Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Shondes Need You!

Speaking of Jewish women with voices, my favorite Jewish queer radical politics punk band, The Shondes needs help. They've got to get to SXSW in a couple of weeks and their van was stolen. For a young band that's a really bad thing. No van. No go.

So they've started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new (to them) van to get them on the road to SXSW and beyond. I've put my $$ down. How about you? Even $5 would help. Think of it as gas money for some really great folks.

Donate via Kickstarter.

Here's one of my favorite Shondes tracks, off their first album The Red Sea and the "trailer" for their latest album, "My Dear One." The trailer is a great chance to get to know them. UPDATE: The Shondes have put together a video explaining their situation.

Rinat Gutman: Orthodox Woman with a Voice

There's a minor kerfluffle brewing on the Jew music scene lately. Jewish musician Naomi Less has called out the Jewlicious festival for not featuring enough women artists in her blog Jewish Chicks Rock. She basically called the progressive festival an Orthodox front. She got a response today from David Abitbol, aka Jewlicous, politely telling her she's got it all wrong. I'm not sure what to think. From my experience working on the Detroit JCC's Stephen Gottlieb Music Fest there are some many different voices, opportunities, and constraints involved in getting a festival staged it's amazing they happen at all. It may be that the subtle constraints that come from the individual tastes of the Jewlicious Fest presenters are leading to this outcome? Or maybe Less is just making noise about nothing?

One nice thing about Abitbol's response was the list of female performers that have been featured at the Jewlicious festivals recently. I'm familiar with most of them, but there are some new (to me) names I'll have to track down and some names that I've heard of but haven't featured lately or ever.

One that list is Israeli rapper, Rinat Gutman. According to this great interview in the Yeshiva University Observer, Gutman comes from a Charedi Zionist background with some ties to Breslov and Chabad. Gutman performs some women-only shows within the Orthodox community, but lots of shows for mixed secular crowds (such as the Jewlicious festival), too.
"In my rap I speak about things that come from inside, about thoughts and insights that come to me in response to things that happen to me in life. At this point in my life, the central message that I am trying to convey is about the western culture, which dominates everything. I talk a lot about the ramifications of this on our lives, and in my opinion, the implications for the approaching time periods are destructive.

For example, in my song Shekel v'Chetzi [shekel-and-a-half] I talk about our lives using the metaphor of a shekel v'chetzi store [dollar store]. In my eyes, this is the ultimate representation of western culture - the concept of instant gratification. You can find things almost for free, but you pass up on quality along the way. So I mention in my song all types of things that you can "buy" in this type of store, such as love, a professional degree, friends, etc.

I want to make a difference in the world of Jewish music because, in my opinion, it can still develop more. I want to take commonplace topics and make them humorous and lighthearted. For example, I have a Chassidic short story in a rap that talks about shidduchim in a funny and unusual way - it's about a groom who's too short and bride who's too tall, etc..
Good stuff, too, from what I've heard. I haven't seen her yet, but hope to. Get more info from Gutman's MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

More on Math Rosen, Yiddish Laser Bass and the Panorama Jazz Band

In my last post, I wrote about Canadian DJ Math Rosen's "Yiddish Laser Bass." Rosen got back to me later in the week with the track's back story. Rosen's background is bit like mine and, I'm sure, a bit like lots of yours. Jewish culture was more background than foreground as kid, but it was formative and now is influencing his own culture making. Love it. Rosen's an interesting guy and I look forward to his album coming out. I'll keep you all posted.
"The instrument is a Monome 256, from a mom-and-pop company called Monome. It's a totally open-source digital controller, meaning that it can be programmed to do virtually anything. Lots of people use it like I do, essentially a loop-slicing sequencer tool. But there are dozens of applications out there, everything from self-generating music to a wicked game of tetris. The units are all hand made by the creator and his partner, and all the software is designed by the users and shared on the forums. It's a pretty amazing community.

As for the Yiddish tune... It came from a few places. For one thing, there was Sunday Simcha -- the klezmer radio show my dad used to listen to every Sunday morning. That definitely got into my subconscious at an early age... I grew up pretty secular, but my parents always encouraged a curiosity about music and its connection to heritage across cultures.

