Friday, May 29, 2009

Hazkeni Voices: Hatikvah 'Hebraic Gospel' style

Hi folks, Shabbat Shalom and happy Shavout.

I haven't done my weekly 'get into the Shabbat groove' video in a couple of weeks. I've been way more frazzled than groovy. I'd already decided to kick it off again today when I ran into this video (courtesy of Mocha Juden, a blog and twitter feed "celebrating racial inclusiveness in the Jewish community."

The video is from the French group Hazkeni Voices. They're an interesting group, check out their bio after the video. This is them performing Hatikvah at a bar mitzvah. Rumor has it they have an album coming out in June. I'll let everyone know if I hear anything.

Gospel Meets Hebraic - HAZKENI VOICES

The Hazkeni Voices story...

"French from birth with African and Carribean roots, the members of Hazkeni Voices met while performing in gospel choirs throughout France over ten years ago. Ethel Adams and Guillaume Eyango, lead vocalists and founding members of Hazkeni Voices, were performing together at various Jewish celebrations and were introduced to the Hebrew culture by way of its music.

Ethel and Guillaume were immediately amazed by the beauty and the deepness of the traditional full of emotions, so expressive and so simple at the same time. Singing these songs in Hebrew drove them to experience the same kind of feelings as when singing traditional gospel songs. They progressively realized how similar the Hebrew and Black communities were in regards to music--the significance of music in our spiritual lives, the way it helps in keeping the memories of the trials our people went through alive and most importantly, how music always brings us together to express our joys and our pains.

Thus was born the will to form Hazkeni Voices as a vocal ensemble based on the interpretation of hebraic traditional songs with Gospel music's feeling. They have created original vocal arrangements and new instrumentations of some of the most popular Hebrew songs.

They are about to release their debut CD in June 2009. A sincere labour of love, the fruit of a spiritual and musical crossing."

Hat Tip to YouTube user geyango for posting the video

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Misirlou - A Turkish, Greek, Israeli, Easy Listening, Klezmer, Surf Rock, Punk Classic

As a guy with one or two of my own, I appreciate obsessions in others. The song Misirlou, for example. Why settle for just one version when you can have six? YouTube user Iatedmen posted six different versions of the Turkish, Greek, Israeli, easy listening, klezmer, surf rock, punk classic to YouTube yesterday. My compliments.

About Misirlou, as Wikipedia tells us....
"The song was first performed by the Michalis Patrinos* rebetiko band in Athens, Greece in 1927....The Greek word Misirlou refers specifically to a Muslim Egyptian woman (as opposed to a Christian Egyptiotissa); thus this song refers to a cross-faith, cross-race, relationship, a risqué subject at its time."

*note this attribution is somewhat disputed, but good enough for now.

For an American, the other major figure in the the Misirlou story is surf-guitar pioneer Dick Dale. As of Sluggo of Dinosaur Gardens tells it..
"In 1960, a ten-year-old boy walked up to Dick Dale at a local show and asked him if he could play an entire song on one guitar string. He said sure kid, come back tomorrow, and then wracked his brain that night trying to figure out a composition that would work. Lebanese-American Dale (his birth name was Richard Mansour) thought back to the weddings of his childhood and remembered the traditional number “Misirlou”, which fit the bill; he resolved to play it insanely fast. It would become Dale’s signature song."
I'm not going to embed each of Iatedmen's videos, though all are excellent and worth listening to. They include Greek singers Glykeria , Tzeni Vanou, Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat (who's 1950's exotica rendition is fabulously deranged), Brazilian classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida, American pop singer Connie Francis (also known for her album 'Connie Francis sings Jewish Favorites'), and American surf rock band, The Ventures. (Though not the classic Dick Dale version or an outstanding punk version by Agent Orange.)

This being a Jewish music blog I'm going to jump right into two klezmer versions of the song. First up is the Portuguese klezmer band Melech Mechaya in a poorly recorded but great street corner jam.

Melech Mechaya - Miserlou

For a more standard and polished version, here's The Klezmonauts, performing at the Llanidloes Green Fair, in October 2007.

The Klezmonauts - Misirlou

Courtesy of the DinosaurGardens website, here is a Yiddish version and a Hebrew version. The Yiddish version is from Seymour Rexite, bandleader and husband of Yiddish Theater star Miriam Kressyn. Kressyn is credited with translating Misirlou into Yiddish in the 40's.

