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: http://amzn.to/mishmaatcd

I have other music already recorded for my next album "Roots & Branches", some of which can be heard on the Hadar Youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/hadarmusic18) 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....

1 comment:

HADAR said...

Well-written intro! Todah rabah!