Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ljuba Davis. Never forget that your family are Sephardim.

“Never forget that your family are Sephardim. That you came from Spain.”

I'm continually surprised and delighted by the strong resurgence in Sephardic music that's been happening for the last few years. Ljuba Davis, a mainstay of the West Coast Jewish music scene, has been performing for decades and has added to that resurgence by finally put out a recording of her own. One that Ari, of Klezmershack has referred to as "one of a small (but growing!) number of traditional Sephardic music CDs worth listening to."

That's high praise. And a good thing.

Here's a recording from Davis' record release party at Drom in NYC.

Here's a bit from her official bio:
"The words of Ljuba Davis’s feisty paternal grandmother always stuck with her, as did her father’s penchant to spit at any mention of the Jewish people's expulsion from Spain. The expulsion in the 15th century sent the Sephardim moving ever further east, to the Ottoman and Russian Empires.

A gifted singer and fluent Spanish speaker, Davis was fascinated by the morsels of Sephardic melodies—secular and liturgical—she encountered as a child, and later on recordings and in songbooks. She went to nursing school (where she sang in the hospital’s resonant stairwells), raised seven children, and gradually gathered dozens of prized Ladino traditional songs into her repertoire.

A veteran performer, Davis contributed to the fascinating intersection of Jewish music revival and the folk movement, performing on major stages and in small clubs from Chicago to her Bay Area home. Berkeley was a hotspot of Jewish music creativity in the 1960s, and Davis was a sought-after singer and cultural trailblazer in the community.

But it wasn’t until she went to Barcelona—and until her son David Davis (who produced the album and plays the radiant cello on “Durme”) began to encourage her to record—that Davis contemplated making an album of her uniquely heartfelt renditions and the stunning melodies of the Ladino tradition."

While I haven't had the opportunity to hear the full album, the reviews look stellar. Delarue, author of the review "Haunting Spanish-Jewish Sounds from Ljuba Davis" in the New York Music Daily, notes the album contains
"flamenco-tinged acoustic guitars, but the lead lines are carried just as often as by Avram Pengas’ spiky, incisive bouzouki or Rachid Halihal’s oud. The melodies refer to gypsy music, the Middle East or the Balkans just as often as they evoke their Spanish home turf. Davis sings in a nuanced voice that can be quiet and plaintive but also joyous, sailing up to the end of a phrase on the album’s second track with the kind of microtonal “whoop” that’s common in Bulgarian music."

For more information, check out Davis' website and CDBaby.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crossroads: Matisyahu in Detroit

There is no doubt that, as the lead off song for his new album and last nights concert suggests, Matisyahu is at a crossroads. He's shed the visible trappings of Chassidus and Orthodoxy, losing a lot of fans in those communities in the process.  He's also continuing to make some of the most soulful, spiritual, and without a doubt Jewish, pop music made in the US in decades, bringing in new fans with each album and tour. His concert in Detroit last night, to an adoring packed house at Detorit's Fillmore Theater, showcased many of the challenges he's facing at this point in his career.

Four years ago, also at the Fillmore, I attended my first Matis concert. The audience was about half full and was one of the most diverse crowds I'd ever seen. They were in jeans and t-shirts, in black hats or modest skirts, over 60, and under 10. Some clearly, visibly Jewish. Many not so clearly or not at all.  The two years that followed were much the same. Though the shows moved to the sauna-hot St. Andrews around the corner, the crowds were mixed and enthusiastic. Each year the crowds were a bit bigger and a bit more enthusiastic. This year, Matis' first Detroit appearance since shaving his beard, the concert was back at the Fillmore. The hall was packed and crowd was far less mixed. I still saw some kids, but didn't see a single black hat or visible yarmulke.

So did he sell out to bring in more fans, as some have charged? Is he continuing on his own religious exploration as he claims? I went to the show, having spent the last week listening to his new album Spark Seeker, hoping to find out. How would this album and show compare? Would this be the same Matisyahu, who's music has meant so much to so many?

My answer is mostly yes, though also no in a surprising way. First the yes. Sitting up in the mezzanine (if you look carefully at the fantastic stage diving picture above, you can see my wife's elbows all akimbo holding binoculars right above Matis' right knee), I closed my eyes and attempted, as Matis has suggested, to "dream awake." And he makes it easy. His rich voice and his uplifting image-laden lyrics were warm and familiar. His new songs blended well with his old favorites (fans will always argue if the new album is as good as the last. I say it doesn't have a single as catchy as One Day or Miracle and doesn't have any tracks that have grabbed me like the amazing Shattered ep from two years go, but it's pretty darn good).  He still called for Moshiach Now! in King without a Crown. He still exhorted me to be better, still pushed me love God, man, and myself better, and still gave me a room filled with people with whom to sing. So yes. Matisyahu is still Matisyahu, visible Jewish beard and jacket aside.

But there was one unexpected no. There was something that Matisyahu's beard and jacket gave him that he lacked last night and that's gravitas. Strictly from a theatric performance point of view, Matis' Chassidic garb set him apart from his audience and peers in a manner that suggested age, wisdom, and authority. It's arguable that this association was misplaced, a jacket and a beard do not earn the wearer any of those attributes nor do all those of age, wisdom, and authority look like a Chassidic Rebbe. But the association was real. And seeing Matis on bouncing around stage in a white t-shirt, jean jacket, stylish hair and sunglasses lessened that gravitas in a real way. With my eyes closed, I dreamed awake. With them open, I was at a very good rock concert.

So to those who now dismiss Matis as having sold out or, perversely view his previous persona as merely a shtick, you're deeply wrong and need to get over your own preconceptions. But as wonderful as last nights show was, for me there was something a bit less about it.  Maybe I need to get over my preconceptions too. Or maybe Matis, having reached this crossroad needs to find a new path where he can be true to himself but retain the gravitas that his vision and music demands.

Matisyahu - Crossroads (feat. J. Ralph)

Update: John Wofford, writing for New Voices, the National Jewish Student Magazine, reviewed Matisyahu's Aug 4, Grand Rapids, Michigan concert.  I think John and I mostly agree, though he didn't have the same feeling of loss of gravitas that I did. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Planet Hava Nagila: Aly Raisman's Olympic Floor Routine, The Wall Street Journal and Hava Nagila the Movie

It's been a big month for Hava Nagila, that favorite of bar mitzvah's, hockey games, celebrity appearances , and enterprising musicians worldwide. The excitement started on the 19th when director Roberta Grossman premiered "Hava Nagila The Movie" to a sold out crowd at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
"...featuring interviews with Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Regina Spektor and more, the film follows the ubiquitous party song on its fascinating journey from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the kibbutzim of Palestine to the cul-de-sacs of America. High on fun and entertainment, Hava Nagila (The Movie) is also surprisingly profound, tapping into universal themes about the importance of joy, the power of music and the resilient spirit of a people."

The film is getting good press and hopefully will be playing soon at a film festival near me. And you, too.

