Thursday, April 30, 2009

Noiz in Zion: DJ Shabbo blogs Israeli urban music

Fans of Israeli music take note... there is Noiz in Zion. Specifically, DJ Sabbo of the Israeli Hip Hop crew Soulico has a blog focusing on "urban music" in Israel. Lots of choice music clips and videos. Check it out...

From "Noiz in Zion: UBK-Yemen Bros."
UBK (Uri Kinrot) is the guitarist behind the gypsy surf band Boom Pam and Balkan Beat Box. He is now releasing an album of his productions and remixes called "Massive Soundtrack For The Modern Belly Dancer".
"MP3 Download: Yemen Bros. Feat.Ravid Kahalani (UBK Remix)
(Right Click & Save as)"

The Songs that Built Israel: Pioneers for a Cure

I don't usually pass along press releases verbatim, but this time I'm going to. It's from Miriam of Stereo Sinai and I find it fascinating at a number of levels. I'll get that in a minute, but first, Miriam....

"Stereo Sinai recently contributed a track to an ambitious new project, Pioneers for a Cure. Today, in honor of Israel's 61st birthday, that project is being released!

Download Stereo Sinai's contribution here for a donation of only $1.99 on behalf of the American Lung Assocation:

Producer Greg Wall and the enigmatic "Difficult Jew," along with an amazing team of artists, have recreated a piece of Jewish history in order to change the world today- the immediate goal is to raise $100,000 for cancer research through the sale of downloaded songs.

Before the State of Israel was established, its residents were a motley mix, speaking many different languages and representing many different cultures. If there was going to be a Jewish state, there needed to be something holding these people together. What better way than through music? Karen Kayamet L'Yisrael (known today in the States as JNF) commissioned songwriters to create simple Hebrew folk tunes that spoke to the early Zionist experience. The sheet music to these songs was then printed on the back of a postcard and mailed out to Jewish leaders and organizations in Palestine and beyond.

"Pioneers for a Cure" echoed this effort by sending each of its artists sheet music to one of these original pioneer songs via email. The contributing artists (an all-star line-up consisting of David Broza, Pharoah's Daughter, Y-Love and Diwon, Dov Rosenblatt, Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics, and many, many more) each chose a cancer charity to which they'd like the funds from their song directed.

Alan and I were offered the song "Purim Hayom." It's fitting for Stereo Sinai because, first, Purim is Alan's favorite holiday, and second, Purim also features a couple of the coolest biblical women ever to grace the page- Esther and Vashti.

We chose the American Lung Association as our charity for a couple of reasons. First of all, Alan's grandparents (zichronam l'bracha) both died of complications due to lung cancer. Also, the mother of one of my best friends also died from lung cancer. None of these people smoked a day in their lives. It's an issue that's close to home, and we're ready to do our part to end this disease.

We are honored, humbled, and thankful to be a part of this incredible project. Please take a moment to download our song, "Purim Hayom," as well as any other that speak to you. Be a pioneer."
Ok, first of all, my congrats to Greg Wall, of one of my long time favorite groups Hasidic New Wave, for the vision and the fortitude to carry it off and to Stereo Sinai and the other Jewish music groups for participating. I love seeing artists being actively involved in their community. Second, I find the choice of material fascinating. The pioneer musical postcards story is a new one for me and I'm going to have to research it more. It's a great story of how artists can work together, in this case actively sponsored, to help define a culture. It's also a great story about how Israeli grew to become something distinct from the rest of world Diaspora Jewery. Finally, the fact that Wall adopted the pioneer postcards as the basis for the charity project is a great story about the continuing interaction between Israeli and Diaspora Jewish identity.