The other place that tune came from is a bit of a story... The main hook is sampled from a group called the Panorama Jazz Band, who make a really eclectic mix of Dixieland, Klezmer, Baltic folk tunes... you name it. I saw them perform while I was staying in New Orleans about a year after Katrina. I was down there volunteering, gutting damaged houses mostly. And I found my heart in that town. It's hard to explain what that place does to a person... It's that thing about music connecting across cultures -- there's nowhere in the world where you can see that more than you see it in New Orleans.

So you can thank my parents and a Louisiana jazz-fusion band for that tune.
I'm working on a record right now, and I think the yiddish folklore influence might sneak in a few more times. I'm trying to find the sounds from my childhood that built who I am, before I was thinking about who I am. Those sounds are way down deep and you can't explain them or extract them. For me, it's a whole lot of rap, some jazz, and maybe a bit of klezmer."
For me it was traditional folk and jazz, punk, and Fiddler on the roof and Conservative nusach. But Rosen's right, "Those sounds are way down deep and you can't explain them or extract them."

I do love trad jazz (particularly ragtime music) and I couldn't resist looking into the Rosen's fav's "The Panorama Jazz Band." They've been working New Orleans since 1995, blending their flavor of traditional jazz with a blend of "folkloric* music from around the world – especially Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America." I dig it. I'll have to grab one of their recordings. Here's the PJB playing one of their Eastern European bits....the Yiddish classic "Baym Rebn in Palestina."

Baym Rebn in Palestina. Panorama Jazz Band

Baym Rebn in Palestina.Panorama Jazz Band from mel zimmer on Vimeo.

*I have often, tongue in check, defined "world music" as any group with an accordion. I will now define "folkloric" as any band with an accordion and without a power cord.

Hat tip to Vimeo user Mel Zimmer for uploading the PJB video.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yiddish Lazerbass

Math Rosen is a Montreal musician who plays, among other things, lazer bass. Lazer bass isn't an instrument, it's a varient of hip-hop that's heavy on bass and futuristic in tone. The genre name was coined by New Yorker blogger Sasha Frere-Jones. She was specifically describing a mix by Montreal DJ collective Megasoid and more broadly a group of musicians "bounded on the left side by the dyad of Los Angeles and San Francisco, sliced in half by Montreal, and ends on the right side in Glasgow, Scotland."

I don't have much info on Math Rosen other than that he's a Montreal DJ. I've got no idea why he thought to do a Yiddish Lazerbass, but I dig it. I also got no idea what that light/button table is that he's fiddling with. I'm assuming it's a control device for some kind of sequencer, but it's a new one on me. I shot him an email last night and will let y'all know if he get's back to me. Update: My buddy Hasidic Musician from Blog in Dm set me straight (as he often does). It's a monome 128, "a reconfigurable grid of sixty-four backlit buttons" tied to a sequencer app. Gorgeous.

Yiddish Lazerbass from Math Rosen on Vimeo.

Hat tip to the @yiddishkayt twitter feed & website for pointing me to Rosen. "Yiddishkayt strives to ensure the survival of the endangered thousand-year legacy of Yiddish language, culture and history."

Hey Cee-Lo...Forget You. Here's the Jew Man Group

Ok. Parodies aren't high art but they're a lot of fun. The Jew Man Group's riff on Cee Lo Green's Grammy nominated "Forget You" isn't Weird Al or Shlock Rock good, but it's definitely worth a giggle. Maybe two.

