Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stereo Sinai - Biblegum Pop

I got a note via Facebook this morning from Miriam of Stereo Sinai, a self-described "biblegum pop" band from Chicago. Biblegum? Yikes. Fearing great kitsch, I bopped over to their website and hit play on their video for the Lech Lecha G-dcast. I was quite happily surprised. No kitsch here, just a duo with a great crackly, bouncing sound and a lot of heart. I lost about 20 minutes listening to the 'cast and a bunch of their other tracks. Great stuff. Love their "Gideon's Song" and "Beautiful City."

Here's their bio...
"If Kelly Clarkson and Gnarls Barkley had been on the mountain with Moses, they would have come down sounding a lot like Stereo Sinai. Mixing conservation with innovation, the band is working to lend renewed relevance to ancient texts.

Miriam Brosseau (vocals/guitar/songwriter) and Alan Jay Sufrin (vocals/guitar/bass/producer/songwriter) had been making their own music for several years
before Stereo Sinai came along. They'd recently moved to Chicago, and the rabbi who welcomed them into the community had just had a son. Wanting to do something special for the rabbi's family and their new baby, Gideon, Alan and Miriam teamed up to write a lullaby in what would become their unique ancient/modern style. Stereo Sinai's "Biblegum Pop" is the flip side to Ray Charles' and Kanye West’s pioneering steps, fusing traditional gospel music with modern themes. Taking original Hebrew verses from the book of Judges and mixing them with a synthesized pop arrangement, the band's first single, "Gideon's Song," was born."
Here's the Lech Lecha G-dcast. If you haven't caught a G-dcast before, you're in for a treat. Each G-dcast is a short, animated story or song from the current weeks parsha. This one, Lech Lecha, tell of the struggles of Abraham and Sarah from Sarah's perspective. Fabulous.

Stereo Sinai's Lech Lecha G-dcast

Parshat Lech Lecha from g-dcast on Vimeo.

Stereo Sinai is pretty socially conscious, so much so that they don't want to issue resource consuming, landfill destined CD's. Just downloadable tracks, straight from them to you. Here's their current set, check'em out. And hit the Stereo Sinai website for more info and tour information. Rumor has it that they're hitting the East Coast this summer. Rumor also has it that Miriam and Alan are getting married (to each other, of course) on Tu B'Shvat. Mazel tov!

Rabbinic Advisory StickerMiriam wearing her stickerUpdate: I forgot to mention that Miriam and Alan get serious style points for their hysterical Kol Isha sticker. What makes this sticker perfect is that if you're a traditional Jew who observes Kol Isha, this is a perfectly legitimate statement. In fact, I've had one or two requests (which I'm not going to honor) to put something like this on my blog when I'm highlighting a female vocalist. To a liberal Jew who doesn't observe Kol Isha, and maybe downright offended by it, this sticker takes on a much more derisive meaning. It's all about your own perspective. Love it. Guess what Miriam thinks?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Emap.FM for recordings of broadcast Klezmer concerts & more

Emap.FM Streaming RadioEmap.FM, a streaming internet radio station from Austria, offers a great array of Jewish music programs with a strong emphasis in Klezmer. This includes a complete archive of the KlezMore concerts from 2004 to 2008 and includes performances from some of the best traditional and experimental klezmer bands out there. Some highlights (in my opinion) include

2004 - Adrianne Greenbaum's Fleytmuzic
2004 - Zakarya
2004 - Shtreiml
2006 - Klezmatics
2006 - Konsanans Retro
2007 - Daniel Kahn and Painted Bird
2007 - Isle of Klezbos
2008 - Klezmofabia
2008 - Andy Statman
2008 - Amsterdam Klezmer Band

In addition to the KlezMore shows, do a search for klezmer and Jewish and you'll find a bunch of other programs including a great set of "new Jewish drinking songs" by Geoff Berner.

Y-Love & DeScribe's "Change"

"Change", featuring DeScribe and Y-Love, is the first in the series of four songs that comprise "The Change EP". Shemspeed will be releasing one song per month, stay tuned to Teruah or to Shemspeed for updates. You can pick up the track on iTunes.