So go to the Pioneers for a Cure website, listen to the tracks and download them. There's a lot of great music there and it's for a bunch of good causes. You can also learn more about Pioneers for a Cure in this Jewish Week article, this audio podcast, and in Wall's "Pioneer Producer" blog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Regina Spektor sings Eli, Eli

Ok, I've mentioned before Eli, Eli is one of my favorite songs. We sing it at my house as a zemer every Shabbat and performances of it show up on Teruah from time to time (see Eli, Eli with Ancient Drum, for example.) I was delighted recently when my buddy Jocelyn found and shared this great 2008 performance by singer and pianist Regina Spektor. I've always been a fan of Spektor's music but haven't had the opportunity to write about it before. Spektor has interested me, from a Jewish music perspective, because of her comfort with including her Jewish identify as part of her public stage identify. That said, her public expression of Jewish identity have typically been limited to wearing Star of David necklaces and brief mentions of her Russian-Jewish family history during interviews, including this 2006 NPR interview. This is the first time, though, that I've run across her performing a song in Hebrew or one with explicit Jewish connections. It's a fascinating choice of material too, with deep resonances to Holocaust history, Israeli identify, and contemporary Jewish liturgy. And, of course, it's a marvelous lyric and melody.

Regina Spektor - Halikha LeKesariya [Eli, Eli] (Hanna Szenes Cover)

After listening to the 2008 version, I found this earlier, and equally exquisite, version that Spektor performed back in 2006.

Hat tip to Regina Specktor uberfan & YouTube user Speckography for uploading the video.

UPDATE: For more on Regina Spektor, see my more recent post "Hey Regina, Barths your Biggest Fan"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Abie Rotenberg's Good Shabbos

Shabbat Shalom everyone,

Here's a nice get in the Shabbat groove song by Orthodox musician Abie Rotenberg. A bit more mellow that I'm feeling at the moment (I'm pretty spastic right now), but that's the point right? That's where I need to get to tonight.

Good Shabbos

For more info on Rotenberg, check out his Wikipedia page and the albums he's got for sale on Mostly Music and JewishJukebox. You can also hear an interview with him on the Sameach Podcast from a while back.

By the way, if you're observing Sefira and not listining to accompanied music, you might check out the album "The Songs of Abie Rotenberg" by the a capella group Kol Zimra. Great stuff.

Hat tip to YouTube user nsomniak87 for posting the video.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Death of a JDub Saleman

"This documentary short tells the story of the day to day struggle of being a modern day door to door salesman. Documentarian/Sephardic Rock Icon Daniel Saks followed around a young man named Adam as he walked the streets of Brooklyn pulling a suitcase full of Jewish music behind him, trying ever so hard to make that elusive sale."

Death of a JDub Saleman

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

#JewishMusic (or adventures in Twitterland)

Between the Passover, catching the plague from my kids again, and being swamped at work, things have been a bit slow at Teruah lately. But I'm not sad, oh no. I've been playing with Twitter, that new darling of the social media crowd. A full blog post in 140 characters or less. Just pithy thought and a link. Makes blogs feel so 2004. Seriously, though, I've been enjoying Twitter a lot and have a few observations about the intersection of Twitter and Jewish music that I thought I'd share.

First, you'd be surprised how much discussion of Jewish music there is out there. And while a lot of is coming from musicians and labels, as you might expect, there are a lot of regular folks chatting away. I regular scan for tweets (twitter messages) that have any combination of Jewish, Israeli, Yiddish, and Sephardic with Music, Song, and Concert. Here are a couple of samples from the last day or so...
"@mileycyrus and maybe even ud like it! its from a really great band called lev tahor, its jewish music, but these guys can seriously make -"
For the unitiated, @ followed by a name means that the tweet was directed toward a particular person. So yep, that is someone telling Miley Cyrus (aka Disney princess Hannah Montana) about Jewish Otho-pop band Lev Tahor.
"Got a request from Jewish Wedding party in Briarcliff Manor, NY on Sunday 08/30. They want a klezmer-type music. Any suggestions of bands?"
I responded to this one saying "@troubleww about klezmer music. Wholesale Klezmer Band in MA and Binyomin Ginzberg in NYC are great. WKB did my wedding." and "When talking to klezmer bands about wedding - make sure they can lead dances and the before wedding tish. Many can't."
"I've been listening to Klezmer music all day." "My Balkan/Klezmer acoustic band Luna Kalamata are reforming: any ideas for gigs?"
That's the British group Luna Kalamata. Check 'em out.

