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new Yiddish music

Just recently I added a new category to the KlezmerShack's review listings, "New Yiddish Music". It is something that I have considered for several years, and have debated around in my mind for a long time. This wasn't just a bureaucratic reorg. I'm hoping that this attempt at categorization will spark some discussion.

Please read the full article and add comments, if you like.


I agree wholeheartedly. To me, this has been New Yiddish Music from the get go. It is firmly rooted in the Askenazic Jewish experience, both musically, linguistically, and culturally (East European and American). To call it New Jewish Music, to me, smacked of the Ashkenazi-centrism that my sephardi friends in the Secular Jewish Movement complained bitterly about. And was, perhaps, a marketing tool, seeking to break out of the "ghetto" that the mainstream Jewish community tends to establish for all things Yiddish.

As Ari knows, as a secularist, I have no problem seeing the culture which grew out of the religion as something now other than religious.

It's amazing music which grapples with roots/continuity issues in a fascinating, moving way. And its roots are inescapably primarily Yiddish, with all the cultural/political/religious aspects that that connotes.

I disagree. I think this new "subgenre" is in fact part of a larger rennaissance. I do believe music has played a large roll in this wave of, let's call it "new Jewish creativity."

It has been called Jewish alternative, Radical Jewish Culture", and in KFAR's Chicago programming, Tzitzit: The Jewish Fringe.

But to limit the scope of the entire movement as New Yiddish Music is inaccurate, and your example of Pharaoh's Daughter will illustrate my point. While Basya is rooted in the Ashkenazi/Yiddish heritage, she sought to move beyond that, something evidenced on Out of the Reeds. There's at least 2 Sephardi songs and even the sound of Shnerele Perele, one of only 2 true Yiddish songs on the album, is quite Mizrahi.

Take another example, Danny Zamir's Satlah on the RJC label. Its called New Klezmer, but is it? Clearly there are klezmer influences, but I'd argue the Israeli/Mizrahi influences are more obvious, and Hasar Haemunah is quite clearly a Yememi melody.

My point is that we are in an age when Jewish music is so diverse, but the worlds in which the sourcfe communities for those musics are no longer seperated so clearly, The Diaspora has turned into something of a fruit smoothie, with chunks of heritage based ritual and music still exisiting within the cup, but with each twist of the spindle, there is increased blending, technology only enabling this process. And its still quite tasty, especially the chenky parts.

It's a unique time for Jewish music, and Klezmer and "Neo-Klezmer have both played a large role, perhaps even the primary role in the New Jewish Creativity. But one cannot say that RebbeSoul's music is part of New Yiddish Music. And the fact is that while there may be some non-Jewish players on the scene (as there no doubt may have been in der Alter Heym), much of the source material still has some liturgical or cultural basis in Judaism. Much of the neo-Klezmer ascribed to New Yiddish Music has no Yiddish in it whatsoever, so what makes it Yiddish?

Klezmer-inspired, perhaps. But Are the Rabbinical School Dropouts, whose funky klezmerish sound has no true tie to Klezmer and no vocals truly a Yiddish expression? I suppose in the fact that the primary players in the band are of Ashkenaz heritage perhaps, but more likely, like the mixed bag of the Mizrahi and Sephardi Jewish world, some of the musicians, who as you point out, are not even Jewish, they seem to fit into the larger term of Jewish music than Yiddish specifically.

Just my 10 cents.

Hmm. I don't think I am limited the scope of things by referring to one specific type of new Jewish music as "new Yiddish music." In fact, I limited the description to bands working specifically with Yiddish language--there are others doing interesting work with klezmer and other Jewish motifs from around the world, but not as coherently, and to me, not so clearly in a Jewish context.

You're right, Adam. I don't associate the Rabbinical School Dropouts with something significantly new and Jewish (see my reviews), as much as I kind of like them. Nor do I feel that setting Jewish words to a nice dance beat as Rebbe Soul has done is, either. In that latter case, the fact that the Hebrew titles to his songs are generally mis-spelled on the most recent album distances me considerably.

Nor do I yet write much about the plethora of music that is popular in Jewish halakhic circles--the range from Avram Fried to Devikus to Eli Chiat to Diaspora. Making 20 varieties of pop music kosher by setting it to holy words doesn't do a whole lot for me, yet. Sooner or later, of course, someone will be good enough so as to transcend the imitative and make it impossible not to listen.