This past weekend, Hava Nagila (the song) showed up in the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of stock tickers and pinstripe, in an article titled "At Some Happy Events, Hava Nagila Isn't Invited." WSJ author Lucette Lagnado claimed that "Hava Nagila isn't in danger of becoming a musical relic. It already is one" and backed up the claim with quotes from from sources including enthomusicologist / musician Henry Sapoznik and Klezmatics vocalist Lorin Sklamberg, Manhattan Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, and Neshoma Orchestra, a NYC simcha band, leader Elly Zomick. Lagnado noted that Hava Nagila will live on in YouTube videos, such as those I linked above, and in new Jewish music bands reinterpreting the song, including Abraham Inc (see below) but that its been retired as a Jewish American favorite. As can be imagined, the article ruffled features around the Jewish world.

Finally, Hava Nagila was the backdrop for some Olympic drama on Sunday night.  Much to the delight of the US Jewish community, Team US Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman used an upbeat Hava Nagila as the soundtrack for her floor routine, an amazing performance that edged out US team All Around favorite Jordyn Wieber and sealed Raisman's position as one of two Americans to advance to the All Around competition.  As Haaretz reports,  Raisman's use of Hava Nagila was both tactical and traditional.  Raisman, a Jew from Needham, Mass, chose the music for it's folksy appeal and ability to get the audience engaged and clapping, something that helps her as an athlete focus and connect with the judges.  As an internationally known folk tune, Hava Nagila has been used a number of times by other gymnasts for similar reasons. A JTA article, cited by Haaretz, includes links to historic videos of gymnasts Gael Mackie of Canada, 2004, and Sandra Izbasa of Romania, 2010, using Hava Nagila for their routines. Raisman repeated her routine today as the anchor exercise sealing USA's team gold medal.  Let's hope it does as well when she competes for her personal All Around medal.

Neither of her two Olympic routines are available yet, but here's Raisman performing her Hava Nagila routine from the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Best of luck, Aly. We're rooting for you!

Hat tip to YouTube users richklebanIgnitedSoul13schillidstalkerokyagul and Anim3Mast3r for posting "Jake's Bar Mitzvah", "Jerome Iginla,""Bob Dylan Hava Nagila," "Indian Hava Nagila," "Rootwater - Hava Nagila," and "Final Fantasy - Avent Children Hava Nagila Techno" respectively. Also, hat tip to YouTube users HQ4Music for "Abraham Inc. - The H Tune aka Hava Nagila (Jazz à la villette part5)" and Susaluda for "Aly Raisman Floor - 2012 USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials Day 2"

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Zion80: Carlebach Afropop

Shlomo Carlebach was a legendary American Jewish rabbi, storyteller, composer, musician. Fela Kuti was a legendary Nigerian activist, musician, and originator of Afropop.  Zion80, is a relatively new project of NYC Jewish music maven Jon Madof, a fixture on the downtown NYC Jewish and improvisational music scenes that explores Carlebach's compositions through the lens of Kuti's Afropop.

Check it out.

Zion80 - Carlebach Fela Project - Ein K'elokeinu

This recording, from a December 2011 concert at the Sixth Street Synagogue includes a who's who of the NYC Jewish music scene including Frank London, Greg Wall, and Yoshi Fructer.

You can get more info at the Zion80 website, which has a few tracks up for download.  Rumor has it an album is coming soon on John Zorn's Tzadik label.

Hat tip to Sarah V who tipped me off about Zion80 this morning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Final Witness: Murder, Television, and Foreboding Jewish Music

Cue the foreboding music.....

"Donnah Winger had everything she wanted: the perfect husband, the perfect job and now, after years of infertility, the perfect baby. But a chance meeting with an stranger sets in motion a series of events that leaves Donnah dead on her kitchen floor - bludgeoned with a hammer - fools authorities for years while her killer hides in plain sight."

Oh...and did I say the foreboding music is Ose Shalom?

Cut to April 2011.  I received an email from the music supervisor of the new ABC show "Final Witness." As she described it, "It's a true-crime show, but is unlike your typical true crime shows that probably come to mind, or even CSI or Law & Order. It's a show about real murders that combines interviews with friends and family members with highly cinematic visuals and music. It's high-quality and looks more like film than TV. Most importantly, it doesn't focus on the "whodunnit" or grisly aspects of the murder, but rather the emotional ties and pulls between all the characters."

She was currently working on an episode, which airs tomorrow night, titled "The Devil You Know" and tells the story of Mark and Donnah Winger, a Jewish family in suburban Springfield, Illinois.  The music supervisor was looking for "foreboding Jewish music," music with an ethereal, tragically beautiful feel. Back to the present, I wish I could say that I suggested the piece that finally made it into the program. I didn't. The show ended up using a melancholy, toy piano sounding arrangement of Ose Shalom by composer Michael Allen Harrison. (Check it out on Amazon right now, or better yet, watch the show on ABC tomorrow night (July 25, 2012) or on after that.)

But I tried.

After a bit of discussion I suggested a stack of tracks from around the Jewish world (see below), even hitting up Jeff Janeczko from Milken Archive of American Jewish Music and Erez from Shemspeed for suggestions. And I came up with the perfect track, Black Ox Orkestar's wonderful “Papir Iz Dokh Vays” (Check it out!). The show loved it! One of my favorite Jewish bands! But ... it was not to be. Black Ox Orkestar doesn't like Disney Corp and wasn't interested in having their music used in a program by a Disney company. AARGGHH. So close.

So Harrison's Ose Shalom it is.  Not Black Ox Orkestar, but I'm sure it will do fine. We'll see tomorrow night.

UPDATE: It's tomorrow & I watched the episode on ABC last night. True crime isn't my genre (I'm a sci-fi / science documentary guy and food network junkie) so I'll leave it to others to review it, but I thought it was well produced and interesting. I was on pins and needles waiting for Ose Shalom to show up. And it did, about halfway through in a scene where the Jewish family was sitting shiva. It was perfect, setting exactly the right tone. Well done, Final Witness!

Here's the initial list of foreboding and ethereal Jewish music I put together last summer, less a few that no longer have easy to reach internet versions. Since I wasn't sure what ABC was going to respond to the list is from across the musical map.   ...