DeScribe & Y-Love "Change" (official music video)

Here's the Shemspeed blurb ...
"The BBC, Italy's La Repubblica, and XXL magazine have all featured Brooklyn-based MC Y-Love and his multilingual approach to hip-hop. Y-Love's 2008 debut album This is Babylon is still garnering praise for its mix of hip-hop, reggae, and r&b with global accents, but Y-Love isn't resting. Now, he's teaming up with Crown Heights collaborator DeScribe to give a fresh musical take on the most powerful word of 2009. Their new single "Change" mixes Y-Love's militant mysticism with the plaintive urgency of DeScribe's singing. Combining a driving, radio-ready beat, produced by Prodezra, and subject matter few dare to touch, "Change" truly stands out on the path from old to new."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Teruah Podcast Episode 2: The Story Show

It's been a whole month since I went live with the first Teruah Jewish Music podcast, Episode 1: The Hanukkah Show. The response has been amazing: over 750 downloads last time I checked and lots of great email. I'm glad that everyone's had fun with it.

Now it's time for Episode 2: The Story Show. In this episode I've rounded up a great array of Jewish story songs sung in English, everything from Yiddish novelty songs to brand new Indie Pop with stories ranging from the Torah to Chelm to New York. Check it out.

Subscribe via iTunes - Download - RSS Feed

Update: Sorry, I goofed. The iTunes subscription button wasn't working, but now it is.

Here's Episode 2's playlist. Please support the great musicians showcased on the podcast. Check out their websites. Go see them in concert. Buy a disc. Send them some email.

David Griffin's Hebrew School - "Irma Take Off Your Coat" Unreleased recording.

David Griffin's Hebrew School "Hebrew School is an innovative use of the genres of Indie rock and experimental music to mitigate, through recording and performance, the disaffection of Jewish life in a large urban center... This project is supported by a grant from the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, a partnership of Avoda Arts, JDub Records, and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and made possible with major funding from UJA-Federation of New York."`

And yeah, one aspect of Griffin's indie-pop sensibilities is that he uses his vocals as much for mood and tone as for meaning...which is a really polite way of saying I really wish he'd bring the vocals up in the mix so that we could hear the lyrics better. But he's promised to share the lyrics with us and I'll update this page with a link to them as soon as I get 'em. Griffin's hard at work on a full album of Hebrew School songs and has started to play them live. His website has details on his shows and I'm sure he'll drop me a line when the album is ready.

Update: Griffin came through with the lyric sheet, you can find it on his lyrics page. I love the phrase "the radio plays kenny rogers it becomes part of the songs we sings, along with the song about the almond and the carob tree." My dad was a big Rogers fan. Get me and my brothers together for more than 10 minutes and you'll be treated (or subjected?) to us singing The Gambler and Lucielle.

Dean Friedman - "Ariel" from his first album "Dean Friedman"

Note: Friedman's website says that the "Dean Friedman" album isn't available but it ain't so. I had no problem downloading it from and it appears to be available for download from Amazon.

"In the summer of 1977, Dean Friedman marked his entry into pop consciousness with the enormous success of his infectious hit single Ariel, a quirkily irresistible and uncategorizable pop song about a free spirited, music loving, vegetarian Jewish girl in a peasant blouse who lived, as the lyric goes, "...way on the other side of the Hudson."

Shelly Hirsch - "544 Hemlock Street" from "O Little Town of East New York"

Shelly Hirsch"Shelley Hirsch is a marvelous performer with remarkable vocal talents, charm and a wicked sense of humor. She is one of the best-known improvisers of the Downtown New York City scene, performing with virtually every major experimental artist in New York and Europe, but has thus far released only two albums of her own music (both released only in Europe).

An award-winning radio play and Hirsch's most ambitious work, O Little Town Of East New York is a semi-autobiographical musical suite about growing up in Brooklyn in the '50s and '60s - reenactments and reminiscences of childhood, family, rites of passage, the ethnic melting pot, Johnny Mathis... It's a hilarious, nostalgic, touching and stunningly original album merging avant and pop sensibilities."

You can pick up Hirsch's album through the Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture website or Amazon digital download.

Pharaoh's Daughter - "Daddy's Pockets" from the album Daddy's Pockets

Pharaoh's Daughtger"Blending a psychedelic sensibility and a pan-Mediterranean sensuality, Basya Schechter leads her band, Pharaoh's Daughter, through swirling Hasidic chants, Mizrachi and Sephardi folk-rock, and spiritual stylings filtered through percussion, flute, strings and electronica.Her sound has been cultivated by her Hasidic music background and a series of trips to the Middle East, Africa, Israel, Egypt, Central Africa, Turkey, Kurdistan and Greece."

You can pickup "Daddy's Pockets" from CD Baby or iTunes.