Bar'chu!" (I'm A Jew) -- Remix of Cee-Lo Green's "Forget You

Monday, February 14, 2011

So you wanna learn klezmer: A Klezmer Guide and the Klezmer ABC's

So you want to bulgar like Abe Schwartz, huh? Need the sheet music? Allen Lutins is your guy. He plays in two klezmer groups (The Mitzfits, a small klezmer band, and the larger Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble) as well as Musica Universalis, an early music consort. He's put together an impressive KlezmerGuide that cross-references klezmer recordings, including many available online and sheet music.
"KlezmerGuide started as a personal database to keep tabs on the recordings and sheet music collections I've accumulated as a klezmer clarinetist.... KlezmerGuide focuses on old "78 RPM" shellac recordings from Klezmer's "golden age" (the first half of the 20th century). Many of these recordings can be heard for free online thanks to the Judaica Sound Archives, Florida Atlantic University. Non-comprehensive (but significant) listings of more modern recordings are also included. "
By the way...the score for Abe Schwartz' "Der Shtiller Bulgar (The Quiet Bulgar)" can be found, according to the Guide, on page 40 of Henry Sapoznik and Pete Sokolow's "the Compleat Klezmer," as well as a half dozen other locations. An 1918 recording by the Abe Schwartz Jewish Orchestra can be heard online at the Florida Atlantic University Judaica Sound Archives. Ok. No more excuses. Start practicing.

Ok..still need more inspiration and/or raw material? Lutins' Guide had a link to another awesome resource, John Chambers Klezmer ABCs. ABC, in this case, refers to the "ABC text-based music notation system and the de facto standard for folk and traditional music". Chambers, who plays (or played?) in the Boston area Klezmer Contraband has a transcription Der Shtiller Bulger and a slew of other tunes. It doesn't look like the site is actively maintained, and I can't comment on the quality of the transcriptions, but it's a great place to start. Update: I just got confirmation from John Chambers that he's still active and adding material to the site. Chambers also confirmed that the Klezmer Contraband is still active in Boston. Go check 'em out.

Here's his ABC version of Der Shtiller, rendered into normal score and into MIDI.

Ok, what else do you need. Get practicing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Diaspora Yeshiva Band "Live on Mt Zion"

As I've noted before, Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band is pretty much the Mick Jagger of Jewish music. DYB, with Rosenblum at the helm, formed in the mid 1970's as the ba'al teshuva movement in the US was bringing newly Orthodox Jews to Israel. DYB helped this generation find their voice and helped create and popularize Jewish themed rock among religious Jews in Israel and the US. If you see a Jewish musician pick up a guitar and sing in Hebrew, their touchstones may be Sholomo Carlebach or Debbie Friedman. If the guitar gets plugged in ... the touchstone is DYB.

DYB recently released "Live at Mt. Zion," a fantastic video that's part concert video and part documentary. It captures the band at their prime in 1982 playing a concert on the roof of King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem. This is our history, gang. And it sounds great.

Diaspora Live on Mt. Zion DVD Trailer

For more info and to get a copy of the Live at Mt. Zion, check out the DYB website.

By the way, former DYB member Rudy Harris wrote a nice article on the impact of DYB which includes his "geneology" of Jewish rock. Check it out.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Abraham Inc goes "Tweet Tweet"

Abraham IncI'm totally digging the new Abraham Inc. album. It's a full on, head on, collision of klezmer, funk, and hip-hop music. Here's the blurb (I love blurbs.)
"An unprecedented collaboration between three cultural visionaries: DAVID KRAKAUER, champion of klezmer music and world-class clarinetist; legendary funk trombonist and arranger FRED WESLEY, celebrated for his work with James Brown and George Clinton; and hip-hop renegade and beat architect SOCALLED – Abraham Inc"
What underlies that blurb is a real depth of knowledge in each of the music styles, but what makes the album work the way in which Abraham Inc cleverly uses a very contemporary, stuttery, cut & paste, hip-hop oriented approach to the funk and klezmer merger. The hip-hop style breaks help deconstruct the two musical styles and reconstruct them as assembled fragments of the new compositions. In this collage of bouncing and popping fragments, it sounds totally natural to hear Socalled's Yiddish bounce against C-Rayz Walz's English raps or hear Krakuer's clarinet klezmer runs bounce against Wesley's horn sections.

While Tweet Tweet is the first single, and a worthy track, my favorite is the H-Tune, a reconstruction of "Yidlach Anthem" Hava Nagila. It's a great example of their style, Hava Nagila's melody is broken in to phrases all of which are layered on top of each other and over funk horns. What you end up with is NOT Hava Nagila, it takes some work to pull out the Hava Nagila phrases. What it is, is the H-Tune.

For more info and to buy the album, check out the Abraham Inc. website and Facebook pages.