Black Ox Orkestrar


Zahava Seewald
“Don’t be frightened my son” &  
“the daughter of god's beloved rose” - 

Ofra Haza
- Ofra Haza - Kaddish
- Ofra Haza - Forgiveness

La Mar Enfortuna
- La Rosa -

Regina Spektor
Eli Eli -

Voices of Eden
Eli Eli -

Alan Goldberg 
Twilight Niggun from Chasing Stray Flames -

 “Baruch Shem” from Music for the Kabbala -

Consuelo Luz
Mar de leche or Kabbalah: Torah, from Adio -

Ana El Na from Coming Home -

Forgiveness: Traditional Jewish Prayers With Contemporary Experimental Electronic Music

Erez vs Erez Yechiel
Tikkun Klali -


Adiranne Greenbaum
Nign or Mourner’s Kaddish from FleytMuzik -

Alexandria Kleztet
Eli, Eli -

Andy Statman
Maggid -

Nokhspil (kale bazigns) -

Crackow Klezmer Band
Holef -

Mipney Ma or Dybbuk Shers -

The Beinoni Niggun

Richard Kaplan
Rav’s Niggun or Niggun of the Besh -

Maya Raviv
Avinu Malkenu -

Avinu Malkenu -

Tal Skloot
Avinu Malkenu -

Ofer Ben Amots 
Come In Peace (Haskivenu), Psalm 81, or  Niggunim -

Woj ciech Knar
Moving to the Ghetto Oct. 31, 1940 -

Aaron Blumenfield
Kel Echod -

David Gerinags
Meditation Hebraique -

Steve Reich
Tehillim -

From the Milken Archive

John Zorn
Kol Nidre -

Abravanel Henri Lazarof
Kaddish for Maurice -

Meyer Kupferman
The Shadows of Jerusalem  -

Aaron Avshalomov
Four Biblical Tableaux -

Hugo Weisgall
T'kiatot -

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Roots of Israeli Music

Israeli radio producer and personality Danny Orstav recently gave an excellent talk on the early history of Israeli music. I'm listening to it now. You should too.

The History of Israeli Music

Hat tip to VermontTV for posting the video to YouTube.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nehedar's music is catchy quirky anti-folk, but is it Jewish? And does it matter?

Nehedar, aka Emilia Cataldo, is an up-and-coming singer songwriter in the NYC area but not my usual blog post focus. While a fine musician and an observant Jew, her writing and stage persona isn’t obviously or easily categorized as Jewish. But Cataldo’s experience of becoming Orthodox and navigating pressures from the Jewish community (Orthodox, liberal, and secular) is well worth sharing and provides a lot of insight into the difficulties of being a Jewish musician in America.

Nehedar, which means means “wonderful” in Hebrew, writes quirky anti-folk music that puts a strong voice and guitar lead over rock, electronica, punk, and latin music instruments and rhythms.  On her new album, High Tide, results vary from delicate observational moments (Tinkerbell) to anthemic anarchist screeds (Count Down The Days Til You’re Dead). I dig Nehedar but wish she’d dig a bit deeper into her lyrical material.  I kept wanting to compare her to the disarming personal observations of Tori Amos and Amiee Mann, or the cynical world weariness of Firewater or the Pogues.  Her lyrics, though, are a bit too shielded and externally focused. That makes them come across a bit superficial.

Here are the tracks from High Tide. Check 'em out and see what you think. Definitely worth a listen.  For more info on Nehedar and High Tide, check out her website.

As Nehedar and I were emailing back and forth I decided a more formal interview might be a good way to get share her story and she graciously obliged.

Teruah: This is a Jewish music blog so we’ll talk both music and religion, but let’s talk music first. You’ve been active in the NYC singer songerwriter scene for a while and have got a new CD “High Tide” out. In your Pens Eye View interview you were asked about your style and said “I play with genre so much that it is pretty hard to define (my sound). Anything from electronic, punk, folk, rock, and then I’ll throw in Latin beats. Then my tonal approach will vary from sarcastic to dead serious.” From my listen to the HIgh Tide, that sounds right on. I think, though, it's fair to say that the songs on High Tide are very voice and lyric centered and give the audience the experience of listening to you singing to directly to someone standing just a bit offstage. Lots of “you” in the lyrics. So, who are you singing to?

Nehedar: The you’s on this record are everything from me, to the listener, a lover, a robot, society in general, hashem.. fantasy characters...

Teruah: There’s mix of instruments across the tracks, which range from voice and strummy guitar to rock arrangements to heavy electronica. What are you playing yourself and are the other instruments your regular band or are they friends borrowed for the album? How does this compare to your live show?

Nehedar: I play most of the guitars and electronic keyboard riffs, I have preferences for certain basslines that I write. I work with producer Craig Levy (Little Pioneer) in his Brooklyn studio. He also plays bass and drums and some guitars and keys. The band is a separate entity. Only a few songs in my past 5 albums had actual live band members on the recording, but none on this album. The trumpet on "Take It Apart" is the amazing Mike Shobe who is in the band on Louis C.K's show. He's fantastic and his solos make me very very happy, but he's a session player and if I perform this song live, it will be with my friend Dan Wagner of the Long Island band "Penguin Revolution."

Teruah: The reviews I’ve seen of High Tide (Brooklyn Rocks, LyricLounce, Jamsphere, PensEyeView) were pretty positive, but what’s up with that Heeb magazine post? Chicky (from HipsterJew) had some snarky fun busting on your song “The Song No One Hears.” Honestly, I have little use for Heeb magazine, their music writing in particular, but even for them that was petty. Did you see that one coming?

Nehedar: I don't think he knew what he was doing. I'm fairly certain that he was assigned a comedy hit piece. I actually acquiesced to be "made fun of" in order to get some coverage in Heeb, but I assumed that it would be by someone who is familiar with writing about music. It was totally my fault for assuming that. That writer didn't even hurt my feelings because he was so dumbly dismissive. If he had actually analyzed my work (at all!) and found it lacking then I would care more. It's so important to remember not to care what any critic says though! I hope I can get to that point, whether it's a compliment or an insult, to remember their only purpose is to help you spread the word. The fact is that I got a lot more positive attention via the comments in that piece. At the end of the day Chicky was more insulted by that whole fiasco than I was.

Teruah: When we started emailing, you mentioned that you’re a shomer shabbas Jew and that you got your start playing gigs with Jewish themed music groups Pharoah’s Daughter and Jake Marmer's Mima'amakim. How did that hookup happen?

Nehedar: Jake Marmer was a friend and Mi'ma'amakim was an alternative poetry journal that he started. They had great launch events where their writers would read their poetry and there would be fantastic music: Pharoah's Daughter, Raquy & the Cavemen, Pitom, Jon Madoff, that sort of thing. I guess he just saw something in me that made him want to put me on the stage!

Teruah: One thing that gets debated is how much there is, outside of the Orthodox / Chassidic community, a Jewish music scene. What do you think? Were you playing in a Jewish music scene? What about now?

Nehedar: To me, there is very much of a Jewish music scene, but I'm not sure about the distinction of religious vs. secular. I think it's more of a matter of affiliation and friendships. Some of the most religious people are in the least religious seeming bands and vice versa but I won't name names!

My first couple of shows were with Mi'ma'amakim and then I got my stage legs steady by performing at a weekly event called Hasids meets Hipsters where the amazing Sway Machinery were regulars. My band members have all been Jewish (except my dad!), and many went on to form their own bands (Glaser Drive, Stolen Brown Evergreen) We used to play shows together for years...

I've produced shows in NYC with Rav Shmuel, Y-Love, Aliza Hava, BlanketStatementStein (Back from the UK), Mick Lewis & the Fine Print, and played at shows with Sarah Aroeste, Chana Rothman, Jezzy & the Belles, and on and on. I had a good friend and roommate in college from Moshav Modi'im (the Carlebach yeshuv) I got to know all sorts of young Jewish musicians, some of whom are still active. When I first started playing live, I had the amazing Hayyim Danzig of Blue Fringe as my bassist, and this was at the peak of their popularity - he's on a couple of tracks on my first album! So yes, I think there is a scene in NYC at least, it might need a little watering now, but it's got strong roots!

