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July 19, 2004

Politics Aside, Oi Va Voi wows Israel

There is an excellent article (prefixed by a horribly cheesy headline) in the London Times about Oi Va Voi's current tour of Israel: OI came, OI saw, OI conquered, by Nigel Williamson

July 16, 2004

"Something Jewish" - a new online Jewish magazine

Frank LondonThere is a new online Jewish magazine in the UK that looks fairly interesting, called "Something Jewish". Glancing through it quickly I found some tired Jewish jokes, and this great interview with Frank London from a couple of months ago:

Leslie Bunder goes on to write the Jewish-Music mailing list:

SomethingJewish (www.somethingjewish.co.uk), is growing and we will shortly be launching a dedicated World Jewish Music web site.

As a result, we are looking for reviewers and writers who have an interest in Jewish music. >From Klezmer to Hip Hop and from synagogue chants to Yiddish tunes, the new site will cover all forms of Jewish music with reviews, features and interviews.

Whether you are in Paris or London or New York or Toronto, we are keen to get local people to ocver what is happening in their city.

If you are interested in writing for us (and also getting an opportunity to review), then send an e-mail to: writers@somethingjewish.co.uk and also if you have some examples of your writing, please paste them into your e-mail.

Please note: At present we do not pay for contributions.

July 4, 2004

From Klezmer to Klezcore

It is impossible to keep up with all of the good music coming out. Here is a near-random sampling from the CD pile:

album coverThis week's stack includes two albums of Yiddish music that are as different from each other as can be. For this one I have to also note that I had a minor production role. It was worth it. Becky Kaplan and Pete Rushefsky have recorded "Rebecca Kaplan & Pete Rushefsky / On the paths: Yiddish songs with tsimbl". This is the best new-old music I've heard in ages.

album coverIn the meantime, one of our favorite Yiddish art song singers has a new show with her arranger/accompaniest, celebrating the work of Mordechai Gebirtig and even bringing to life some recently discovered poems of his. van Oort & Verheijen / Mayn Fayfele.

album coverOver fifty years ago, comedian Mickey Katz discovered fusion comedy: the marriage of Yiddish and English into Yinglish, and klezmer with just about everything else into hilarity. This band channels Mickey, updates several pieces, and ups the ante with some of their own insanity in our time: Yiddishe Cup / Meshugeneh Mambo

album coverContinuing a career in which he has recorded in a variety of music settings, Jewish and otherwise, from klezmer to avant garde, composer/saxaphonist Greg Wall now steps out with a remarkable debut on Tzadik records: Later Prophets

album coverIt's been a good week to pull out some of the many klezmer albums. One of the most astonishing is this debut album by a band that originated at Princeton. This is mamash klezmer: The Klez Dispensers / New Jersey Freylekhs

album coverAlso a debut album of sorts, but by musicians who have been playing klezmer—almost 20 years now in Hawaii. Before that the bandleader was in a band recorded by Mickey Hart called the "Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra." Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome: Kona's Traveling Jewish Wedding Band

album coverSome bands stop at nothing. This band from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pulls in influences from all over the world, then adds it to a simmering pot of ska and pop. Please read all about the Plaid-Tongued Devils / Belladonna

album coverFinally, in an experiment that was probably inevitable, from Germany we have the first hardcore/klezmer fusion band: Klezcore / Hackenbeisser

July 3, 2004

Non-Jews, Klezmer, and Anti-Semitism in Germany

Klezmer in Germany is a strange place. It's very popular music, played primarily by non-Jews in a country that killed virtually all of its Jews in the middle of the last century. The fact that the music is played by non-Jews is understandable: German Jews weren't big on klezmer prior to the Holocaust (although from Mahler to Weill to the Comedian Harmonists, Jews were certainly part of German music in all of its forms). Current German Jews, many of them emigrants from the former Soviet Union, aren't much more crazy about it. Ruth Gruber, among others, has written extensively about the phenomenon in her wonderful book, "Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe". Heiko Lehmann (currently in Sukke, among other collaborations) gave a lovely background lecture years ago, Klezmer in Germany/Germans and Klezmer: Reparation or Contribution at WOMEX, in Berlin, in 2000.

Things get even stickier between the preservationists, who insist that true klezmer is what they have resurrected from, say, old American klezmer '78s (think of how many weirdnesses that criterion raises) and those for whom klezmer, like blues or jazz or classical music is one influence in something new that they are creating. Sometimes the results, preservationalist or new, do sound more like cooptation and exploitation than interesting music. Sometimes, both the old and new are simply wonderful on their own terms.

So it's messy. Some of this decontextualized German klezmer belongs to a new and interesting context that may be very much in keeping with klezmer traditions, or may be new, wonderful music. (For an old take on an earlier version of this problem, listen to the Bonzo Dog Band song, "Can Blue Men Play the Whites".) I've reviewed many albums here on the KlezmerShack, including, most recently, albums by Sukke and Khuppe that are among my recent klezmer favorites.

Still, there is also a cesspool of people slinging accusations of "antisemitism" taking the place of music criticism (sometimes non-Jews accusing other non-Jews of same—remember, "klezmer in Germany" is not a phenomenon that involves a majority of German Jews to a great degree). Since there has been at least one recent scholarly article that could justly be described as "the cesspool calling the holding pond putrid" (it's not pretty), I asked some of my friends playing klezmer in Germany what they might refer folks to (in addition to Ruth Gruber's book) to get a sense of what is actually happening.

The book is 'Klaus mit der Fiedel, Heike mit dem Bass' (nice play on 'Yidl mitn fidl' in the title) Philo Verlagsgesellschaft Berlin/Wien 2003, by Aaron Eckstaedt. The book is described as "a very careful study of the German klezmer phenomenon, ... it's based on interviews with musicians who perform Yiddish music here, from amateur to professional, Jewish and not Jewish. Eckstaedt can actually talk about the people involved, because they talk to him."

The book is in German. It may well be worth translating. Certainly this is a subject of interest to many of us beyond the German-reading public. In the meantime, when reading articles on the subject it is very, very important to vett the author. In this subject, as in most subjects, just because someone writes a scholarly article doesn't make the article scholarly, or removed from the author's personal, passionate, and not-necessarily-connected-to-the-objective-world investment in the subject.

Something Klezmer happening in Astoria, Queens

Margot Leverett (Klezmer Mountain Boys, among other current projects), amazing klezmer clarinet master and teacher, has gotten a slew of neat, and regular klezmer things happening at her synagogue in Astoria, Queens, New York. Now the local Queens newspaper has noticed: Not Your Zadeh’s Klezmer—Astoria Synagogue Puts New Spin On Old Music, by Tom Epler, from the Jun 24 issue.