Hat tip to AliciaKraks for posting the H-Tune video (shot back in Feb 2010). AliciaKraks happens to be Alicia Krakauer, H-Tune vocalist and daughter of David Krakauer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Am The Sum Total of All My Ancestors: Adam McKinney’s multimedia dance "HaMapah"

Adam McKinney's HaMapahAdam McKinney is "a classically trained dancer and former member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet." McKinney's new multimedia dance "HaMapah/The Map.... traces the intersections of Adam McKinney's multiple [Jewish, African American and Native American] heritages."
"I am the sum total of my maternal ancestors from Russia, Poland, Austria, Galicia and Spain. Rabbi Moshe Isserles of Krakow, the Rama, wrote HaMapah (literally meaning “the tablecloth”) to the Code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch. I am the sum total of my paternal ancestors from Benin, Arkansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Beatrice Dailey, AKA 'B. Trace' was a revolutionary playwright of her time.

I am the map, the quilt, and the tablecloth of those who have come before me. While rethreading the links, I consider our struggle to stay connected to each other as I uncover resistance of my non-Black, Jewish and Black, non-Jewish families and what it means to be true to all of myself.

HaMapah / המפה weaves contemporary dance with archival material, personal interviews, Yiddish and American songs, and video set to traditional, contemporary, and classical music."

Hat Tip to YouTube users mermlade for uploading the video.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Missing music: Meyerbeer's Hallelujah

I recently gave a talk on Jewish art music. While prepping for the talk I realized that I couldn't find recording's of two fascinating piece. Here's the story of the first.

In the 1830's and 1840's, Giacomo Meyerbeer owned grand opera in Europe. His opera's Robert le Diable (1831), Les Huguenots (1836), Le prophète (1849), and L'Africaine, (which was produced posthumously in 1865) were immensely popular and critically acclaimed.

Unlike Felix Mendelssohn, and many other Jewish artists of the time, who either converted to Christianity, or attempted to downplay their Judaism, Meyerbeer was a committed Jew. While Meyerber never directly included references to Judaism in his operas, he was known at the time for his inclusion of religious, as well as religious tolerance, themes.

Born in Tasdorf, near Berlin, Meyerbeer's given name was Jacob Liebmann Beer. He was the son of Jacob Judah Herz Beer and Amalia Liebmann Meyer Wulff, both from wealthy Jewish elite families and active in the Jewish community in Berlin...a community that was busily contributing to what would become the Reform movement and contributing to a renaissance in both traditional and modern Jewish liturgical music.

The renaissance was being driven by Louis Lewandowski (Berlin), Salomon Sulzer (Vienna), and Samuel Naumbourg (Paris). These great cantors and composers were creating a new Jewish liturgical music that took in equal parts traditional nusach and Western classical music. The result was both the basis of modern chazzanut (cantorial singing) and controversial innovations such as the inclusion of the organ into Jewish liturgy.

In this atmosphere Meyerbeer, the reigning king of the grand opera, received a commission that he didn't like but couldn't say no to. His father, who had started an early Reform temple in his home, commissioned Meyerbeer to compose a piece for choir and organ. Meyerbeer was firmly against the use of organ in Jewish music, thinking it a shallow apeing of Christian music and an interference with man's direct communion with God through prayer. Yet he composed the Hallelujah anyway.

The manuscript for Meyerbeer's Hallelujah exists, and is held by the US Library of Congress. But I haven't been able to find any recording, or even evidence of public performance in the last few decades. I have no idea why not.

Manuscript score for Meyerbeer's Hallelujah, from the Library of Congress (via the Jewish Virtual Library)

Another great Meyerbeer story....why are Meyerbeer's operas not performed often any more? Two main reasons. First, they're huge performances requiring large numbers of expensive lead and secondary performers. Second, after his death Meyerber's music was denounced by his most notable musical protege, the next king of opera and raging anti-semite, Richard Wagner.