Teruah: How’s it been juggling the pressures of being a gigging musician while also being an observant Jew? Are your fans aware of this? Has it created any positive or negative expectations you’ve had to deal with?

Nehedar: It's really hard. Really. I think the hardest part for me is that, there is very little opportunity to get bigger using the mainstream networks that are in place (festivals, conferences, events etc) without performing on Friday night. If someone contacts me about performing at their event, that event will usually be on a Friday. I don't really get asked to play at Jewish scene events. I also have limited opportunity to network and support other musicians in the mainstream world (either supporting them onstage or off) because so many important shows are on Shabbat. I end up in a double bind with this situation, I am too religious for the mainstream path, and not religious enough for the Jewish track (also the wrong gender).

Teruah: How about the religious community? Liberal Jews often don’t get the idea of observant Jews who aren’t cloistered inside the ultra-Orthodox / Chassidic world. And that world often doesn’t get how someone could be a Jewish musician who isn’t Torah oriented all the time. And then there are the religious limits including kol isha and sefira to deal with. How do you navigate all this?

Nehedar: Truthfully I don't navigate it well, it's all very awkward. As you can tell I haven't made any kind of peace on this issue. I strive to be good at what I do, and true to what I believe. Kol Isha is bad news. I think it's flat out incorrectly followed and understood. Addressing this is so low on the priorities (or maybe the opposite of the priorities) of anyone with any power in mainstream leadership that I don't think we'll see a change any time soon. I will be writing a guest blog on Jewesses with Attitude this month that addresses this perspective in greater detail. I thank G-d that there are rebbeim like Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Saul Berman and schools like Drisha and Yeshivat Chovovei Torah here in NYC that look at orthodox Judaism with a progressive lens. I was fortunate to attend Yeshiva University and to have been taken in by a wonderful modern orthodox family in 1999. Without them I would have believed the party line and thought that uttering a sentence like "I'm supposed to nullify my own mind to the torah" actually make me sound AWESOME. My Yeshiva University education provided me with some historical context of our culture's development which helps to put it in perspective. One great class with Rabbi Hidary (I forget his first name) in Yeshiva University taught me so much about the 2nd temple period including the development of the babylonian talmud that I wonder, If people were aware that the lifestyle of the Jews in Bavel was closer to modern orthodox than so called "ultra orthodox," how would that change or improve things? People learn Gemara, they don't tend to learn about the culture in Bavel from a historical perspective.

As a musician, I'm permitted to perform on Sefirah, but I won't plan a big event in NYC during sefirah out of respect for my fams (a term lovingly borrowed from NYC band Fifth Nation).

Teruah: Are you FFB (Frum from birth) or bal teshuva (came to Orthodoxy later in life)? I’m guessing the latter, right?

Nehedar: I came from a biracial nuclear family with no culture other than itself. When I chose to be orthodox, it was mainly because I needed the discipline and guidelines. My parents intentionally raised me without any boundaries or any culture to glean from (other than their counter culture). So I'm surprised, when you ask, how my music is Jewishly relevant, how much I want to have a real answer. I want to say that as a student of Jewish mysticism, I infuse my work with mystic concepts, I want to say that since my social identity is orthodox, I write from A Jewish Perspective, or that when, in a song, I am begging for help or for guidance, that I'm addressing a concept of G-d that is informed by Jewish teachings. But I don't know how much that stuff matters. If Jewish people want to see Jewish culture being very very Jewish, with bagels, lox, klezmer, etc. I will never be that because I don't want to be that. If I tried to do that kind of thing it would be false and I don't intend to spread more false messages in the world.

Teruah: I totally get that. The Jewish world is pretty segmented with each segment having its own set of expectations for music or art that is “Jewish.” In the last week I chatted with an Orthodox musician trying to convince him that Jewish music can be more than music that directly praises God (e.g. another interpretation of the Psalms) and talking with some secular “bagel” Jews who love klezmer bands and Israeli pop bands because, since the musicians are Jewish and the music has a cultural connection, the music makes them feel Jewish without asking them to deal with religion. Situating yourself in all of that is tough, not doubt.

Speaking of Jewish community reaction, in our first email you lamented that the Jewish hipsterati pretty much ignore you. I’m sympathetic, the contradictions of your life as a gigging musician and observant Jew peak my interest and should theirs, but I’d also like to challenge you a bit there. Like most Jewish American musicians, but unlike Pharoah’s Daughter or Jake Marmer, you’ve made the perfectly reasonable choice of not having your Jewish identity be central to your music or stage identity. Why should the Jewish hipsters, who are looking for ways to more publicly navigate their own Jewish identity, connect with you? What do you think they’re missing?

Nehedar: When I referenced "Jewish Hipsterrati" I was speaking more to say, Heeb, and the like who will write a long honest musical review of Yael Meyer (her mainstream identity is no more Jewish than mine), for instance, but will approach a review of my music with utter distain. I don't have illusions that I'm as Jewishly relevant as (the uber Jewish artists I enjoy like) Golem or Sarah Aroeste, but if I were to become successful, you know the mainstream Jewish publications would eat up my story with a spoon.

I guess I just wish that more people were like you, intellectually curious, and open to new things. I don't know if anyone's life is missing the presence of Nehedar music. But they won't know unless they check it out for themself and, personally, I have a lot to say and I'm tired of talking to myself!

Teruah: I get that. I’ve lamented a number of times that there are few magazines or websites that are interested in exploring what it means to make Jewish music or to be a Jewish musician regardless of how those things are defined. Since so much of Jewish life is establishing our Jewish identities in a complex secular and religious world, it’s frustrating that most magazines/websites seem to just pick their default definition, fawn on anything within it and marginalize anything outside it.

And I agree...I hope more folks in the Jewish world check out your music.

Before we wrap up, any additional info you’d like me to pass along? Any upcoming gigs we should know about?

Nehedar: Thank you so much Jack! I'm playing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the Circle A Cafe on Sunday July 22 at 9PM. I'll be accompanied by my dad on Saxophone and will be dressed in costume and shooting a music video that night with the audience!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rita's Persian Album

As I've mentioned, I have hard time tracking Israeli music. So I routinely run into musicians that are described as "the most famous" in Israel, only to say...who? That happened again this week when I ran across the music of Rita whom, according to wikipedia, "is an Iranian-born Israeli pop singer and actress, notable for being the most famous female singer in Israel." Typically, I wouldn't bite on this sort of thing. Israeli pop is still pop and I usually don't find it that interesting. But Rita's new album "My Joys" is fascinating and, well, awesome. Like Ofra Haza's wonderful Yemeni music recordings, "My Joys" revisits Rita's native Persian language and the folk music her youth...both in a contemporary pop context. The album wen't gold in Israel and this video shows why....
Shah Doomad (Live From Tel Aviv 2012) - Rita

Rita's toured the US before, but not recently. I hope she comes around again soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz in concert in Ann Arbor!