Which brings me back to the musicans. My follow list currently includes Matisyahu, Y-love, KoshaDillz, Craig Taubman, Stereo Sinai, Punk Torah, Hebrew School, DJ Eric Rosen, Darshan, The Shondes, Rob Tannenbaum of Good for the Jews, and even the king of Chassidic Pop Lipa Schmetlzer. Not to mention labels Shemspeed and JDub Records, bloggers Jewish Music Report and Life of Rubin, and a cast of other great characters including Rabbit Yonah of the Jewlicious festival, Mobius from Jewschool, and Jennie Rivlin Roberts of Modern Tribe. I'm sure I'm missing a ton of great folks.

Twitter gives you an amazing slize of their lives and conversations. Which is the next thing about twitter, it's like getting invited to the coolest cocktail party in the world. Every day I get to listen in on interesting discussions between folks I'd never have met or interacted with otherwise. And this runs the gamut of Jewish experience, from the music folks I've mentioned to Breslov Chassids in Toronto to Jewish-Cellist-Chemistry-Students in Milwaukee to Boston shul organizers. But it's more than a party, it's a community building. I watch folks with strong commitments to their Jewish identity organize events, trade favors, gossip, look for gigs (and girlfriends/boyfriends). For a guy in a small farm town, it's an amazing daily dose of serious Jewish community.

And it's an amazing does of tedius reality. Here's a particularly annoying comment from today's searches.
"Hav u ever wondered what kinda music a jewish person has on their ipod? Lol"
And my response..."@ReemTeam I'm Jewish. I've got Matisyahu, Y-love, Sway Machinery, The Shondes, John Zorn, Socalled, and lots of klezmer on my iPod. Why?"

So check it out. And if you're already on twitter let me know. You can find me at

Friday, April 17, 2009

Miriam & Shoshana in Love

I was grumping a while back about Erran Baron Cohen's poor attempt at Jewish themed kitsch. I'm not against kitsch or parody, but I've got pretty high standards for it. You'd better understand what your poking fun at or don't waste my time. Here's a much much better humorous take on Orthodox Jewish life offered up by film director Oren Kaplan and staring Kara Luiz and Deena Adar. Is it accurate and fair? Of course not. But it's convincing and really funny.

Miriam & Shoshana

If you enjoyed this, Kaplan, Luiz, and Adar have done a couple others together including "Miriam and Shoshana do Channukah" and the Miriam and Shoshana Gansta video. Also, check out this very earnest, very negative, response from Vaad HaInternet, some serious orthodox Jews.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Archival Footage of the Children's Home in Otwock

Yad Vashem, "the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust" just posted this touching film of the Children's Home in Otwock, Poland, circa 1946.

From the Yad Vashem website...
"This original footage contains scenes of children playing and performing in the children’s home in Otwock. The songs are in Yiddish and Hebrew. In addition, the footage contains two professional performances put on in the home - a rendition of the dance “Reb Elimelech” by the dancers Yehudit Berg and Felix Fiebich and a performance of a song from the Vilna Ghetto, "Tsu Eins Zwei Drei", by Fania Rubina.

The footage is excerpted from the film Mir Lebengeblibene (We the Living Remnant), originally produced by Shaul Goskind and Nathan Gross in 1946-47. Yaakov Gross recently released the film again along with Hebrew subtitles. For more information about obtaining a copy of the film, please contact Yad Vashem."
Hat tip to a member of the Klezmershack Mailinglist for participating in Yad Vashem and letting us know about the video.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amaseffer - A Progressive Metal Exodus

Amaseffer album coverIt's the last night of Passover and I wanted to share one last bit of Passover music. Last summer Amaseffer, an Israeli progressive metal band, released a highly regarded album called "Slaves for Life" which is the first of a trilogy (seriously) of albums retelling the story of the Exodus.

I was introduced to Amaseffer by the Israel Beat podcast, which offers some tracks from the album and a nice interview with band member Erez Yohanan, and have spent time on the bands website listening to the samples. I'm honestly not sure what I think of the music. It's an amazingly ambitious work, one that combines elements of heavy and progressive metal with Jewish liturgical and folk music in a sparse but powerfully cinemagraphic, arrangements. My only complaint was that I found it a bit monotonous after awhile. Listening to a soundtrack without watching the movie can be like that sometimes. There wasn't as much melodic range or experimentation as I'd hoped for.