Seymour Rexite - Miserlou (cir. 1950)

The Hebrew version is from cantor Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, who was recorded by ethnomusicologist Harry Smith in 1951. (See my post 'Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set')

Rabbi Abulafia - Misirlou (cir. 1951)

For more on the evolution of Misirlou, you can listen to Dick Dale and to musicologist and Klezmer musician Yale Strom on NPR's "Discover Songs" series.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Modern Rock Derash - Spirituality is in the Ear of the Listener

Today I braved the drive from Michigan to Chicago to participate in the Shemspeed "Music Identity Discussion" that followed last night's Stereo Sinai, YLove, & Dov Rosenblatt (of Blue Fringe) concert (which, sadly, I missed). About a dozen of us, including Alan of Stereo Sinai, Ylove, and Dov, camped out in the University of Chicago Hillel for two hours, munching on humus & pita and talking about our experiences looking for spiritual content in rock music.

Ylove and Dov both offered some of their favorite examples, Ylove presenting "Forest" and "Question" from the band System of a Down and Dov presenting Spiralling by the band Keane. Neither bands are Jewish, none of the three songs were written from a Jewish perspective, but each song strongly resonated for one of the presenters and was analyzed for it's spiritual content. For example "Forest," to Ylove, was a retelling of Genesis that emphasized the balance of Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) and Yetzer Hatov (the good inclination) and was suggestive of the Midrash that described Adam as temporarily becoming an atheist and denying the existence of God.

System of a Down - "Forest"

Walk with me my little child
To the forest of denial
Speak with me my only mind
Walk with me until the time
Make the forest turn to wine
You take the legend for a fall
You saw the product

Why can't you see that you are my child
Why don't you know that you are my mind
Tell everyone in the world that I'm you
Take this promise to the end of you
For Ylove and Dov, the goal of the discussion was to show that non-Jewish music can be the basis for Jewish spiritual experience if the listener is open to the possibility. Even the average pop love song can, like the Psalms, be reconceptualized as describing the singers love for God. Alan also noted that while not all songs work in that way, even songs with terrible lyrics (either in quality or message) can offer melodies that can be listened to and learned from, like the crowns on Hebrew letters.

Honestly, I struggled with this conversation. Alan, Dov, and Ylove are all Orthodox Jews and this kind of handwringing justification for secular music is a preoccupation of folks from the traditional Jewish community. Those of us in the liberal community don't have any religious obstacles to overcome regarding secular music and don't feel the need to justify listening to it. Because of that, applying derash techniques to extract moral or theological lessons from secular pop songs seems both unnecessary and misleading. Ylove noted more than once that the spirituality of a song is very much up to the ear of the listener. I worry that a better analogy is that the listener is mining for gold with a paint brush and gold paint. Anything of value that was found was placed there by the searcher.

On the other hand, I found the conversation strangely liberating. Over the years, while I have fought off the constant bombardment of Christian lyics, I have run into a number of songs that have affected me deeply in a very positive, very Jewish way. I often struggle to say why, though. For example, I have been deeply moved by The Waterboys and XTC's British pagan pop songs. While the literal meanings of the songs go against my beliefs, there is something about the unapologetic sense of awe in an imminent God in them that I resonate with. To Ylove and Dov, that's a good thing. To them I'm capable of extracting the spiritual value of the song and letting the other bits go. The fact that I'm training my ear to hear the songs Jewishly is the important thing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Anakronic Electro Orkestra

Anakronic Electro Orkestra's a monster that's got klezmer deep in it's beat-crazy electronica house DNA. This is serious stuff. Well worth the listen.

I haven't been able to scrounge up much English language info on them, other than that their recent album "The Yiddish Part" is available for electronic download through the usual sources (including Amazon and iTunes) and that they have a new single, featuring klezmer hip-hop accordionist SoCalled, that's associated with the French Nu Juwish Music collective.

