Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For My People!

A couple of weeks ago I brought out Ylove and Diwon to play the Detroit JCC Stephen Gottlieb Music Festival and they put on an amazing show. I've been fans of theirs, and the rest of the Shemspeed crew, for ages and they keep getting better and better. While they were out here Diwon played me a bunch of tracks from Ylove's upcoming EP and Ylove played me his new, as then unreleased, video. Both were fantastic. And now they're starting to pop.

Ylove's "For My People!" is a powerful hip-hop protest anthem. This is pop music at its best folks... both catchy and lyrically deep. Ylove's got a vision and a voice and this one's got to be heard. If this one doesn't own the airwaves and downloads, there's something wrong with this country. Oh yeah, there is. Right. Almost forgot.

FOR MY PEOPLE from kasumi on Vimeo.

Here's the official release blurb....
Y-LOVE comes together with Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Kasumi, the revolutionary video artist, on "For My People", the politically charged protest anthem! Watch for their full-frontal social consciousness on their EP scheduled for release in 2012.

Recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, Kasumi is a media artist uniquely blending film and live-performance into dynamic videoart. Known internationally for her innovative work, she employs an arsenal of powerful digital technology to weave vibrant visuals and powerful audio into experiences with poignant cultural-political meaning. Kasumi’s richly expressive and compelling compositions have appeared at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Württembergischen Kunstverein Stuttgart and the Chroma Festival de Arte Audiovisual.

With a passion for collaboration, she has created distinctive media art for a myriad projects and performed alongside the likes of Grandmaster Flash, DJ Spooky, Modeselektor, and the New York Philharmonic. Her newest work, BREAKDOWN, premiered at Carnegie Hall in concert with the American Composers Orchestra. Her video “BREAKDOWN, The Remix” was named the 2010 Vimeo Awards Remix Winner.

Y-LOVE is currently gearing up for the release of "See Me", his pop and club-friendly EP, on May 17th, and is currently on tour promoting his new single, "The Takeover" featuring TJ Di Hitmaker.
FYI...Shemspeed put The Takeover up for free download recently. Go grab it.

One other note...this is a Jewish music blog, right? So I should point out that I love what Ylove is doing in the track. It's not nearly as explicitly about Jewish topics as some of his tracks, but you've got to love a refrain like "for my people...from the shul to the street." I've got visions of pissed of people marching down the street chanting that one. Teruah likes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ezra Malakov's Bukhari Chad Gadya

Beth Gavriel Bukharian Congregation in Queens, NYC was founded in 1996 as home to the city's growing Bukharian and Russian Jewish community. Beth Gavriel's cantor, Ezra Malakov, has been central to an effort to preserve and transmit Bukharian Jewish music. In addition to his own albums, he's collected and produced "Musical Treasures of the Bukharian Jewish Community", a seven CD box-set with book of music and lyric that "represents the religious and folk music of the Bukharian Jewish Community, once based in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia.""

Here's Malakov's performance of the Passover seder classic Chad Gadya.

Note that Malakov's recordings and the Musical Treasures collection have all been released independently and do not have any internet distribution that I'm aware of. Contact Cantor Malakov through Beth Gavriel for more information. The only recording that Malakov was involved with that has any internet distribution is "Eternal Music of Bukharian Jewish Hymns" which is available through the American Sephardi Federation online book & music store.

For more information about the Bukharian Jewish community, check out Beth Gavriel's "History of Bukharian Jews," the Australian radio program "Encounter: Shalom from the Silk Road: The Story of the Bukharians," and the article "Bukharian Jewish Music in Queens" by Evan Rappaport of New York's New School. If you happen to be NYC tonight (April 13, 2011) Rappaport will be giving a lecture on the topic. Rumor has it that the talk with be recorded and if it's made available, I'll post it.