Avi Kunstler - Shalom Aleichem from the album Eyes on Jerusalem

Avi Kunstler is a musician, songwriter, and father of current Jewish music performer Aryeh Kunstler. His wonderful "Eyes on Jerusalem" isn't available through JewishJukebox, MostlyMusic, Hatikvah or any of the other usual suspects (Eichler's has Avi's most recent album, "In this place of mercy"), but Avi still has some copies that he'd be happy to sell to anyone interested. Email me and I can get you hooked up.

Dovid Kerner - The Ballad of Ruth and Naomi from the album Bond of Love

Dovid Kerner From the New Jersey News "Kerner, 49, became a ba’al teshuva about 25 years ago and told NJ Jewish News he used “my new lifestyle, new way of living, confronting the prayer book every day, just putting my experiences, thoughts, and feelings into music” as the impetus for his project. He teamed up with his brother, Steven, 53, at the latter’s recording studio in Manalapan to produce Bond.

Dovid Kerner said he enjoys creating “message music” to encourage people to think. Some of the most admired folk musicians have been his inspiration; the influence of Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and others are quite recognizable in his music. “Woody could sit down and write a song about anything and everything,” Kerner said. “The Book of Ruth has always spoken to me very strongly, and I patterned [‘The Ballad of Ruth and Naomi”] on Woody’s ballads.”

You can out more about Kerner at his website and pick up his Bond of Love at iTunes.

Golem! - Warsaw is Khelm from the album Fresh off Boat

Golem!"Contrary to popular belief, Golem is neither a towering Jewish Frankenstein who defended the Jews of 17th Century Prague, nor a creature from “Lord of the Rings.” Golem is a 6 piece Eastern European folk-punk band.

Fronted by Annette Ezekiel Kogan - singer, accordionist, and 5-foot powerhouse; and vocalist, tambourine player, crazy-man Aaron Diskin; violin virtuoso Alicia Jo Rabins; trombonist extraordinaire Curtis Hasselbring; elegant upright bassist Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, and unstoppable drummer Tim Monaghan, Golem’s sound evokes wisps of old-world elegance filtered through the successes and disappointments of new-world dreams. Spending nights in Lower East Side immigrant-owned bagel shops and summers in Eastern Europe, Annette collects Jewish, Gypsy, and Slavic folk songs, and, with Golem, rewrites, adds, edits, and rearranges them along the way. These are the songs to which Eastern European grandparents danced over a century ago, and now Golem has its unwrinkled fans moshing to the same pulsing beats."

You can get Golem's Fresh Off Boat and other albums and goodies from their website.

Eden Mi-Qedem at The Sephardic Music Festival

I also missed the Sephardic Music Festival again. That's the trouble with being up here on the North Coast. I keep missing things.

Anyway, here's a great clip from this years Festival. The band is Eden Mi-Qedem a Jewish and Arab musical and cultural fusion group from Jerusalem. They describe themselves as "fus[ing] elements of Middle Eastern and Arabic World Music, Electronica, Pop, and Classic Rock, creating a genre-defying sound that is as modern as it is ancient. The group unabashedly draws inspiration from the Hebrew Bible as well as the Muslim call to prayer and shows the beauty that is possible when Jewish and Arab cultures and faiths work in harmony. The lyrics, which are in Hebrew, Arabic and English, are based on original poetry as well as sacred texts, and wed spiritual themes to highly danceable music."

You can find more information about the band, their new album and their tour schedule at their website and at CD Baby.

Eden Mi-Qedem at Sephardic Music Festival- Yedid Nefesh

Hat tip to YouTube user Kaphtziel for posting the video.

Irving TV & The Klezkamp Slow Jam

Once again I've missed KlezKamp. Robin didn't. She finally got to go this year and, with trusty sidekick Irving the Rubber Chicken, documented the festivities. The video below is just one of her "Irving TV" productions which also include videos of the Hasidic Dance Band, Yiddish Singers, and, of course, the Chanukkah Chicken. They're a hysterical (and musical!) snapshot of one of the premier klezmer events of the year. Someday I hope to make it too, but until then I'll have Irving TV.

According to Robin, "[t]his is the evening Slow Jam, led by Sherry Mayrent on the evening of 22 December, featuring a mad kickass solo by Hartley."

KlezKamp 2008 - Slow Jam - 22 December - Part I

Hat tip to Robin for shooting and posting the videos.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For MLK Day: Dave Brubeck's "The Gates of Justice"

Dr. Martin Luther King day is a rather singularly American holiday. It captures a pivotal moment in our collectively national history, reminding us of who we were and who we are becoming. It also challenges us individually, both to live up to the ideals of our nation (all men are created equal) but to be ready to work hard as individuals to push our nation in the right direction. The national ethic on the shoulders of hardworking individuals. So American and such a good yearly reminder for us individuals. Even if our shoulders are neither as strong or as resolute as those of Martin Luther King, we have no excuse for not trying.