Here's their bio (in French):
L'avenir de la musique Klezmer: ANAKRONIC ELECTRO ORKESTRA
La musique fleurit là où on l'attend pas. Qui aurait pu prédire que l'expérience la plus novatrice et originale française d'electro klezmer viendrait du Sud Ouest, le pays du cassoulet, du rugby, de Zebda, et maintenant d'Anakronik Electro Orkestra.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kum tsu mir in kholem, Reyzl

A nice Yiddish love song popped up on YouTube this morning. I don't run into a lot of Yiddish music that isn't part of a contemporary klezmer or shiny shoe (orthodox pop) show, so I thought I'd share it. The song is Reyzle by Mordechai Gebirtig (b. 1877, Krakow - d. 1942, Krakow) a popular Yiddish poet and songwriter. For Gebirtig's full bio and song list, as well as recordings of a dozen other performers signing Reyzl see SavetheMusic.Com. The YouTube video doesn't give any performer credits, but I think this is the Ami Flammer, Moshe Leiser and Gérard Barreaux version from their lovely 1985 Radio France album "Chansons In Yiddish."

(All useful info here came from, an amazing resource for Jewish music of all sorts.)

Reyzele - Mordkhe Gebirtig

Hat Tip to YouTube user Sasha365i for posting the video. Sasha3651 has a large collection of Yiddish videos, check 'em out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sruly moves to Mostly Music & the Podcast follows

Sruly Meyer, Sameach Music graphic designer, co-host of the Sameach Podcast, and all around bon vivant has packed up his desk toys and moved over to Sameach's rival Mostly Music. He'd like everyone to know that the Podcast is going to continue, now sponsored by Mostly Music and the Jewish Music Report. Here's the details...
"Dov Katz and Sruly Meyer host an all new Jewish Music show! (which can always be accessed through

This podcast (a audio mp3 file which you download) can be heard a few different ways. You can right click here and save it to your computer.

You can listen in the play button below, or you can subscribe via iTunes and iTunes will automatically download the new show and put it in your iTunes podcast list.

On this debut episode the guys bring you brand new exclusive debut music from Shloime Taussig, Yoni Shlomo, Gershon Veroba’s Second Impressions, Shloime Dachs and Regesh Volume 11. They also play songs from recent hits such Yisroel Werdyger, Miami Boys Choir.

The JMR also debuts Hanging With the Sheichet, a short segment highlighting the recent audio interview of Shloime Taussig.

You can also hear a song from Sherwood Goffin’s album, released on Double CD for the first time. Get Mimkomcha and Neshoma on one CD for $9.99!

Dov and Sruly get used to the new format and discuss what’s ahead for the show. The JMR podcast is sponsored by, where you can buy and download thousands of Jewish albums.

You can subscribe to our iTunes feed where you’ll automatically get any JMR audio and video, including out podcast delivered directly to your iTunes at home or work. Use this feed to download this video directly to your iPod, using iTunes."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just pop it in and you're on hold!

Have you ever been on the telephone waiting to speak to a customer service representative or sitting in a doctors office waiting to be seen and said, you know, the problem with this boring, pacifying, ridiculous piped-in music is that it isn't Jewish enough? thinks that's the problem and is ready with the solution, "Jewish 'Hold Button' Music. Now you too can have a disc of 15 classic "Ambient Professional Office Jewish Music" tracks "played on Xylophone." The CD, we're told, "plays on standard CD player or computer. Just Pop it in and You're On Hold!"

Whew. Crisis averted.

I'd suggest you don't press play on clip below, only you know you have to. Sort of like picking a scab.

I'd be curious to know if anyone has actually heard this CD in the wild. At your favorite Judaica shop? At a dentist office in Crown Heights? The events line for your local JCC?

By the way, I just checked the official Muzak website to see if the kings of elevator music have also gone Yid. Maybe this CD is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe there's 100's of hours or Jewish xylophone music running loose? Unfortunately, no such luck. While Muzak offers watered-down ethnic mixes including "Little Italy," "Quebecois" and "Viva Mariachi," not to mention "Roadhouse" "Breathe" and "Varsity" (Varsity?), sadly there is no Jewish themed mix.

As a unicorn chaser go listen to Y-Love and Describe's new "Make It" video.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Israel's Noa and Mira Awad compete in Eurovision Song Contest tomorrow

In America, we don't tend to track the 53 year old Eurovision Song Contest very closely. Across the pond, though, it's a big deal. Starting in 1954 with 23 local European broadcasters supporting the show, this year the Eurovision finals will be broadcast via satellite around the world. Specifically, tomorrow's finals will be broadcast from this years competition location in Moscow. After two semi-final rounds Israel's entry, Noa & Mira Awad, are ranked #2. Here's an early performance....