Hat tip to the website Invitation to Piyut for uploading the video to YouTube. In addition to Malakov's Chad Gadya, Invitation to Piyut has a wide variety of Passover piyut from around the world.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A lo-fi freak-folk Shabbat: Rob Markoff's "Sabbapath: To the Seventh Sunset"

Shabbat shalom everyone,

I'm getting a bit to close to shabbat for a long post, so just a quick pointer to a great new Shabbat album that just hit the streets. JDub just released, for free download, Rob Markoff's lo-fi rock album "Sabbapath: To the Seventh Sunset."

"Sabbapath, through Markoff’s vision, remixes and re-contextualizes the traditional Friday night service. It features spirited singing, droning voices, flutes, harmonium, strum stick, guitars and autoharp to create a singular, psychedelic, celebratory freak-folk album."

This one's a keeper, gang. Check out JDub for the full story and the download.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Divine Sparks Judicial Review: Critical reviews of Jewish music

A singular article was published online today by the Boston based group The Arts Fuse. The article described as a "judicial review" of the Divine Sparks concert at the Boston Jewish Music Festival where six reviewers, and a response from trumpeter Frank London, contributed their perspectives of the event "creating a conversational, critical space about the arts and culture." It's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure and one of the best pieces of commentary on Jewish music I've read in a while. The Divine Sparks concert, also a singular performance. was described as "a provocative attempt to explore how Jewish cantorial music and other kinds of religious song can spark musical improvisation and spiritual experiences" and included Frank London, pianist Anthony Coleman, cantors Yaakov Lemmer, Aaron Bensoussan, Gastón Bogomolni and Elias Rosemberg, and Hebrew College rabbinical student Jessica Kate Meyer.

Go. Read it. Now.

Ok. A couple of my favorite points.

- Hankus Netsky's introduction to cantorial music, Chassidic Niggunim and Sephardic Moroccan music is excellent and I was completely cracking up when I read his comment about the cantorial performance of these songs being "tainted by Conservative and Reform cantors trained to perform them with Contemporary Ivrit (standardized Israeli) Hebrew accents—imagine, if you will, the Delta blues as sung by Ted Koppel or Dan Rather." Absolutely.

- I found critic John Bradshaw to be gratingly unable to get past his own musical experiences. In a review of a Jewish music event I'm uninterested in his flawed comparisons to the Christian music he is used to singing. His complaint about over-abundant ornamentation and lack of melody characterizes his ignorance of the music. That's the way its supposed to sound, dude. Though, to be fair, the exuberant ornamentation of chazzanut has been a subject of debate in the Jewish world as well and has may detractors.

- I was also stunned by critic Steve Elman's ignorance. He writes "The only examples of true crossover music in the jazz tradition that I can recall quickly, Ziggy Elman’s freilach trumpet solos for Benny Goodman in the 1930s, were a sort of burlesque, a novelty rather than a genuine cultural bridge." There was and has been a significant interaction between jazz and Jewish musicians which include plenty of examples of cross-over music. I refer him to David Katznelson's recent collection "‘Black Sabbath’: ‘The secret musical history of black-Jewish relations" for a schooling. Though, here too, his basic point is correct. While the number of crossovers between Jewish music and American music is larger than he credits, it is not large.

Finally, without quoting it because I would need to quote the entire thing, I found Frank London's artistic response to be and eloquent and persuasive. I have been to a number of "cantorial concerts." While they have their value as entertainments, they have offered me far little in terms of spiritual content. Experiencing these cantors in true liturgical contexts is a different story, as is hearing a spiritually minded musician of any type. I remember fondly seeing the Afro-Semitic Experience (a jazz group) play the Michigan Sacred Music Festival two years ago and found their music to be deeply moving.

Ok. I hate writing blog posts that don't have play buttons. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this piece, no video of the Divine Sparks show has been put on line. So here's a clip of Cantor Aaron Benssoussan & the group OktoEcho performing at the Montreal Jewish Music Festival in September of 2010.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Klezmer Music Outreach

"In January of 2001, the Timberlane Regional High School Wind Ensemble started working on an intricate piece entitled Five Yiddish Dances to be performed in their March concert." From this start, the documentary follows the TRHSWE as they get a crash course in klezmer and Yiddish culture organized by their band director Tony DiBartolomeo and provided by Concord, New Hampshire klezmerim Seth Austen and Beverly Woods.