Hey Michiganders, this is a don't miss concert. Be there! I will.

Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz in concert
Saturday July 14, 2012 - 7:00PM

Temple Beth Emeth Brotherhood presents an exciting evening celebrating Klezmer Music in America. Known widely for their band Hot Pstromi, they will be screening Mr. Strom's 30-minute documentary "A Great Day on Eldridge Street", and performing a concert of Klezmer music afterwards. The film documents an historic gathering in 2007 of musicians and singers from throughout the world for an iconic photo, and to make music.

Violinist Yale Strom's music draws on his extensive European field research. He is regarded as one of the world's leading scholar-ethnographer-artists of klezmer music and history.

The unique soulful vocals of Elizabeth Schwartz' have brought her acclaim from many quarters. She is the first woman invited to sing at New York City's landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Tickets: $15 adults, $10 seniors.

Temple Beth Emeth
2309 Packard Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Contact: Ralph Katz 734-663-1288 or the TBE Office 734-665-6744

Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz at Festiwal Zachor, Poland 2009


On October 12, 2007, over one hundred klezmer musicians and Yiddish singers gathered on the steps of New York City’s Eldridge Street synagogue for a once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot. Brought from around the world, these musicians represent the most influential klezmer artists of the revival and in the world today. This significant event was noted for its participants (ranging from Theo Bikel to John Zorn) and was followed by the world’s longest klezmer march, when these musicians took to the streets of the Lower East Side for a parade and impromptu outdoor concert. As they marched, onlookers began to follow along curious to see what this celebration was all about. It was Yiddish street theatre at its best!

Over the next two evenings, the participants performed formally at City University’s Martin E. Segal Theatre and Symphony Space. A GREAT DAY ON ELDRIDGE STREET portrays all of these events. This film not only chronicles this extraordinary weekend, but celebrates the revival of klezmer music and Yiddish song that has now become one of the main soundtracks for Jewish culture throughout the world today with humor, pathos… and of course, great music.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Freedom Season's "Along the Way" - the best Jewish folk rock album of the year.

For the last couple of days I've had Freedom Season on heavy heavy rotation. I'm on another work trip and this is exactly the kind of soul music to get me through. Listening to the YouTube video below, you'll definitely get a strong Shlomo Carlebach vibe. Well done, but pretty much everyone with tzizit and a guitar wants to be Carlebach, right?

Ok. Now listen to the tracks from their studio album, Along the Way. Check out Taste of Heaven, Havdalah, or Old Friend. Fantastic harmonies and melodies and bluesy acoustic riffs that echo 1960's and early 1970's Americana folk pop bands like the Byrds. And strong strong well crafted lyrics that pick up some deep ideas without taking easy 'let's do another arrangement of one of the psalms/zimrot/Carlebach/classic niggun' shortcuts*. Their song Havadallah is going to become a camp standard. You wait and see.
Wow. Where did these guys come from? Where have they been all my life? The Cool Jew blog recently compared Freedom Season to 8th Day. I can see the comparison, but I'm not buying it. 8th Day's got a much more straight up modern rock sound. Freedom Season's way more the softer side of folk rock. I will say that if they can get their stage show up to the level of the album, they'll be selling out halls the way that 8th Day does and Blue Fringe did.

In addition to scoring "Along the Way" through Bandcamp, you can grab it from iTunes and Amazon MP3. You can also follow their adventures on Facebook. And you really should.

* Just to be clear here, I love "psalms/zimrot/Carlebach/classic nigguns" as much as the next Jewish music obsessed guy. I'm just excited to see a couple of songwriters who can really write lyrics and aren't afraid to divert from the traditional Jewish community's standard music formula's.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Introducing, The Y-Studs

The Y-StudsThe great thing about college campuses is there's always another gang of vocalists ready to dedicate their vocal chords to imitating drum kits, guitars, and synths in the name of acapella music. In the Orthodox world, there is extra glory for the brave acappelites... they are single-handedly (single vocal-cordedly?) saving the Orthodox community from a boring music-free Sefira and saving concert promoters from having to rent back-line gear. 

While the Maccabeats may currently be reigning supreme in the Jewish acapella world, Yeshiva University's Y-Studs are on the scene with a new video and album out that should get then a lot of attention. The video, which is their adaptation of Reva L'Sheva's classic "Ahavat Israel Baneshama" (lyrics) doesn't have the breakout flair of the Maccabeats pop-music mashups. But the song choice is great, the vocals are fine and, if you're into Jewish acapella, it's well worth checking out. The video, I should note, is one of the stranger one's I've seen lately. Did someone turn the Village People loose on YU's campus? Just asking.

If you dig the song, it's worth checking out Reva L'sheva. They were a wonderful post-Carlbach group that was active from the mid 90's through the mid 00's. Their front man, Yehuda Katz is still active and put a new album out recently. Reva l'Sheva's albums are still available as well. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July: Irving Berlin singing God Bless America

Happy 4th, folks.  Here's the man himself, singing it on the Ed Sullivan Show. Well, a short clip of it at any rate.

While Berlin wrote the song, and then dropped it, from a military review called Yip Yip Yaphank in 1918, Berlin didn't reintroduced for another 20 years until he brought the song back as a peace song on Armistice Day in 1938, sung by Kate Smith on her radio show. The intro lyric to the song, which isn't sung anymore, is fascinating.
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

The storm clouds across the sea clearly reference (as written) World War I but, as sung in 1938, also reference the looming Holocaust and World War II. I love how the last line sets up the main chorus (now the only part sung) as a prayer, a supplication. I get frustrated with some patriotic materials that suggest that God owes us something merely for being Americans. I much prefer patriotic materials that position us as humbly asking God that, if we live up to our obligations and ideas, we might be thrown a little guidance and wisdom for maintaining our home sweet home.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Moshe Hecht's New Video

Moshe Hecht, a Hasidic rocker with a radio friendly 90's college rock sound, dropped his debut album last fall.  I blogged about its first single, Lamplighters, briefly when it first came out. Half a year later, and a brand new video for the album's lead track "Believers" is out.  The video seems to be based on a live concert recording from the Knitting Factory.  Based on the video, I can see Hecht picking up a lot of Blue Fringe fans.

Check it out...

You can grab the debut album and the live recording of Believers from a variety of places including Mostly Music. For the price of your email address for his mailing list, you can get the rest of the Knitting Factory concert (without Believers) at Hecht's website.

Zion Unit Jerusalem Sound System

Israeli DJ Zion Unit makes trip hop soundscapes I want to live inside. Press play on Jericho.
"ZION UNIT is an art ensemble originally from Reunion Island and based in France, UK and Israël. His musical work is an exotic and disorder opera kitsch, intimate, baroque, tinted soul, funk, trip hop, moods filmesques, colors and ethnic psychedelics."