I spent yesterday at work, not at a Martin Luther King Day celebration, though I've been to many in the past. I did spend a good chunk of it listening to Dave Brubeck's "The Gates of Justice." Here's an excerpt from its liner notes (courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library).
Dave Brubeck's Gates of Justice
"Henry David Thoreau once said, “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.” No album comes closer to fulfilling this statement then Dave Brubeck's The Gates of Justice, a jazz-tinged cantata that combines wisdom from the Torah with speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the writings of Hillel.

Written in the late 1960s at the end of the civil rights movement, Gates was Brubeck's musical attempt at forging a common bond between the American Jewish and black communities. In a time of national polarization over the Vietnam War, and the fight for equal rights for all Americans, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati invited Brubeck to compose a piece that would awaken the spiritual connections between the two communities. According to the composer, “They were both enslaved, uprooted from their homelands and wandered in the diaspora.” Brubeck also noted that the historical narratives of both peoples have many parallels. Thoreau would be pleased to know that Brubeck masterfully combined elements from the “earliest and latest” times to create this powerful composition.

This is not a “Jewish” sounding album, but its message is undoubtedly a Jewish value: the brotherhood of man."

I think that's right, in the sense that it doesn't use motifs from any recognizable Jewish liturgical or secular source. But I've always loved this piece and feel strongly Brubeck's impulse and it resonates for me as being deeply Jewish. But I want to be clear. While there were many Jew deeply committed and involved in the Civil Rights movement (including being murdered for their participation), I have no interest in appropriating Martin Luther King Day as a Jewish holiday or making a big "us too" claim. The only "us" I'm interested is the American us and how Martin Luther King Day motivates the American us to better live up to King's dream and our national ideals. I think that Brubeck's piece capture both beautifully.

To listen to excerpts of this amazing piece of music hop over to Amazon.

Quick note: The
Martin Luther King photo above comes from the Life Magazine archive hosted by Google. It was take in Washington DC in 1963 by photographer Francis Miller as Dr. King addressed a crowd during a civil rights rally.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jewdyssee - The return of Yiddish cabaret!

JewdysseeThere's definitely something in the air. Jewish music, everything from klezmer to cantorial, is getting caught up, chopped up, and whipped up into a frenzy in dance clubs around the world by adventerous DJ's and musicians who love the crazy funkiness of many traditional Jewish musical forms. I wrote recently (here and here) about the British klezmer / house DJ mashup "Ghettoplotz" and many times (including here and here) about the Canadian klezmer accordion player & hip hop DJ Socalled. Not to mention Diwon and Erran Baron Cohen. Today's addition to the fray is Germany's Jewdyssee, who draw on the over-the-top visual theatrics of Yiddish cabaret as the focus for there genre-bending music excursions.

From a recent interview over at The Jew Spot"
"Jewdyssee is currently a music project. What we are aiming to achieve through our music is the celebration of Jewish music and culture that shows this culture is alive, vibrant and evolving.

The name Jewdyssee comes from the word Odyssey that describes a journey – a journey to consciousness. The name reflects our musical journey exploring the old Yiddish songs and bringing them into a current day musical context.

Jewdyssee is not about making a political or religious statement. We just want to show that our culture not only has a tragic history, but that there is a great wealth of music and culture to be celebrated and that this culture is a current part of our lives that we want to express and share."
Sounds great to me. Both the sentiment and the music. Check out Jew Spot for the full interview. And check out the Jewdyssee MySpace page for more info.


Update: Ok, so I forgot to mention that Jewdyssee will be playing the upcoming Jewlicious Festival at the end of February - early March in the LA / Long Beach area. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, check it out.

Jewlicious Festival

Songza - Music aggregator search engine

Whew. Between a touch of the plauge, an extra busy work week, and working on my second podcast this blog hasn't gotten much love lately. But never fear. Lots high weirdness (I mean Jewish music) by Internet coming your way.