Noa & Mira Awad - There Must Be Another Way (Israel)

As one can imagine, there has been no shortage of controversy around Israel's entry. I've seen plenty of folks celebrating the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian partnership and song as representing the best spirit of the peace efforts. I've seen (a smaller number of) other folks calling this a hypocritical political propaganda move by Israel to present a positive face to the world while committing abuses at home. I even saw one comment on twitter this morning describing "There Must Be Another Way" as "a lesbian love song. With cleavage." Go figure.

Clearly, Noa and Mira subscribe to the positive view of the situation. To hear what they have to say, here's an excerpt from an interview they to the Spanish paper La Razon, reproduced in the isRealli blog.

"Mira and I are very proud to be the first Arab-Jewish Israeli duo to go to Eurovision. We are also proud that upon our demand, the internal laws were changed and Arabic was allowed to be sung as a formal language representing Israel in the ESC. Our duo sheds light on the complexity of our situation here in the Middle East. Israel has a very large minority, almost 20 percent, of Palestinians, Christian (like Mira) and Muslim, who are Israeli citizens. This sector is still fighting for full integration into Israeli society. This is separate from the Palestinians living in the occupied territories, who are fighting for their independence and the establishment of the state of Palestine. In addition, Israel is surrounded by Arab countries most of which do not recognize her right to exist. So you can see, the situation is complicated. Mira and I do not represent [Israel] to present reality, but what our nations can STRIVE for if we choose dialogue over violence. Our friendship is a symbol of how we CAN get along, based on respect and communication.

Art and music cannot solve the world’s problems, but we can help. And we MUST help. We must do our part in the GLOBAL effort for peace and reconciliation that must include EVERY human being and every organization, each playing his part."

Hat tip to most of the blogsphere and twittiverse.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Hatikvah Adventure

Back in March I got an email from Jennie Star, director of Tarbuton, a San Diego organization dedicated to adding a little Israeli culture to San Diego. She had a quest. She need some help. Something really specific. She wanted the backing track to the Francky Perez and Broadway arrangement of Hatikvah. You see, she had a group of girls wanting to sing it out loud for the "San Diego Celebrates Israel" Festival 2009, all they needed was the music to sing to.

Fortunately for Jennie, this was an easy one. I'd already been in touch with Francky and he was happy to loan Jennie the backing track. My part was done, and now it was the girls turn, with Jennie leading the way and documenting the adventure..

Tarbuton & Kef Li San Diego - HaTikva - For Kochav Nolad Shelanu - San Diego

The girls made their video and were accepted to perform at the Yom Haatzmaout Festival last week. Congrats girls!

You can catch the full version of the Francky Perez and Broadway "Hatikva" video at YouTube.

House of Pain vs Klezmer

This week's zeitgeist moment is brought to you by Brazilian musician Faroff. The video, which has been popping up everywhere this week, is a mashup of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, the Irish-American hip-hop group House of Pain, and a musician or group called Pa Brapad.

House of Pain vs Klezmer - Mashup by FAROFF

Hat Tip to YouTube user FanFaroff for uploading the video and to just about every music blog and person on Twitter for tweeting about it.

Happy Birthday to Me - Israeli Eurovision Disco Style

This week, all over the world, Jews built partied, blasted music, and built bonfires to celebrate my birthday. Or was that all for Lag B'omer? Oh well.

But yesterday was my birthday. Age 39. As a birthday present, my buddy Binyomin Ginzberg, of JewishMucian.Com, sent me this video of the Israeli band Eden singing "Happy Birthday" in the 1999 Eurovision contest. The video cracks me up and I've had to watch it about a dozen times. Its return of joyful disco, sort of a Village People revival without the costumes.

It's great when your friends know what you want for your birthday.

Happy Birthday- Eden (Israel eurovision 1999)

Hat tip to YouTube user BigBentz2005 for posting the video.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's good to be Jewish...and to have hand puppets

Couldn't resist this one. Had to share.

It's good to be jewish, by my mother

According to YouTube user Process613, "It's a crazy Jewish song my mother wrote for a children's album, performed live." I don't know what album he's talking about, but if I can find out I'll let you know.

It's good to be Jewish and to have hand puppets. And I like it!

Hat tip to the I Heart Jews blog.