You're right, I think, in homing on on Pharoah's Daughter which, so far, to my ears, seems almost unique. I'd rather not categorize the band, as opposed to stretch another category so as to include it. Basya is writing very personal lyrics, mixing a very Jewish American set of roots: middle eastern, traditional, even American folk. If I were going to guess what hip American Jewish music , accessible to non-Yiddish-speaking, non-Hebrew speaking Americans, but rich in Jewish content would sound like, this is it. I hope she inspires others, and continues to grow and to create, herself.

So, as I wrote in the original article, I have mused greatly on the fact that there =are= other new types of Jewish music. I just don't see a cluster of musicians as consistently creative in a discrete, usefully-describable context as the few I singled out in this article.

So, for those folks that I can't figure out a general description yet, I continue to try to describe them on their own terms. At the same time, as Shira writes, there is something very dynamic and exciting going on with this particular group of bands that I labeled "New Yiddish Music," and I wanted to call more people's attention to it, and hopefully, to help direct people to all of the best bands that are associated with the group.

I don't need a descriptor for everything. I sought out, and so far, think I have found, a descriptor for the very hottest new music of relevance to these pages. With luck, there will be more.

Okay, I see you're trying to define a specific category within what I'd call New Jewish Music.

And I hear what you're sayin and certianly agree that a new album by say, mordechai ben david, is not New Jewish Music with caps.

But nor am I convinced taht a hard and fast rule can be applied to even the most diehard New Yidn. On Shtyet Oif!, the Ya Ribon Olam has a distinctive Mizrahi sound, and while perhaps singular in that album, it is telling that even among the vanguard of the New Klezmorim, the influence of non-Ashkenazi sources is more prevelant than it has been in centuries.

I definitely see that there is a Neo-Klezmer movement. I also see that the term doesn' necessarily reflect the renewed interest in Yiddish language. But I also see a significant uptick in interest in Sephardic and Mizrahi music, and I see that that has seeped into both of the former. I also see that there are some acts, like Pharaoh's Daughter which either transcend or blend these definitions altogether.

What's important is that there's lots of great new creativity all around for us to enjoy no matter what we call it.

Kol Hakavod L'Kol Klezmorim!

Interesting discussion! I have lots of thoughts about it, which I'll try to organize and upload in the near future. For now, just a couple of points to clarify some history:

One main reason we (Brave Old World) started using the term "New Jewish Music" instead of "klezmer" was so as NOT to disappoint audiences that came to our concerts expecting the familiar and getting the unfamiliar. I never enjoyed disappointing them, and felt they had a right to get klezmer if a concert was advertised as klezmer. But we wanted to play something else, related to klezmer but not klezmer. The term "New Jewish Music" was intended to be open-ended and vague, something that would not encourage a fixed idea or expectation, hoping that audiences who came to a New Jewish Music question would come with a question, not an expectation.

Another point: nothing in the term "New Jewish Music" excludes Sephardic music, and anyone who listens carefully to Blood Oranges, for example, will hear Sephardic influences. Far from claiming Ashkenazic music as the only "New Jewish Music," the term was meant to open arms to ALL new Jewish music.

Final point for now: yes, the term had something to do with "marketing," as every single term must in our economy. But it was intended to shake up categories that had already gone stale - "klezmer" had gone from being an unknown term to a term everybody thought they understood in a short 5 years. I myself have always worked in the margins of commercial categories, and I was trying to resist the market's appropriating my work into a fixed category - "klezmer." So, to sum up, New Jewish Music was intentionally vague partly to -resist- the commodification tendency of the market.

Now, all of this is really preliminary and doesn't directly address any of Ari's thoughtful considerations. If I can, I'll address those in another response. So much for the moment, and thanks to all for your attention!

Alan Bern

You bring up good points, some of which I tried to address in the category new =Yiddish= music. But, of course, that only works to the extent that Brave Old World fits largely in that category (which it largely, but not exclusively, does).

In the end, these boxes can help describe the music, but Goedel's head rises, and there is no box that entirely includes anything worth including ;-).

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