Last week I found yet another new Internet music service I can no longer live without. It's called Songza (yes, all Internet music services have wonky names. But I'm no one to judge. Last week I named a NASA research project I'm working MCP for "Mission Control Procedures" and also for Master Control Program, the evil computer program in Tron. Nerd bliss.) Anyway, back to Songza. Songza is a meta-search engine. If you punch a query into it, say "Adon Olam", you'll get back 40 hits from music sites such as YouTube (Ross Levy's "Funk Version" and "Yehuda Glantz's on the Charango" Yee Ha!) and Imeem (The Shetl All Stars and Fortuna). Did you know that Moshie Skier's first band Kaballah recorded a cool version of Adon Olam that sounds a lot like Blue Oyster Cult? Now you do.

Here are some fun queries to get started with. Songza won't let me link to them, so you'll have to go types them in yourself.

Adon Olam, Rabbi (over 40 hits including lots of Israel Mizrachi recordings), and Jewish (naturally. Results include both recordings of Hava Nagila, the song Jewish Women that played recently, and an interview with Jewish secular musician Gary Lucas talking to a Jewish Leadership website, a Yemeni Jewish Dance, and a Moroccan Sephardic wedding song). I got good results for Mizrachi, Sephardic, Klezmer, and Yiddish (including Janet Klein's inimitable "Yiddish Hula Boy". Random Hebrew and Yiddish phrases work great including Golem, Shir, and Belz. (Ladino phrases don't work as well because of the similarity between Ladino and Spanish. Too many false hits for me, but give it a try.) And of, course, try your favorite artists. Here are a few that I tried immediately and got lots of hits on: Basya Shecter, Sway Machinery, Socalled, Lipa, Davka, Craig Taubman, Daniel Kahn, and Geoff Berner.

Have fun and let me know what you discover.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maurice Bernstein talks about founding a record label, and not much else of interest

Music promoter and lifestyle marketer Maurice Bernstein sat down recently for an interview with the website LeadEl - Leadership Elements (Jewish Leaders, Jewish Activism) . It's a milding interesting video, but, for me at least, a very frustrating one. Once the interview gets past Bernstein's personal background everyone seems runs out of steam. Bernstein and the interviewer discuss the fact that there are lots of Jews in popular music. (We know that). They note the long standing and complicated relationship between Jews and African Americans in popular music. (We know too. Really.) For a leadership lecture produced by a group that claims to be about Jewish activism I was keenly disappointed that there was no discussion at all about new energy being invested in Jews making and promoting culturally and/or religiously Jewish music. Even though Bernstein isn't involved in this aspect of music, I would have loved to have heard his thoughts. Hearing about his passion and naivete when starting out is a lot less useful than a few practical suggestions for marketing Jewish music would have been. LeadEl says that"[t]raditional definitions of identity disappear, or become irrelevant, are not cool. Yet generations’ of accumulated wisdom and insights are lost in the process, and many people, particularly young people, find themselves rootless." I personally object to the first sentence of your thesis, guys, and this video did nothing to support the second. Bleah.
"How do you go and find a music label? For Maurice Bernstein it was a gradual process, and in this interview with Leadel.NET, he tells us of the path that led him there. He also discusses his role models, the issue of Jews in American music, and the comfort of being a Jew in New York where, unlike his hometown of Manchester, Hanukkah is mentioned on TV."
Maurice Bernstein

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Standards for a Jewish Retirement Home Gig

One of the best parts of this writing this blog is the great questions I get in my inbox. Today's came (via Twitter) from a fellow who is going to be playing violin at a Jewish retirement home sometime soon. He was hoping to get an idea of what to play. This is a tough question because I don't know who the audience is or, besides being mostly of Ashkenazi descent, what their background is. But it's hard to go too wrong with the standards. I'll give my answer in a moment, but first I want to give credit to Joy Perrin "Music for Seniors," from Millvale California, who's set list gave me a jumping off point.

Here's my response:

"I think your best bet is picking up a copy of Velvel Pasternak's Jewish Fake Book. It's well respected with lots of the standard repetoire represented. I don't think it's in the right key for the violin, but transposing it should be pretty straightforward.

There's also a nice collection of standard klezmer repertoire in C that might be useful.

There are many wonderful violinists who have recorded Jewish music, but probably the best violin focused albums are Itzhak Perlman's "A Jewish Violin" and "Klezmer: In a Fiddler's House." Here's a video of Perlman playing with some other notable klezmer musicians

You can find Perlman's albums here: and at

Here's a list of songs (with videos) that would be reasonable starting points:

Oiffen Pripichik -
Beltz -
Grine Kuzinah -
As Der Rebbe Tzingt -
My Yiddishe Mama -
Sheyne Vi de Levone -
Abi Gezunt - &
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen -
Rozhinkes mit Mandlen -
Hava Nagilah -
Hatikvah (Israeli National Anthem) -
Tumbalalaika -
Papirosen -
Dona Dona -
Rumania, Rumania -
Shalom Aliechem -
If I Were a Rich Man -
Sunrise Sunset -

The last two are from Fiddler on the Roof. Can't go wrong with Fiddler.