Update: Binyomin Ginzberg of JewishMusician.Com just let me know that "It's Good to be Jewish and I like it" is the title song of a 2006 Paul Zim's album. You can grab a copy from Mostly Music.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bas Sheva's passion - from cantorial to exotica

Bas Sheva, that songbird of exotica, got her start singing Jewish liturgical work. As I noted in my previous post about her, Sheva, born Beatrice Kurzman, sang on the 1953 quasi-liturgical album "Soul of My People" before she went on to the Tiki classic "The Passions." I was just pointed to a rare video of Sheva performing the liturgical cantorial work she grew up on. The video is a clip from her 1949 film Catskill Honeymoon.

Bas Sheva 1949 Pioneer Cantoress

And here's Sheva singing "Jealousy" from Passions. I know I've showcase it before, but I want to do so again. Just for comparison purposes, mind you. Not because it's one of my favorite tracks ever. Really. Listen carefully, though. If you get past Baxter's wonderful Tweety Bird exotica and focus on Sheva's voice, the similarities in her vocal performance are striking. It's clear, to me at least, where she honed her ability to express passion in song.

Bas Sheva: Jealousy

Hat tip to YouTube user YidVidz for uploading the Catskill Honeymoon videl and to shuon25 of the schuon25 blog for assembling the Jealousy video.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tzena Tzena, for Cello, Oboe, Violin and Plastic Chair percussion (or, How to survive really weird weeks)

Last week was one of the strangest weeks I've had in a while. For most of it I was on a business trip to Houston. In my day job, I'm a research scientist at a small privately owned lab that does mostly artificial intelligence research. Personally, I do human-computer interaction research and worry about how to make AI systems a little more understandable and useful. I was down in Houston to get some training on a new user interface toolkit that NASA is currently building to support future mission control systems.

The week started off with me arriving in a street flooding, school closing, thunderstorm. I was so flustered that when I got to my hotel I left my keys in the car, the car running, and the windshield wipers on. Which, when the rain stopped in the middle of the night, practically melted the wipers to the windshield. Sigh.

Next up was me and some colleagues getting a private tour of Mission Control including the historical Gemini / Apollo mission control center and the currently operating International Space Station and Space Shuttle mission control center. For a nerd like me, this was an amazing experience.

On Wednesday night I was taken to a local Houston Mexican restaurant called Hugo's. This place was lovely and yummy and had a menu that was authentic Mexican, not the Tex-Mex I usually get. The hoot of the night was ordering a plate of grasshoppers as an appetizer. Yes, grasshoppers. Dry roasted in spices and served with hot sauce and tortillas. I had double checked the kashrut of grasshoppers already and found that, for a Conservative Jew like me, they checked out ok. And they were quite yummy.

On Friday I got back to the North Coast and found that my Jewish twitto-sphere (my Twitter feeds) was buzzing. It seems that the JTA, "The Global News Service of the Jewish People" had just posted "JTA’s 100 Most Influential Jewish Twitterers". The 100 were broken down into the top 50 Individual Twitterers, the top 25 Organizations, and the top 25 Newswires. I was surprised and flattered to find myself at the #36 spot (such an auspicious number!). Of course, the way they computed the list is a bit questionable and the implication that I'm influential is even more questionable. But it was great to be included. Thanks JTA! that finally brings me around to Tzena, Tzena. Yesterday I brought my elder wiggler to her last day of Hebrew School first grade (Kita Aleph). While dropping her off, I was grabbed by the Wendy Zohar, the music teacher, who was short a percussion section for the graduation concert. Now, please understand, neither Wendy or I were under any illusions about my drumming ability. I have none. But we were both hopeful that my meager musical background as occasional performer (high school clarinet, open mic guitar 10 years ago) and full time fan would get me and the band through the Israeli Medley she had arranged. Of course, the show was in an hour and not only had Wendy no drummer, but she had no drum.

So one fast rehearsal later, I found myself up on the bimah with a set of fine elementary school violin, cello, and bongo drums, and a high school cello and oboe (both ringers recruited for the show). And me, sitting there looking a bit dazed, banging in time on a plastic chair to Tzena, Tzena, Oseh Shalom and a couple of other of Wendy's favorites.

And that was the week that was.

Because I hate any Teruah posts that don't have a play button, here's Arlo Guthrie performing one of the most discombobulated Tzena, Tzena's I know of. Pretty much how I felt yesterday.

Arlo Guthrie sings 'Tzena Tzena'

Hat tip to YouTube user YidVidz for uploading the video.