But based on the reviews I've read, a lot of people love this album. The website Metal Underground, for example, says...
"Never in the history of metal music has there been such a colossal undertaking as the Israeli band Amaseffer’s plan to release a trilogy of albums based on the Old Testament. Daunting and controversial, yes, but the results, at least for the first album, "Slaves For Life," are awe-inspiring."
So there you go, daunting and awe-inspiring. I will say that I will probably buy the album and give it more of a serious listen and that I can easily see it in heavy rotation next Passover in my house. During the interview Yohanan promised two more albums continuing the story and then a concert series where all three albums worth of material are played, will full backing band and choirs. That, to be sure, would be something to hear and see.

The best way to hear album samples is to go to the Amasaeffer website or MySpace page, both provide lots of clips. To hear the interview, check out to the Israel Beat blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Strike the Dog - Personalizing Chad Gadya

What's so captivating about a dog getting smacked with a stick and a lamb being bought (11 times by the end) for two zuzim? The familiar barnyard menagerie is easy to understand and the repetition of lyric makes it easy to sing about, both which make Chad Gadya perfect for bored kids at a long Seder. And that, I suppose, is enough. A playful song to balance some heavy seder drama. Dam, Tsfardeia, Cat, Dog, Ox. Is that it?

I've seen a number of explanations for Chad Gadya.Rabbi Yehudah Prero at Torah.Org notes the similarities of the Chad Gadya narrative to Passover's escalating plagues. Wikipedia offers up a more historical interpretation.
"Some Jewish or Zionist thinkers believe Chad Gadya shows the different nations that have inhabited Israel: the kid being the Jewish people, the cat, Assyria; the dog, Babylon; the stick, Persia; the fire, Macedonia; the water, Rome; the ox, the Saracens; the slaughterer, the Crusaders; the Angel of Death, the Turks. At the end, God returns to send the Jews back to Israel."
The Vilna Goan had a similar but more spiritual explanation.
"Chad Gadya tells the story of the history of the Jewish people as they were brought time and time again by their sins into physical and spiritual servitude under the nations of the world, and how they would rise to a great salvation when they returned to Torah and teshuvah."
(This is just the summary, see "The Peirush of the Vilna Gaon on Chad Gadya" for the whole explanation)

Clearly, there is something about a small miseries (a lamb being eaten by a cat) escalating to larger and larger intersessions (finally God himself intervenes) that we find deeply compelling, so compelling that the song has been part of the seder Haggadah since the medival period and been recorded by countless musicians.

There are no shortage of versions out there, including Moyshe Oysher 1920's cantorial, Ofra Haza's 1970's pop, and Darshan's 2000's hip hop. I think that my current favorite, though, is Israel musician Chava Alberstein rewrite of Chag Gadya for the 2006 movie Free Zone.

Had Gadia

Here are two translated snippets of her lyrics, courtesy of the Free Zone press pack.
"The crafty cat was on the lookout
It pounced on the lamb
And ate it up
The dog choked the cat
That had eaten up the lamb
That my father had bought
For just two pennies
The lamb! The lamb!"

"Why do you sing, little lamb?
Spring isn't yet here
And Passover neither
Have you changed?
I have changed this year
And every evening
Like each evening
I have only asked four questions
But, tonight
I have thought of another question
How long will this hellish circle last?
I have thought of a question tonight
How long will this hellish circle last?
That of the oppressor and the oppressed,
Of the executioner and the victim
How long will this madness last?"
Honestly, the production of the song is a little syrupy for me (I'd love to hear her do it live), but there is something about the rising intensity of the vocals and how Alberstein weaves the Chad Gadya story back into the Passover seder, both personalizing it and generalizing it. Pretty powerful stuff. How long will the madness last, indeed?

You can find out more about Chava Alberstein at her homepage or Wikipedia entry. You can also check out a 2002 interview with Alberstein on National Public Radio.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Passover" over the George Washington Bridge

I went to a Chabad community seder on Wednesday night and had fun explaining to an Israeli Jew what horseradish was and why someone would voluntarily eat it. It was a great experience sitting in a room filled with mosaic of Jews that were committed or nostalgic, Sephardic or Ashkenazi, American or Israeli, traditional or not. There was a lot of discussion of varying traditions ranging from parsley vs. celery vs. onion's for karpas to our favorite songs and stories. One thing that was clear was that my typical Conservative Jewish Passover experience is idiosyncratic and very very American.