One thing to note is that you can have some fun with this material. You can play the songs as authentic Yiddish / klezmer as you like, or not. In the 30's and 40's this material was often played in the US with a "Yiddish swing" feel and in the 1950's much of it was played to Latin rhythms during America's Latin craze (think Ricki Ricardo). In the 1960's much of was reinterpreted through the lens of American Folk music. I've heard classical, rock, and jazz, flavoured versions of many of these. I'd also feel free to mix in other standard American repertoire pieces from the 30's, 40's and 50's."
If you've lived in a Jewish retirement home or played music in one and have any comments, I'd love to hear them and will pass them along.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lecha Dodi with voice and organ

Shabbat shalom everyone,

It's a snowy day on the North Coast (Michigan) and I'm looking forward to Shabbat. For my weekly Shabbat get-in-the-groove video I've decided to broaden myself a bit. The video is of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer L'chah Dodi sung by David Fair at Rodef Shalom, a Reform Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh, PA.

L'chah Dodi

I say broaden myself because, not growing up in the Reform Movement, I'm not so comfortable with instrumental accompaniment to Shabbat prayer. But the Reform community accepted the use of the organ as one of the early defining characteristics of the Reform service (though guitar is probably much more common these days). But my itchiness aside, Mr. Fair does a fine job leading his choir, organist, and community.

Hat tip to YouTube user castodivo for posting the video.

Mail Bag / News

Here are a couple of announcements I've received lately

- Brian Bender, of the Little Shop of Horas, the Wholesale Klezmer Band and other fine klezmer groups, recently went on a trip to Western Europe had as written about his adventure in his blog, A Klezmer Odyssey.

- Daniel Schide gave a great talk on John Zorn and Radical Jewish Culture at the Association of Jewish Libraries Annual Conference. You can get the mp3 of the lecture here: or get it on iTunes by searching under podcasts for 'AJL'.

- I received the 26th English edition of Chasidinews - Jewish Music digital magazine. Chasidinews, as you'd guess from the title, focuses on the Chasidic music scene. In this edition, we find out that everyone is on everyone else's albums and they're all famous and important. But if you want a checklist of new Chasidic albums coming out in the near future, this is a great resource.

- The 16th Street JCC in Washington DC is hosing an "Inaugural Ball for the Rest of Us." Don't know who's providing the music.

- The Washington Post has an obituary for Joza Karas, "a Czechoslovakian-born violin teacher who spent decades tracking down and reviving musical compositions written by Jews in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, died Nov. 28 at his home in Bloomfield, Conn."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Creating a Jewish Journey Group

One of the things my synagogue does occasionally is organize "Jewish Journey Groups." These groups are communal Jewish learning experiences, are often lay led, and can be on any Jewish topic. I've been thinking for a while that the next time we do them (probably next fall) I'd like to lead one. My experiences learning and writing about Jewish music have been deeply transformative for myself and my family in a very positive way. I'd like to share and encourage that with others in my community. I don't have all of it worked out, but I thought I'd share my current rough plan and get feedback. Does this sound like something you'd like to attend? What would improve it? There will be plenty of holes that could be filled in.

Name: Journeys in Jewish Music
Journey Group Description: Listen, share, and discuss the various forms of Jewish music as means to enrich our lives and guide us to trans-denominational, trans-national, and trans-generational engagement with Judaism.
Number of Meetings: 5 (?)
Meeting Format: 1 hour, with 20 to 30 minutes of introductory lecture and music, followed by music sharing and discussion.

Meeting 1. The music of prayer
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of traditional nusach and cantorial, contemporary pop / songleader style, Reform organ and choral prayers, Chassidic niggunim, and Hindu-chant-style Hebrew Kirtan as well as contrast leader vs. participatory approaches, hard skills and easy skills, and emotional / spiritual vs intellectual engagement.
Discussion questions: What kind of prayer music speaks to you? How do you trade off the contrasts above? What prayer experiences have moved you? Do you have a favorite prayer melody or practice? Can you teach us it?

Meeting 2. The music of the home
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of shabbat z'mirot (table songs), lullabies, holiday songs, and the evening sh'ma.
Discussion questions: What does your home sound like? What are your family traditions? Can you teach us? Have you added anything new to the mix lately?

