copy of the full thing through First Run Films.

Hat Tip to YouTube user Folkstreamer for posting the video.
"Folkstreamer" is the youtube channel for previews from --- A National Preserve of Documentary Films about American Roots Cultures streamed with essays about the traditions and filmmaking. The site includes transcriptions, study and teaching guides, suggested readings, and links to related websites. We are a group of people who are passionate about documentary films about folklife and roots culture centered around a website streaming documentary films on American folklife. Credit most of our Youtube previews to Zach Nicholls, a student at Highland School in Warrenton, VA "

Teihu rocks out with "Twisted"

Ok, the sound quality of this video is terrible. But I couldn't resist a shout out to my boys from Pittsburgh. I thoroughly enjoyed watching/listening to Teihu get their Jewish heavy metal on during this battle of the bands performance of their song "Twisted." For more on Teihu see my previous post, check out their website or their MySpace page.

Teihu - Twisted

New Soulico Mixtape: Archeology- A Deep Dig Into Israeli Grooves

Soulico Mixtape PosterTalk about retro fabulous. I've got visions of yalmakas pinned onto grooving Jewfros and that sure is a beautiful thing. JDub Records and Soulico, the Israeli hip hop group, have just released a mixtape called Archeology: A Deep Dig Into Israeli Grooves. According to JDub....
"It's an hour full of Hasidic Disco, Spirutal Soul, Yamanite Funk, Turkish Acid Rock, Arabic Jazz & much more, all recorded & released in Israel by local musicians & artists in the 70's and early 80's. 95% of the tunes were never reissued on CD and were fairly obscure even when they originally came out. This is the result of a decade of digging in Tel-Aviv's record shops & Flea markets..

Download the Mixtape for FREE - DOWNLOAD"
Download the file now while it's available and get ready for some serious boogie.

Hat tip to the BlogInDm for letting me know about it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jewish Roots Music

Jewish Roots Music album coverchang chang bump-changity chang, di di di, chang chang bump-changity chang, di di di chang chang bump! It doesn't take much. The strumming of simple low rhythm (chang chang) under the soft keening of tight high melody (di di di). Sitting with my back against a brick wall with my headphones on, looking up with an easy vertigo as clouds extrude from the building top. chang! A whole world in a chord.

Recently I wrote about Wolf Krakowski and the idea of a music that swaps Yiddish folk melodies with blues and country licks to create something uniquely American and Jewish. I've been listening to another album that is helping to map out the possibilities of this music. Jewish Roots Music, Tzvi Gluckin, calls it. A name for an album and for a genre. This album doesn't have the crazy brilliance of Wolf's albums or the technical sophistication of Tim Sparks, but the warm dialogue between Tzvi's guitar and Jared Sims clarinet is gentle and strong. And they remind us that the possibilities for this music are endless.

Alei Asor


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Image USA - Sephardic Community Radio (And Subliminal gedenk's, do you?)

Image USA logo I got a nice email today from the folks over at Image USA, a website for the "Sephardic community online." It seems like a nice website, with articles, community calendars, video and photo galleries and community targeted advertisements. And, best of all, they have their own internet radio station. I'm looking forward to listening in. Here's how they describe themselves...
"Image Magazine has a twenty-year history of serving the Sephardic Jewish Community. Our website,, is helping people continue to connect and enjoy the centuries' old traditions that are so dear to all of us. We have recently made our entire magazine available on our site in pdf form."


As an added bonus, here's one of the video's that Image USA links to.

God Almighty When Will It End? Subliminal & Miri Ben-Ari

Here's a section of the (long) video description..
"This song is dedicated to the Jewish Holocaust and is part of the Gedenk movement. The Gedenk Movement (Remember!) A humanitarian campaign to raise youth awareness about genocide through art and education. Gedenk is a word that means "remember" in Yiddish. Gedenk is a movement established in 2006 as a humanitarian campaign that promotes youth education about anti-Semitism and the Jewish Holocaust.

Gedenk will use commercial outlets, i.e. music, dance, billboards and celebrities, to communicate its message and make the Jewish Holocaust relevant to today's youth. Those that do not speak up are as guilty as the criminals themselves!"
For more info on the Gedenk Movement, visit their website GedenkMovement.Org. For more info on the Israeli rapper Subliminal, see his Wikipedia page. For more info on the Grammy winning Israeli violinist, Miri Ben-Ari, see her website and her Wikipedia page.