For more info, check out Zion Unit's Facebook, Reverbnation, and Soundcloud pages.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back in the Day: Alon Braier's Mizrachi Musician Cards

Zohar ArgovAlon Braier is a freelance graphic artist and illustrator based in Tel Aviv. I recently ran across his fantastic project "Back in the Day (בזכרי ימים ימימה)" which consists of a boxed set of cards that pay "tribute to the great Israeli mizrachi music pioneers of the 60's and 70's." Looking to get a bit more information, and hopefully score a set of the cards, I contacted Braier about the project.

Teruah: What was origin of the Mizrachi musician card project? Was this something you did as a freelancer for a customer? A personal project? Are you personally a fan Mizrachi music?

Braier: I started working on the Mizrachi musician card project, or "back in the day" as it translates from its Hebrew name, about two years ago. It was my final project before achieving a bachelor's degree at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. On my junior year I spent one semester as an exchange student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and while visiting New York City on spring break, I stumbled upon a beautiful, illustrated trading card deck named "Legends of Rap". I was blown away by the whole idea of illustrated music related trading cards, It was then that I decided to make my own deck as a final project when I'll get back to Israel.

Mizrachi music was never exactly my cup of tea (at least not before the project). I chose to focus on that specific genre because I wasn’t familiar with it. Back then, it occurred to me that by digging into a subject I know very little about my interest will stay high throughout the process.

I also wanted my project to deal with social matters and I knew Mizrahi music always carried a big social and political baggage. Mizrahi music was created by migrating Jews from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa who created a unique musical style that combines elements of Arabic, Greek, and Turkish music. At the early days of Israeli radio this type of music was excluded from the airwaves, basically because the people who owned the media and the main cultural institutions in those years where of Ashkenazi heritage and preferred a more European taste. At the beginning of the 80's Mizrahi music suddenly got in to the playlists and became very popular until this very day. The sad thing is that in order to reach this state the genre lost most of its authenticity and unique musical roots. Today it's basically all about simple pop songs on an Arabic scale with some occasional oriental instrument thrown in the mix. My project is focusing on the early days, the 60's and 70's, when Mizrahi music was a special fusion of east and west, a one of a kind blend of rock soul and middle eastern music.

Teruah: Who is included?

Braier: The deck has all the great pioneers of the genre, people who became legends like Zohar Argov (pictured above) – the king of Mizrahi music (5) and Aviu Medina (1) the composer who wrote many mizrahi classics like "Haperach Begani" which was Zohar's first international hit. I also included the main producers and representatives of Mizrahi artists, "The Reuveni Brothers" (12) and the most essential Mizrahi bands- Tzlilei haoud (3) and Tzlilei hakerem (11 )

Among the well known artists I illustrated some truly underrated ones, like Aris San (10) - Filfel al Masri (19) - The Gang (15) - Jo Amar (17) (my personal favorite). And some surprising rarities like Shechunat Hatikva workshop Theater (8, pictured) includes the very young and talented Ofra Haza.

I really wanted to include Yosef Ben Israel, the first DJ who actually played Mizrahi music on the radio, but I couldn't find any pictures of him.

Teruah: Are these cards available for purchase?

Braier: I'm afraid not, I did have a few of them in a handmade box with a poster in every pack but they were sold out pretty quickly (I have only one complete pack left, which I carry with me to job interviews) but I'm planning to re-print them sometime during this year.

Teruah: Have you done any additional music related projects? Do you plan any?

Braier: Since the Mizrahi project came out I did some editorial illustrations for local papers that had article about Mizrahi culture. I also did the cover art for Lo dubim's debut album lately, I began working on another card deck about the Israeli new wave scene of the 80's but I'm still in the research stage.


Jo Amar
So no cards for me. At least not yet. But go check out the full set on Braier's website.

As a final treat, here's Braier's favorite, the great Jo Amar, singing Great My Cousin. Amar, who passed away in 2009, was a widely popular Moroccan born vocalist whose 1971 "Shalom le-ben dodi" was one of the first big Mizrachi hits.

Jo Amar Greet my cousin ג'ו עמר שלום לבן דודי

Thursday, March 15, 2012

#NoseJobGate - The Groggers and Plastic Surgery Disasters

Ah, nose jobs. I remember being a teen and having my grandfather promise me that if I ever wanted a nose job he'd pay for it. Huh? I remember thinking. Why on earth would I want that? Now my brother...he's got serious beak.... It's not just my grandfather, though. Our collective self-consciousnesses about our over-sized honkers comes up regularly in both self-deprecating jokes and in trips to the plastic surgeon. Occasionally, it even bubbles over into the mainstream culture. Maybe it's a way to identify (and identify with) the outsider in last spring's episode of Glee, for example, or to make unexpected (and awkward) connections between actress Halle Berry, her Jewish cousin, and the viewing audience of the Tonight show back in 2007.

Mostly the whole idea is about as cliche and tacky as JAP (Jewish American Princess) or circumcision jokes. (Didja hear the one about the.....)

This week's entry into the Nose Job hall of fame is "Jewcan Sam (A Nosejob Love Song)" by The Groggers. The song, which has now been viewed over 120,000 times, is a funny guy-wants-girl power-pop joke-fest. Get your nose circumcised. Pinocchio never got Snow White. Funny stuff from a band known for sharp humor. (See my previous post on The Groggers)

Here's the song.

"Jewcan Sam" (A Nose Job Love Song) - The Groggers [Official Music Video]

And then it hit the press. I saw it first on the ABC News website under the banner "Miami Plastic Surgeon Under Investigation After Commissioning 'Jewcan Sam' Music Video." For real? How did ABC even hear the song. The Groggers are a relatively unknown (though talented) Orthodox Jewish rock band. But then it came clear...the nose job song and video were paid for by an Orthodox Jewish plastic surgeon in Florida. And hence the scandal. This is, the news narrative states, payola for promotion of plastic surgery to teens. And then the scandal deepened. The leader of the Groggers actually got a nose job himself as part of the deal. This has all the makings for a media feeding frenzy.

The Miami Herald, NBC, the Sun-Sentinal, UPI, and the Huffington Post all weighed in. So did the UK's Daily Mail and Jewish outlets The JTA, The Forward, and Shalom Live. Even the industry site OutpatientSurgery.Com commented. (And to get really meta, I'm writing this post about it citing all those other rags).

And then Groggers band leader Doug Staiman did a great radio interview capitalizing on the whole affair on 107.2 FM.

The verdict so far? The plastic surgeon involved may have violated ethics rules in funding the video. The band may have violated good taste and judgement by taking the funding. The song is pretty darn good and pretty darn ambiguous as to its stance on Jewish nose jobs. Which is all just fine with me. The Groggers are notorious for writing funny songs that tweak the Jewish community. Have at it boys.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mikey Pauker on IndiGogo, Wisaal & Max Chaiken on Kickstarter

Here are few more Jewish music related bands going the IndioGoGo and Kickstarter advance sales route. Check 'em out

Mikey Pauker
My buddy, Mikey is in Israel studying and making music. He's been invited to play mainstage at the Jacob's Ladder Festival, a 5,000+ attendance folk, bluegrass and world music festival in Israel. This is a really big deal. But doing this messes up his booked flights. So he's asking for help and selling his CDs to raise funds to get him home. Here's the IndiGoGo link. Here's Mikey's website and facebook page.