Meeting 3. The music of the diaspora
Description: In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to examples of secular and religious music from around the Jewish world including Ashkenazi, Sepharidic, Morrano/Converso, Ethiopian, Israeli, Mountain Jews, and Mizrachi Jews.
Discussion questions: How much of our view of being of Jewish comes from our immediate surroundings and culture? Now that the internet has made unexpected corners the world immediately available, how might that change our sense of Jewish culture? How will that change our sense of being Jewish?

UPDATE: Wow I messed this one up. The hip-hop musician Y-Love just wrote about an email he received about the Jewish equivalent of "White Privilege", where American Ashkenazi Jews unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) marginalize non-Askenazi Jews. His comments and those of the email author are right on and very much what I want to challenge the group with in this meeting. But after reading his post, I think I can go much further than I did here.

Meeting 4. Radical Jewish Culture and Shiny Shoe Music, the music of the contemporary Jewish pop scenes
Description: A year a go I bought a Matisyahu album in a Target, not a Judaica store. What's going on here? In this meeting we'll talk about and listen to a wild array of music voices that are making right now a silver age in American Jewish music including jazz, rock, punk, hip hop, and pop artists from across the Jewish cultural and religious landscape including Matisyahu, Y-Love, SoCalled, The Shandes, Hassidic New Wave, Pharoah's Daughter, Blue Fringe, Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmetlzer, Eli Gerstner, Hip Hop Hoodios, Sway Machinery. If there's a teenager in the house, bring them to this one!
Discussion questions: What's driving the demand and inspiration for pop Jewish music? What experiences have group members had? Jewish immigrants to the US had a vibrant musical culture, but as we assimilated we (the assimilated Conservative and Reform Jew) gave that up in favor of the larger American culture. Is developing our own musical culture now a retraction of that assimilation? Is that a positive thing (adding our cultural voice to the mix) or a negative thing (elitism, loss of a communal sense of being American)? What about the traditional Jewish groups (Chassid, Orthodox) that have their own well defined music culture & industry? Is that a model to be emulated or feared?

I've got ideas for more, but need to give it more thought. Any feedback, folks?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Matisyahu: Havdalla & "I Will Be Light"

Shabbat shalom, everyone

Hanukkah's done. New Year's done. Normalcy will resume any minute now. I'm really looking forward to Shabbat tonight. I needed it this week. Here's this week's pre-Shabbat, get in the groove, video. It's Matisyahu performing Havdalla at a recent show. By the way, in case I haven't said it enough, if you have the opportunity to go see Matis in concert you should do it. He's an amazing performer. His new EP is amazing. Every bit as good as his first album, and that's saying something.

"Havdallah" - Video Blog

Zeda's Beat Box rocks St. Louis

Here's a quick Friday morning shout out to Zeda's Beat Box in St. Louis. I was looking for a pre-Shabbat, get in the groove, video and ran across this one from Zeda's recent concert at Cicero's. Wish I was there. It looks like it was a great show.

According to their website,
"Zeda's Beat Box is an interfaith rock band that sets ancient Hebrew text to the deep groove of reggae and modern dance music. The band performs in both temples and rock music venues around the St. Louis area. Zeda's Beat Box was formed in January of 2007 by Dave Simon, the founder of Dave Simon's Rock School. Simon has written new compositions under the guidance of Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, Rabbi Dr. Neal Rose, and Cantorial Soloist Sharon Nathanson of Congregation B'nai Amoona. Lyrics are set in new English text as well as segments of Hebrew text derived from the Jewish Friday night Shabbat service. To build the band, Simon recruited four teenagers who participate in Rock School's All-Star Band program. The All-Star Band program is for musically advanced teens that can play their instruments at a semi-professional skill level.
Great job, gang. Rumor has it they have an album out, but I haven't heard it yet.

Zeda's Beat Box: Havenu Shalom Aleichem

Hat tip to YouTube user hblieb for posting the video.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Phil Blank's "Old Songs"

I'm a big fan of Phil Blank's paintings and illustrations and have posted them here in the past. I saw this this one pop up on his blog today and immediately shot him an email to get permission to repost it here. In his response Phil explained that the" third story came from someone who saw a show of mine- hopefully that cassette will turn up! I'd love to hear it. The "old Russian lefties" were indeed Jewish and the neighborhood was coney island or thereabouts. Apparently there are some pictures too." While he didn't specify, the show Phil mentioned could be one of his art shows or could have been one of his klezmer concerts with his band Gmish. They're onstage as I write this at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, NC. Wish I could be there.