Erik Contzius - New Cantorial Music in the German Reform Style

There are other histories out there, if we know how to listen for them. Other musics that remind us of how complicated, and interesting, our trip has been and how brutally the 20th century disrupted that trip. But these histories are starting to reassert themselves. We all know about the klezmer revival, and I've written many times about reassertion of Sephardic musical culture in west, the explosion in Jewish popular and art musics, and the rise of the songleader folk pop-liturgy. Guess what..chazzanut, that great voice on the pulpit, still has it's champions and they're creating a new generation of liturgy work that is vital and compelling. And they're reconnecting current chazznut with historic traditions that have all but faded from memory in America.

Erik Contzius has a new recording, Teach My Lips a Blessing, of cantorial music in the German Reform tradition. For someone growing up in a mid-20th century Conservative American synagogue, it sounds like it could be from the moon. Shabbat prayers sung over pipe organ, backed by a large mixed choir? It's a distinctive soundscape that violates Orthodox and Conservative halacha (use of instruments on the Shabbat) and my sense of history (the role of the cantor fading as community prayer practice has become communal and participatory). But that sound!

Contzius has done something magical. This isn't the mighty voiced lion of a cantor praising and supplicating as the voice of his community. It's also not a call and response prayer leader. It's something different. Contzius has a strong clear voice, without the operatic theatrics I've heard in many cantors and cantorial recordings (If anything, his voice tends toward Broadway a bit too much at points. ) It's warm and inviting, and with the choir and organ behind him feels like he's singing both for and with the community at the same time. This is a very different sensibility than a songleader grabbing a guitar to lead a hundred congregants through an out of tune Shalom Rav. (which is a wonderful thing, too). There is a sense of leadership here, Contzius reaching out through his voice, showing us the way, and bringing us along. I don't feel the urge to sing when listening to Contzius, but I feel that his singing includes me already. While I love communal singing, there is a power to this way too.

Amazon has graciously provided us with a chance to hear some clips of Contzius recording. In particular listen to V'Shamru. I've relistened to it about a dozen times. (I get to cheat. Contzius sent me the album so I get to hear the full recording). It soars, but never so high that it leaves the choir voices behind. And that's pretty special and may help breath new life into chazzanut.

You can hear more Contzius compositions, learn more about his approach, and purchase this recording via his website or download the tracks through the Amazon player.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Teapacks - Israeli Afrobeat Jewish Punk

The TeapacksI've been feeling a bit stodgy lately. I've been blogging about a lot of great Jewish music, but a lot of it has been serious, or at least, meaningful stuff. I've had a long week and serious stuff is not what I need right now. I need to get back to basics (my basics, at any rate). I need some music that's big, crazy, cranky, and full of life.

(My 3 year old daughter just ran through the room singing "This is not what I want, this is NOT WHAT I PLAN" from High School Musical 2 at the top of her lungs. That qualifies too. Sort of.)

Fortunately, the Teapacks fit the bill. These guys bump, shuffle, and squawk with the best of them. They remind me of when I used to go to shows all the time and would slam, pogo, and otherwise do off-kilter punk boy dances to ska bands up from New York or Washington DC. Ska bands at a punk club were a beautiful thing. We all had an evening off from glowering (musically) at and slamming in to each other. This was our fun music.

And the Teapacks have got it down. They've got the grooves and attitude, the beat and they lyrics. Listen to the lead singer Kobi Oz ranting about leaders going to push the button (see below). It's as topical today as it was 20 years ago, though the leaders are different and the button is different. And ranting about it on stage with a good band at your back is still great street theater. C'mon everyone, maybe we won't change the world (we're not hippies, y'know) but at least we can look the world in its crummy grimey face. bump bump cue the horns.

Teapacks - "Push The Button" (Israel 2007)

I love the fact that Teapacks were Israel's entry to the Eurovision last year. What a great antidote to the insipid pop that usually floods the contest. You can find out more about the Teapacks at their myspace page and their website.

Hat tip to YouTube user EurovisionAndMore for posting the video. This video was just what I needed today.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kabbalah Kirtan - Echad B'Echad (Jewish Renewal Group Chant)

Yofiyah of Kabbalah KirtanWhew. I've been on the road for work most of this week and will be again all of next week. Right now I'm stuck in the office waiting for some of my engineers to get my demo system installed on my laptop. sigh.

At least the waiting around gives me a minute to write another post. Today I want to share a video of the musician Yofiyah (aka Susan Deikman) leading an interesting form of communal devotional chanting at a Jewish Renewal event. (Sorry, I'm not sure where/when the video was shot). This particular form of chanting, which she calls Kabbalistic Kirtan is heavily influenced by Hindu rituals but adopts and adapts them for Jewish practice. This adaption/adoption reminds me a lot of how the Chassidic community has a history of "redeming" or "finding the spark" in non-Jewish music and making it holy. With the Jewish Renewal community's ties to the Chassidic community mystical approach, it's not surprising to see this sort of musical redeeming flower here as well. Here's Yofiyah's explanation of how Kabbalistic Kirtan works...
"Hebrew Kirtan is an invitation to sing to, with, and ultimately as God. This music and the experience of singing it offer you a direct encounter with God, the Source and Substance of all reality.