For more info on Meyerbeer see his wikipedia page and the wikipedia page "The Reform Jewish Cantorate during the 19th Century," David Conway's excellent resource Jewry in Music, and the Jewish Virtual Library page "Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: Giacomo Meyerbeer." Also, hat tip to YouTube user LindoroRossini for uploading the Meyerbeer opera video. There are lots more video recordings of Meyerbeer compositions on Youtube, check 'em out.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yiddish Songs, Forgotten and Remembered

Being ignorant in public is a bit of hobby for me, so I'll fess up. I don't know much about urban Yiddish music. I've got all the usual stereotypes about Yiddish music...sentimental lullabies, rural folk songs, and the occasional immigrant 'so this is America' angst. Clearly there's a lot more to it, and I need to get in gear and get my head around it. (I'm about to get scolded by my buddy, vocalist Lori Cahan Simon to learn Yiddish. I just know it.)

I got a bit of help today from the folks on the Klezmershack mailing list. One of them pointed to a great recording on YouTube of a song called Budapescht, sung by the German Yiddish art song vocalist, Karsten Tryoke on the album Forgotten Yiddish Songs. (The album is unavailable on Amazon, but there are a few copies on Ebay at the moment.) Forgotten Yiddish Songs is a collaboration between Tryoke and Sara Sliwka, a Holocaust survivor who taught him an entire repertoire of Yiddish songs from her youth. There's a nice writeup on her story at

Budapescht is a classic unrequited, cross-cultural, love song, sung from the perspective of a Jewish boy pining over a Polish girl. (See the YouTube page for the full lyrics)

Wail ich bin a Bucher jîng în frisch,
´ch gai sech ous mamesz far a Kîsch,
tref iech mir a Lodze Ponienka,
sie red poilisch în ich mîss stenkn:
Ja sze kocham a ty ´spysz!

Because I'm a young lad
I aspire to a kiss
I meet a girl from Lodz
She spoke polish and I had to listen:
Ja cię kocham a ty śpisz !" /I love you and you fall asleep !
By the way, for another exercise in ignorance. I've actually been to Budapest, and have a few funny stories about being a college student abroad. What I don't have, and have kicked myself for 20 years, are stories of me wandering through the old Jewish section of Budapest. I hadn't thought through the possibilities of the trip at all. Grr. Hopefully I'll get back there some day, but until then I'll have to make do with the Jewish Virtual Library's Budapest Virtual Jewish History Tour and Yale Strom's documentary "A Man from Munkas: Gypsy Klezmer."

Hat tip to YouTube user albertdiner for posting the video and to "Heizler" for providing albertdiner, and us, with the lyrics.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CAJE is back, with an online tribute to Debbie Friedman

CAJE was a beloved institution in liberal Jewish education that, if I understand correctly, quietly dissolved recently. A lot of Jewish musicians on the song-leader circuit built their audiences at CAJE events. CAJE is back, though, in the form of NewCAJE. Right now, it looks like NewCAJE is kicking off with an ongoing online webinar series. The next one up will be Reform Rabbi Anne Brener and musician Julie Silver presenting "Tachat Canfei (Under the wings) of Shechina: Reflections on Life, Death and Debbie Friedman z"l" on Feb 9, 2011 at 8pm Eastern. They're looking for donations to attend, but are leaving the donation amount up to you. The money raised is going to support new Jewish music and musicians at future NewCAJE events. Here's there blurb...
"Debbie Friedman z"l transformed Jewish life. She channeled a subterranean current of life and joy into the post-holocaust world of silence, frozen emotion, and rote liturgy, bringing us a "new song to sing unto God," and helping us to thaw and to turn our "mourning into dancing." And now, we mourn Debbie.

Let us come together to remember Debbie and to explore the impact of her music and its feminism and theology upon the way we live as Jews today. We will listen to some of her music together sung by her friend Julie Silver, exploring her understanding of the relationship between life and death that may be revealed in her music. In the process, we will learn more about Jewish understandings of death and the afterlife and hopefully find some consolation.

Following the formal presentation and questions, there will be an open hour in which people will be able to share their stories of Debbie and thus explore Judaism's insistence on the power of the community to bring healing.Rabbi Brener will raise many questions in her presentation including:

  • What was the world like at the time that Debbie began to sing?
  • What impact was she able to have on that world?
  • What does Judaism teach about the relationship between body and soul?
  • What does Judaism teach about the afterlife and what are some of those teachings?
  • How did Debbie's use of female imagery and role models help to transform the role of women in the Jewish world?What is the theology that might be mined from Debbie's music"