Phil Blank's Old Songs

Lost in translation - Di Grine Kuzine (The Greenhorn Cousin) in Yiddish and English

The working title for my next podcast is The Story Show. My plan is to focus on songs with strong narratives that come out of various aspects of the Jewish experience. Oh, and the songs should be in English. I'll explain that constraint another time, but I acknowledge that it's a problematic one for a lot of reasons. It is pushing me to search in interesting corners of Jewish music, though. One of my recent searches was to see if anyone had recorded the Yiddish classic "Di Grine Kuzine (The Greenhorn Cousin)" in English. Answer: Absolutely. But what I found was at that the moment in 1942 that a mainstream American musician (Benny Goodman, with vocalist Peggy Lee) wanted to take on the song the lyrics were substantially rewritten. I'm not a good historian, so I'm on shaky ground speculating about why the verses were re-written. Some obvious candidates, though, include the fact that the United States was in the middle of World War II and that non-patriotic verses would have been a big problem and the changing self-image of American Jews at that time.

The original song lyric, translation courtesy of the Zemerl archive, was a classic frustrated immigrant song. In it the singer's starry-eyed cousin arrives from Europe looking for the American dream.

"A girl cousin arrived, a greenhorn,
Beautiful as gold she was
Cheeks red as oranges
Tiny feet, just made for dancing. "

The cousin, once confronted by the realities of life in America, grows bitter about her new home.

"But, as the years passed by
My cousin went downhill
From working hard week after week
Nothing remained but a wreck.

Today, as I meet her in the street
And I ask: How's everything, Greenhorn?
She just sighs and I read in her eye:
To hell with Columbus' paradise! "

This progression is typical of not only of many Yiddish immigrant songs, but of immigrant songs in general. For example, The contemporary Los Angeles-based American Latino group Ozomatli has a similar lyric in their song "(Who Discovered) America " (lyrics courtesy of All The Lyrics.)

The song begins...
"I heard her story from across the sea,
There was never one as fair, lovely as she.
With sun soaked skin and eyes of green,
with all kindness and grace of a queen."

and ends

"How could I've know I'd been hypnotized.
There was more to my queen than first met the eye.
She had a chain of lovers who died her slaves
With a notion of blood for every drop that she gave."

Getting back to Di Grine Kusine, the song has been recored many times using the original Yiddish lyrics. Here's a raucus contemporary version of the song performed by the outstanding Danish band Klezmofobia. As best I can follow the Yiddish, the band is sticking nicely to the original lyric. (Any Yiddish speakers want to verify that?)

Klezmofobia - Grine Kusine

While this story of the difficulties of immigration was immensely popular to an earlier generation of American Jews, it wasn't what got presented to war-time American ears by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee. Their lyric, which you can listen to in the recording below, looses the immigrant frustration with America and focuses on the romantic tensions between an inexperienced young woman and her equally fumbling suitor. Here's the Goodman / Lee renamed and rewritten version.

My Little Cousin - Benny Goodman & Peggy Lee

I've had no trouble finding more contemporary recordings of musicians following the original Yiddish lyrics, the Klezmofobia version for example. I've also had no trouble finding musicians following the Goodman / Lee version. Here's a live video of Paul Shaprio and his Ribs and Brisket Revue playing My Little Cousin from his album Essen.

"My Little Cousin" by Paul Shapiro's Ribs and Brisket Revue

What I haven't been able to find is anyone singing a translation of the original Yiddish lyric in English. Again, while I don't know why that is I'm not shy about speculating. One answer might be that someone has and I just haven't searched hard enough. Another might be that the Klezmer and Yiddish revival movements have generally focused on the use of authentic Yiddish, not on the use of in-authentic English translations. As I've noted elsewhere, while I approve of this focus I am also sometimes frustrated by it. A lot of our cultural history is locked up in languages (Yiddish and Ladio) that are not spoken by many contemporary Jews. Getting more Jews to speak these languages is a noble adventure that I'm sure will yield some limited success. But with Israel adopting Hebrew as it's nation lanaguage, it seems unlikely that Yiddish or Ladino will every play a significant role again. Keep the songs in their original helps us hold onto our cultural history in one way. But I would personally love to see more effort made to develop singable translations of Yiddish and Ladino songs to help unlock some of this history in another way.

Hat tip to YouTube users Heimdal4 for the Klezmofobia video and Brandibb for the Benny Goodman video.