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....

Saturday, March 3, 2012

We are all Constellations. The latest from Mikey Pauker

Earlier this week I blogged about NuRootz musician Alison Westerman. Today I've got the latest video from her fellow NuRootz collective musician Mikey Pauker. I got a chance to see Pauker perform at the URJ Biennial and was impressed. He's part of a really select club of people that includes Matisyahu, Y-love, the Moshav band that are equally comfortable in religious Jewish settings and in very secular rock club settings and doesn't change his set list much between the two.

Here's his latest video, Constellations. It's not one of his more explicitly Jewish pieces, but I dig it.

Pauker's a California guy, but is current living and attending a Yeshiva in Nahalot, Israel and soaking it all in. Here's an excerpt from his blog
"I have fully immersed myself in a super natural, complex, beautiful, mystical culture filled with life!!! I have been living in Nahloat which is a Silverlake/East Village/ Mission District type of community in Jerusalem. The people here are artists/hippies the create sort from all over the world. This is a spiritual community right across from the Shuk which is an open market similar to what you see in movies where people bargain for fresh produce, like in the Disney classic Aladin. Every day I eat fresh barakas, produce, and drink fresh juice. I am still keeping up with my daily yoga and meditation. During the week days I wake up early head to the yeshiva to study Tania. From Tania, I walk over to the Mikveh, (a spiritual bath house), where I cleanse my soul and physical body. From there I walk up stairs where I pray and wrap tefilin on my body. Every morning I pray during the entire Shachrit morning service and then I continue with Shemona Esrei. On the days they have torah service I am finally able to follow along with the hebrew text without using any vowels. I am able to understand the prayers and the intentions behind all of them. Every morning I am able to get VERY present with the universe through morning prayer and I am falling in love with this practice."
Wish I was there buddy. Seriously.

To get more info on Pauker's recordings, tours, and his spiritual adventures in Israel, check out his website.