It's great to see this kind thing happening. The students clearly appreciated the time that Austen and Woods spent with them and understood how it benefited both their performance and their understanding of the Jewish community. My only concern, and this happens a lot, is that they seem to have developed a sense a historical Yiddish culture that is disconnected from current Jewish culture. I would have loved to hear one of them comment about wanting to catch the Klezmatics or the Bester Quartet on their next tour. Ahh well. One step at a time.

So congrats to DiBartolomeo, Austen and Woods for making it happen and congrats to the students for what I'm sure was a fine concert. Wish I was there to see it.

And to other Jewish music folks who read this... we really need to seek out opportunities to do this kind of audience and musician development. I'll be visiting some Detroit area Jewish schools next year to talk about Jewish music in general and "progressive Jewish music" (e.g. pop/rock/hip-hop) in particular. My goal is to get the students engaged and excited about next years Detroit JCC Stephen Gottlieb Music fest, and the Progressive Jewish Music Showcase in particular. All I had to do was make some connections and ask. I haven't made the step to visiting non-Jewish schools but that's something to think about too...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Performing Piyyutim

Last Thursday, WNYC's NEXT New York Conversation series put on a fascinating lecture and concert titled "Performing Piyyutim: Sephardic Music, Poetry and Spirituality." I missed the webcast. I was at the Detroit JCC's Stephen Gottlieb Music Fest that night. Fortunately for me and the rest of us, WNYC put the webcast up for viewing. I knew that ethnographer Samuel Thomas and his group Asefa was performing (see my previous post) but forgot that Asefa included the amazing Yoshi Fructer, who graced the Gottlieb Music Fest stage the previous week with his amazing avant-garde jazz/rock group Pitom. In addition to Thomas and Fructer, the evening included the Moroccan born Rabbi Gad Bouskila of Congregation Netivot Israel, Brooklyn and Rabbi Joseph Dweck of Congregation Shaare Shalom, Brooklyn. This is a must listen, folks.

Here is WNYC's description of the event.
"Today in Brooklyn, where disparate Jewish groups from the Middle East are engaging one another in an unprecedented way, the piyyut – the Hebrew term for a sacred poem – serves as an expression of a specific type of Jewish identity. Spanning five centuries since the expulsion from Spain in 1492, these piyyutim express unique conceptions of the relationship between humanity and the Divine and serve as the backbone of the quasi-classical musical traditions of different Sephardic immigrant groups who now call New York home.

Following an introductory discussion, Thomas, accompanied by his ensemble Asefa and other traditional musicians, will present a lively musical performance of Sephardic piyyutim. Intertwining musical performance with discussion, Syrian Rabbi Joseph Dweck and Moroccan Rabbi Gad Bouskila will illuminate how the intersection of Kabbalistic and Sufist thought in Sephardic cultural history inspired piyyutim."

Finally, three last shout outs... First, Asefa just released their second album, Resonance. The samples from the website are gorgeous. Check it out.

Second, Pesach is coming. I recently ran across a wonderful CD of Sephardic Pesach music recorded by the folks at B'nai Jeshurn, NYC.

Third, during the performance / lecture Samuel Thomas talked about contrafactum music, where existing music is re-purposed with new lyrics. The always excellent "On the Mainline" blog recently wrote a post on this topic titled "The original Shlock Rock: R. Yisrael Najara's 16th century religious Hebrew poetry set to Middle Eastern rock music."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Kosher Symbol Blues

Ok, so with my being crazy busy with the Detroit JCC's Stephen Gottlieb Music Fest we haven't gotten started on our Pesach cleaning yet. I know what will be my soundtrack this year, though, Mendel Singer's "Kosher Symbol Blues." Singer's not going to give Mare Winningham a run for the Jewish country title, but "Kosher Symbol Blues" is a hoot and his song "Bible" is lovely. Singer's guitar playing is also quite good and carries his voice well. I expect to hear some of these songs start making the rounds on Washington Jewish Radio and other Jewish radio stations.