Help Mikey Pauker play Jacob's Ladder Festival (and get home again!)

Next up is Wisaal, from Michigan. According to their bio, "Wisaal - An Arabic word meaning links, connections, or unities - reflects our attempt to fuse elements of the Arabic musical heritage with Klezmer, Indian and American influences while resection the spirit of these traditions." Wisaal is raising funds / doing advance sales for their debut album. Here's their kickstarter page, facebook page and website.

Wisaal Recording Project

Max Chaiken
Last up is the Max Chaiken Band, from Boston. According to his bio, "For nearly 10 years, Max has been song leading and writing original, contemporary Jewish music. He served as the Head Song Leader at the URJ Camp Harlam from 2004 through 2009, and currently serves as the Head Song Leader at the URJ Kutz Camp." Their raising funds / doing advance sales for their debut album "All That Breathes" Here's their kickstarter page, their facebook page, and their website.

Honestly, Max's Kickstarter video is boring (boring = no music). So here's Max doing a lovely job putting Psalm 150 to the chords of Leonard Cohen's classic Halleluyah. I just heard the high school choir at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor sing this recently.

Psalm 150 to Leonard Cohen's Halleluyah

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Heartsleves Haman: A latin rock drash

Peripheral People Album CoverThe Boston based Heartsleeves is another next-gen hybrid band, playing rock club stages but including occasional songs with explicitly Jewish content or references. Their Purim song, Haman, off their new album Peripheral People isn't the first I've heard (That would be their identity politics romp "Son of Lenny Bruce"). But it's great, a Latin rock bump-up with some nice sax work. The lyrics are a terse and fairly pedestrian retelling of the megillah, but the chorus "Give me the power to protect myself" is really interesting. It's a nice drash on the controversial end of the megillah where the decree allowing the Jews to be attacked isn't lifted, but a second decree is given allowing the Jews to fight back. The controversy is that many Jews don't like the image of Jews killing anyone (including Haman's sons) in retribution and claiming booty for the violence. It's also a nice drash on the classic megillah question regarding the presence / absence of God in the account. Haman's chorus offers a succinct answer to both ... God is present in the story and the climax of the story is God giving/renewing the Jews ability to defend themselves. In that way, the story becomes a prologue for nationalistic / militaristic aspects of Chanukah and modern "Jewish self-defense" ideas that emerged under Zionism. (Which I'll be discussing later this week when I write about the Chicago based punk/industrial project Hadar.)

Not bad for a 6 word rock chorus.

For more info on the Heartsleeves, check out their website, Facebook, or BandCamp pages or follow them on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Purim at Hogwarts

Chag Sameach Purim everyone!

Here's a great Purim Schpiel from two of my favorite guys, Sam Zerin and Jonah Rank.

Purim at Hogwarts (Yiddish song with English subtitles)

Jonah Rank is rabbinic student and musician Jonah Rank. Sam Zerin is a musician and grand poopbah of the Joseph Achron Society. In case you missed it, Sam put out slightly discombobulated but hysterical "Rejected JTS Theme Song" last Purim. "We don't take no crap from YU..JTS!"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hadar & The Neo-Zionist Avante Garde

I always get excited to see a new Jewish music project coming out of the punk community and was doubly thrilled to see it coming from the Midwest, far from the Jewish music mecca that is NYC. In particular, it's great seeing a Jewish punk / industrial projecting coming from Chicago, home of Wax Trax! Records, one the seminal industrial music labels.

Naamah Bat-SarahThe project Hadar, by musician Naamah Bat-Sarah, is a "Jewish Zionist themed avant-garde musical project" that combines "Ambient, Neoclassical, Experimental/Post-Industrial, Neofolk, and Acoustic/Electronic styles." Hadar's free-for-download album "Khanike" alternates between drones and drums, militant dissonance and open dreamscapes. As Bat-Sarah notes below, Khanike expresses the"real moods and emotions in the ancient Khanike story, on what it must have been like for the Jews at the time of the Maccabean Revolts and re-dedication of the Temple (albeit with modernized soundscapes)." There is a deep brooding and feeling of loneliness to the music. There is also a slow developing sense of foreboding, but the slow development and the limited set of tones becomes burdensome by the seventh track / seventh day. While the eight track / eight day is sufficiently varied from the previous tracks, and in many ways more engaging that the previous days, it doesn't feel like the resolution I was looking for. I would have loved to hear Hadar push further in exploring the emotional and sonic landscape.

Be that as it may, Khanike is a solid piece, and one that's gone into heavy rotation lately. I'm looking forward to listening Hadar's new full album Mishmaat, which is available through Amazon. There's also an earlier Hadar single, "Terrorist Hunters Local 36" available through iTunes. THL36, which I have cranked right now, is a true Wax Trax! style industrial noise fest. Awesome.

To provide some contrast, here's Hadar's remix of the Na Nach techno classic "Rebbe Nachman." Chopped & Screwed indeed. Bring it on.

I had a chance to do a 'email interview' with Naamah Bat-Sarah about Hadar. First, to sent some context here's Bat-Sarah's artistic statement about Hadar.
"Hadar literally means "To Honor" or "Glory/Splendor" in Hebrew. The concept of Hadar -- pride in and knowledge of Jewish tradition, faith, culture, land, history, strength, pain and peoplehood. Hadar is the need to have pride in Judaism and not allow it to be disgraced and defiled by beating and desecration of Jewish honor. This is the concept that the great Jewish leader Zev Jabotinsky attempted to instill in the oppressed and degraded masses of Eastern Europe 70 years ago. The anti-Semite's hatred and contempt of the Jew is an attempt to degrade us. It is an attempt to instill within the Jew a feeling of inferiority. It is an attempt that, all too often, succeeds in promoting Jewish self-hatred and shame in an attempt to escape one's Jewishness. Hadar is pride. Hadar is self-respect. Hadar is dignity in being a Jew."
Teruah: According to your self-description, you think of yourself as "a Jewish Zionist themed avant-garde musical project" and you name-check Zev Jabotinsky as an influence. I am familiar with music across the Jewish spectrum, but I don't run into that set of influences very often. Daniel Kahn's music, "Six Million Germans" in particular, mines similar territory of strong Jewish action, but as a Yiddish social-anarchist he's the opposite of a Jabotinsky Zionist. I was hoping you could tell me more about this. How did you come to this particular set of influences and where do you see it taking you as a musician? Do you see yourself as having clear peers in the Jewish music community or are you out on your own?

Bat-Sarah: As for how I came to the set of influences, you're basically asking me to describe my entire life experience, because that what has shaped my musical as well as political worldview, but I will try to shorten my answer considerably. I have been playing music since I was a child and most of my musical background is in underground Punk Rock & Post-punk genres such as Industrial & Noise, with a heavy influence from reggae, esp. Skinhead Reggae, 70s-80s Dub & Dancehall. My "militant" attitude probably comes in part from my background as a Skinhead (the non-racist kind, obviously). We tend not to shy away from conflict.