Kirtan is the Sanskrit word for ecstatic devotional singing using the repetition of a name or names of God. Like “om,” “mantra,” “karma,” and other Sanskrit words it has entered the English language without translation. In and of itself “kirtan” has no religious content. It is simply the ecstatic devotional singing of God’s name. When sung in Sanskrit using Hindu names for God, kirtan becomes Hindu Kirtan. When sung in Arabic using Moslem names for God, kirtan becomes Sufi Kirtan. When sung in Hebrew using Jewish names for God, kirtan becomes Jewish, Hebrew or Kabbalistic Kirtan. It is not the form that defines the Jewishness of Hebrew Kirtan, but the content.

Hebrew Kirtan is the call and response repetition of sacred Jewish text and Hebrew Names of God. These Names and short phrases are doorways through which you can encounter God. The sound of these Names and phrases, the vibrational quality they establish when chanted aloud, open the small self (mochin d’katnut) to the spacious self (mochin d’gadlut) and allow you to transcend the ego and experience the Divine."
You can get more info about Kabbalah Kirtan, order a CD, or track her events, at Yofiayah's myspace page and her website.

Hat tip to YouTube user JewishRenewal for posting the video. JR has over 50 videos of Jewish Renewal events & music. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

a fast top 10

I got a nice email the other day from someone who doesn't "know the first thing about Jewish music ... [but] and every Jewish song I've heard sounded beautiful, so I was hoping you'd let me know what to get & where to start etc?"

So, here's a fast top 10 I put together. The goal of the list was to give a broad overview of traditional styles, focusing on some personal favorites & contemporary recordings. The list was not meant to be comprehensive and short-changes lots of wonderful bands & recordings. What do you all think? What's your top 10? What would you recommend?
First, you might listen to this radio station

The user is a friend of mine and has great taste. You'll hear lots of great Jewish music.

Jewish music encompasses a number of different genre's, so I'll tell you a bit about the most important ones as I do my top 10 list, ok?

Klezmer - Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish music (e.g. from Russia, Poland, Germany). This is secular folk dancing music. Klezmerim were traveling musicians who played at parties and weddings. It can be very moody and dark as well.

1. I haven't listened to it yet, but the new Rough Guide to the Klezmer Revival has a nice sampling of contemporary Klezmer.

2. The band Budowitz, from x is one of my favorite contemporary klezmer groups. Their album "Mother Tongue" is marvelous.
band website:

3. One of my favorite albums of all time, Andy Statman and Dave Grisman's "Song of our Fathers" is a lovely contemporary album mixing klezmer and Jewish Hassidic songs
4. Another one of my personal favorites, Davka's Judith mixes klezmer with chamber music and gives it a wild middle eastern lilt.

5. While not klezmer, Wolf Krakowski does an amazing job mixing Yiddish folk music with American roots music. This one has been in heavy rotation lately.

A second major strain of Jewish music comes from the Sephardic Jews, whose culture was established in the 1400's in Spain and was then dispersed around the Mediterranean. The song Ocho Kalendekas that [my correspondant] sent the link to is a contemporary American Sephardic song written by Flory Jagoda, a Sephardic Jew from Yugoslavia.

6. Flory Jagoda. Jagoda is a top notch singer and musican in the Sephardic style. The rhythms of her music has a definite Balkan feel.

7. Janet & Jak Esim Ensemble. The Esim's are from Turkey and play in a wonderful lyrical style. You can hear samples at and see their recordings at

8. Pharoah's Daughter. Basya Shecter and her band play an amazing modern Sephardic music, strong in tradition buy dizzyingly psychedelic at times too. My favorite album is Out of the Reeds

The third major area of Jewish music is Misrachi, or Middle Eastern.

9. Ofra Haza is the queen of Misrachi music. She was an Israeli Jew of
Yemenite descent. Her album Homeland Songs is my personal favorite.
(more about her - You can find
a lot of her albums on Amazon

10. David Broza is an Israeli pop singer who brings together elements of Ashkenazi, Separdic and Misrachi music. His album Massada 99 - Starting to Breath is one of my favorites.

And finally

11. Fiddler on the Roof. This is a classic American musical and is just as loved today as it was when it was first produced.

There are a lot of aspects of Jewish music I haven't mentioned, but hopefully these are a good start. If you find things you like, let me know and I can point you to more.

So what do you all think? What would your list look like?