When I was looking for interesting Passover music this week, I ran across this wonderful piece from William Finn's "Elegies." Like my own experiences, it's wonderfully idiosyncratic and very very American. It's also filled with a deep sense of how family life weaves through the seder experience and the Passover themes. Finn writes for musical theater, with very autobiographic shows including the Tony winning Broadway show, Falsettos, that explore his experience of being gay and Jewish in contemporary America.

Here's William Finn's "Passover" from his "Elegies," a song cycle about the loss of friends and family. Broadway actress, and North Coast University of Michigan alumni, Cortney Wolfson performs.

ELEGIES: "Passover"

Hat tip to YouTube user UrInTown for posting the video.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Birkat HaChama: Here Comes The Sun

I just got in from doing the Birkat Hachama, which has been the buzz of the Jewish community for the last year, but has reached a fever pitch over the last week or so. I'll let Wikipedia explain...
"Birkat Hachama (ברכת החמה, "Blessing of the Sun") refers to a Jewish blessing that is recited in appreciation of the Sun once every twenty-eight years, when the vernal equinox, as calculated by tradition, falls on a Tuesday at sundown. Jewish tradition says that when the Sun completes this cycle, it has returned to its position when the world was created."
A Jewish blessing that takes place only once every 28 years, and happens to be on Erev Peseach? Makes today pretty special and I was glad to get outside and say the blessing. If you haven't yet, go do it (if, of course, it's still morning on April 8, 2009 when you read this).

Here's one version of the appropriate blessings, courtesy of Kehillaton.Com. Here's another version courtesy of Chabad.Com. Both of which provide lots more info as well.

On a personal note, don't look at the sun too long before saying the payer. I learned the hard way that the sun spots I got looking at the sun didn't clear for at least the first few pages of blessings. Sigh. Because this is a music blog, I had to end with a random bit of music / humor. Here we on Birkat Hachama set to The Beatles "Here Comes The Sun" courtesy of

Monday, April 6, 2009

iPhone and Jewish Radio... yeah, there's an app for it.

iPhone for Jewish Music logo RustyBrick has just launched their Jewish Radio for iPhone application. It's available through the iTunes store for 99 cents. From the screen shot on the RustyBrick website, it's clear that they've got all of the important Orthodox / Chassidic stations (JM in the AM, Olam Radio, Jewish Broadcast" as well as Miszrachi, Yiddish, Israeli stations, and even Big J. It's a nice starting lineup. I don't have an iPhone yet, but this may be the final reason to get one. I wonder if I can get them to link to my podcast? Here's the official RustyBrick description...
"Listen to dozens of free Jewish Internet radio stations on your iPhone or iPod Touch. The music and talk radio channels will stream directly from your device. It works over WiFi, 3G or Edge. You can even "scan" through the available Jewish and Israeli channels. In addition to listening to the songs, we give you a link to a site where you can purchase the song or album. Plus, if we are missing any free channels, you can email us and let us know, and we will add them to the list."
iPhone Jewish Radio App

Hat tip to the Infoxenter_apps Twitter feed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Musical history of Maftirim

The Ottoman Yeni Cani imperial mosqueNextbook.Org reporter Daniel Estrin did a nice feature recently on Maftirim, interviewing Professor Edwin Seroussi, director of the Jewish Music Research Center at Hebrew University.
"In Turkey and Greece, as far back as the 16th century, groups of cantors and religious figures used to gather in the early morning, before prayer services, to sing devotional poetry in Hebrew. This gave rise to a distinct and complex form of music called maftirim, which only the most talented men could master.

These small gatherings were part of a broader musical exchange under the Ottoman empire: Muslim Sufi mystics would come to synagogue on the Sabbath to listen to the maftirim. And the Jewish maftirim singers would visit Sufi lodges for musical inspiration."
Here is a short snippet to give you an idea of what maftirim sounds like. The recording is of Isaac Algazi singing the Yichlah Michmaim Mafterim.

To hear the report, go to NextBook. If you can read Hebrew, you can read the article ""The Tradition of singing of the Maftirim in Turkey"" by Professor Seroussi.