Socially, I was raised completely secular with a non-observant Reform Jewish mother and an Agnostic African-American father. I identified as a Jew throughout my childhood, and often dealt with Antisemitism in public school, but I had absolutely no knowledge of Halakha. I have always been pro-Israel since childhood as well, and in my adult life, my outspoken Zionist viewpoint ended me up in contact with more traditional Jews, which inspired me to study my Judaism deeper. I didn't start being more Jewishly observant (keeping Shabbat, kashrut, etc.) until I was an adult, around age 26. I will be 31 soon.

Politically, I lean to the right, falling into what one might call "Neolibertarian" for American politics and, in regards to Israel, what might be labeled as either "Neo-Zionist" or "Revisionist Zionist". I have been in many physical altercations over "The Jews and Israel, so I guess that makes my outlook fit the definition of "militant". I have been seriously researching Jewish history & esp. it's relationship to modern Zionism since sometime after high-school, reading the Torah & Jewish history books along with works by Jewish thinkers/leaders such as Jabotinsky, Herzl, Stern, Kahane and others. I'm not saying I agree with every single opinion/suggestion expressed by said leaders, but overall, I strongly support their message.

Concerning where it takes me as a musician, from the "success" perspective, I'm not making any money and I am certain that expressing this unpopular viewpoint will never make me into a big-time rich rock star, but I sometimes one needs to do what they feel is right as opposed to what is popular. I look at it like this: If I stay broke, I stay broke, but at least I didn't compromise my ethics, and every mitzvah I do creates a thread of light in the Olam Haba (the world to come).
Sonically, I do believe it takes me in more interesting musical directions, however.

In regards to peers, I would not say anyone else is even remotely doing what I'm trying to do sonically, but conceptually, I think there are other avant-garde and underground Jewish artists such as Barzel (NY Zionist noise project who will be on a split/collaborative CD with Hadar in the near future), John Zorn, Black Shabbis, Moshiach Oi!, etc. who are taking modern Jewish music in several powerful directions.

Teruah: It's interesting that the album you put up on ReverbNation is titled Khanike, the Yiddish term for Chanukkah and your songs are titled after the nights of Khanike. It's pretty easy to understand why someone who is influenced by a strong Jewish self-defense leader like Jabotinsky would find Khanike an important moment in Jewish history and on the Jewish calendar, but listening to the tracks I'm not sure I hear the connection you're making. I get a variety of textures from a strident militarism to an open dreaminess but none of the usual musical textures I associate with Khanike music. There was no feeling of celebration or devotion. What were you going for?

Bat-Sarah: The feeling being expressed in "Khanike" the album is not focused on modern celebration of the holiday, but on the real moods and emotions in the ancient Khanike story, on what it must have been like for the Jews at the time of the Maccabean Revolts and re-dedication of the Temple (albeit with modernized soundscapes). Keep in mind, that the miracle of the oil that took place in the Beit HaMikdash was only understood after the fact. Now we know how long the oil was to last, but at the time, all those Jews had was faith in the idea that our Temple would be able to be cleansed and our rituals could begin there once again. The Jews back then would not have been having a festive dinner party like we do today for Khanike (not to say anything against festive dinner parties!)
The sound & atmosphere is meant to invoke a thoughtful "night-time" feeling, with a mixture of militancy, hope and pensiveness....Kindling the lights of dedication while surrounded by darkness, hatred and uncertainty.

Teruah: I'm very interested in the varying niche's that self-identified Jewish musicians establish for themselves. I get from your FaceBook and ReverbNation pages that you're Chicago based and have played, or are about to play, some concerts locally. How as your reception been so far? What parts of the Jewish community have expressed interest in this project? I sometimes help find artists for Jewish organizations in Michigan so this is practical question as well as one of general interest. At what kind of venues are you looking to play?

Bat-Sarah: Thus far I have only done one private house show as Hadar, but in a week or so (march 18, 2012) I will be performing for "Jewish Chicago's Got Talent" which is a program that helps decide performers for the Greater Chicagoland Jewish Festival. I have no idea who the judges are or how they will react to my weird music, seeing as the other acts on the bill appear to be either traditional Klezmer or Klezmer-pop. I have gotten a few donations from nice people at my synagogue to help buy votes (it is Chicago, after all), and a couple pals online helping to promote it. Hopefully I can get onto the Festival(!).

So far, primarily what some people might call politically (if not so much religiously) "right-wing" Jews have expressed interest, but I did get a very positive review in Culture Is Not Your Friend!, an Israeli webzine, which seems to lean left a bit.

Interestingly enough, even though I am a Masorti/Conservative-affiliated woman who is heavily tattooed and do not live anywhere near an Eruv, I get a good amount of more conservative Modern Orthodox as well as Lubavitcher fans, which could partially stem from Chabad-affiliated Rabbi Nachum Shifren appearing on the Hadar track "The Essential War". Extremely frum / Haredi people of course are not likely to be a big "market" due to it being largely electronic music which sometimes features a woman singing. Thus far, I have had hardly any Reform support, but this show coming up is at a Reform temple (Temple Beth Israel in Skokie), so maybe that will change? I am looking, naturally, to play Jewish venues such as JCCs & synagogues, but I will accept any type of traditional "music venues" so long as they do not have strippers, pornography, "Palestinian" flags on the walls, pork grilling next to the stage or some similar assur gross-out factor.

I'd love to be able to afford to go to Israel, not only to play, of course, but to experience The Land. I have several friends in Israel, mainly skinheads & people in punk / underground bands, who I'd like to meet in person too.

Teruah: It's not clear from the FB and RN pages, but what kind of performances are you putting on? Do you have a full band? Or is this more of an individual musician show? RN listed a few live videos, but they'd been taken down from YouTube. Are they still available?

Bat-Sarah: A Hadar performance typically will consist of me singing & playing electric (sometimes acoustic) guitar on top of my programmed music. The 2 live videos are no longer online at this time, but I may post more soon if I get good footage from the March 18 show.
I am trying to get a video or DVD projector to project video loops that I make onto venue walls, as I did years ago in my secular ambient/martial music, but those things are so expensive nowadays!

Teruah: Now that Khanike's out, what's next for Hadar?

Bat-Sarah: Well, the album full-length "Mishmaat" is available at Amazon on CD & Mp3:

I have other music already recorded for my next album "Roots & Branches", some of which can be heard on the Hadar Youtube channel ( but it's not complete yet.

I hope to get more live events this summer both with Hadar and my (secular) street rock band Bleach Battalion. I have also been throwing around ideas with a local NCSY kid who is interested in starting a Religious Zionist hardcore punk band...this is still in idea stage though. In the meantime, I daven, record music, try to sell it and try to do kiruv when I can. Purim is coming up as well as the Jewish Festival event, and then..Pesach, Lag B'omer, Shavuot, and so on....