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June 20, 2005

DJ SoCalled in Boston - review of a great concert

I have been wanting to write about Josh Dolgin and his music for several months. I've mentioned him in connection with Shtreiml, and I've kvelled over his and Sophie Solomon's "HipHopKhasene". And he's a mensh doing very interesting new music. Then I saw him at a small bar in NYC in February, with a pickup band that included Frank London, Susan Watts, Paul Shapiro, Ron Caswell (or some tuba player doing a Ron Caswell imitation), and Alex Kontorovich. Alicia Jo Rabin and Annette Ezekiel of Golem opened, so there should have been "kol isha" issues, but the crowd consisted of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, from every walk of life, including hassidim. And it was worth it.

I have been wanting to write about Josh Dolgin and his music for several months. I've mentioned him in connection with Shtreiml, and I've kvelled over his and Sophie Solomon's "HipHopKhasene". And he's a mensh doing very interesting new music. Then I saw him at a small bar in NYC in February, with a pickup band that included Frank London, Susan Watts, Paul Shapiro, Ron Caswell (or some tuba player doing a Ron Caswell imitation), and Alex Kontorovich. Alicia Jo Rabin and Annette Ezekiel of Golem opened, so there should have been "kol isha" issues, but the crowd consisted of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, from every walk of life, including hassidim. And it was worth it.

What I saw in February had rough edges. It wasn't as gelled as, say, the second time I saw the Klezmatics, on a stage in San Francisco and realized that my sense of what "Jewish music" was had been irretrievably and wonderfully changed. Dolgin, aka "DJ SoCalled" wasn't with a band that had been touring together for several years, but the paradigm shift was no less real, the music no less sweaty and exciting, and "Jewish music" that much changed, again.

So, I have been waiting for him to show up here in Boston for months. He was at a tiny club in Cambridge, the Lizard Lounge, Saturday night, but we missed it. And we almost missed his scholarly appearance at a conference on Jews and Secularism here at Hebrew College—the concert was sold out. Fortunately we, and a few other holdouts were allowed in after the event began to take seats of the few people who didn't show.

Dolgin is a hip hop musician who is also out as a Jew. I think that's a fair designation. He is explicit in not describing himself as a Jewish hip hop musician, but also explicit that the Yiddish music he has been rediscovering, sampling, and transforming is his music—this is what he works with, not someone else's sounds. At tonight's show, which began with a short talk by Mark Slobin about the evolution of Jewish music in America from various stages through a sort of cultural "Americanization" and finally, most recently, to a new phase where American Jews are no longer so much trying to show how American they are, but instead, moving inward and exploring what being Jewish means to them. Then, Dolgin, accompanied by (mostly) out of towners including Eric Stein, from Toronto, on bass; Deborah Strauss on violin; Ron Caswell on tuba—both of Brooklyn; and Michael Winograd (of Boston for four years, now moved back to NYC) on reeds; and Hankus Netsky on piano.

The band rocked. They opened with a Moyshe Oysher "bim bom" that moved into bits of sampling and rap; Winograd and Strauss traded with Dolgin on accordion and samples and vocals. It was like viewing some wonderful Jewish hiphop jam band. From there Dolgin brought out the chant samples that he played on the recent Krakauer Live album, which moved, again, into Yiddish song, then rap, something that involved a wonderful boast about putting the "Jew in Jukebox / Pro in prophylactic".

All during the set, the band bounced between relatively traditional Yiddish, often interrupted by samples, rap, and that lovely incredible instrumental ability provided by Winograd and Strauss. (Caswell and Stein were incredible on the beat and rhythm that held it all together, but I was riveted by Michael and Josh and Deborah and their back and forth on lead.) After an occasionally deconstructed "Hopkele" that also pulled in Hankus (whose Klezmer Conservatory Band recorded a rather remarkable version of the same tune early on) on piano, the band sat down for a song while Dolgin went to the piano and did a wonderful, wonderful Yinglish rendition of an old Lebedeff tune that enabled him to spoof Litvak, Galicianer, and then American Yinglish culture and accents. What was more remarkable was that Dolgin was able to make it all seem current and funny to an audience ranging in age from teens to older folks who came because this was a conference on Judaism and Secularism. Despite a booming bass and deconstruction of Yiddish song as most of us knew it, everyone, regardless of age, remained entranced—not just entranced, but actively participating in the clapping and bim boms as the opportunity arose.

After a Serbian piece, Dolgin returned to one of my favorites, this time done rap style: "Ikh bin a border bei mein wife" (sp?), and then onto another beatbox bim bom bom composition and into "I like She" which Dolgin has recorded with Shtreiml, and with Eric Stein's band, Beyond the Pale, and just performs a lot—which is good, because its a great song when done this well. The concert ended with a rap version of "Balaboste" (Mistress of the house) which he says he learned from Adrienne Cooper at KlezKanada. (Cooper does an amazing version with Mikveh, and solo, but hers is differently great from this one.) Back in February, the version of "Balaboste" was fairly simple. In addition to singing some of the words, he would rap them out. Here, he kicked things up a notch and inserted some wonderful commentary about Jewish self-identity—it reminded me of another Jewish hip hop group, the Hip Hop Hoodíos—but as good as they are, DJ SoCalled has raised the bar on everyone. "I wanna be your oy boy / will you be my goy toy" may not be any more profound than the Hoodios' "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel", but inserted as the refrain to ongoing commentary—an English language version of the updated badkhones that Michael Alpert does at Brave Old World concerts, here inserted into the breaks of a transformed "Zise baleboste" was a wonderful ending to a short, but very well-received and nicely, soulfully done set.

Afterwards Hankus led a panel discussion on the music with Josh, Deborah, Mark Slobin and himself that talked a lot about how important Yiddish was as a living source of Jewish identity and new Jewish music. Dolgin also mentioned leading a choir in an Orthodox synagogue in Montreal (where he lives) and how much he enjoys human voices harmonizing. The audience seemed amused at the thought of him deigning to be part of the Orthodox world at times, but Deborah Strauss made the point that this wasn't something funny—one of the reasons why this music is so amazing is that Dolgin isn't putting things in boxes. He is drawing from many Jewish sources, as well as from the technology and sounds of hip hop to create his music.

Several people on the panel also talked about how Yiddish was something that they didn't get growing up. Hankus spoke about meeting Molly Picon in 1980 and her telling him that he had to learn Yiddish, so, as he tells it, he signed up for classes the next day. Several comments referred to the way that Hebrew supplanted Yiddish as though Yiddish were no longer relevant, and Deborah reacted strongly to the suggestion that no one is speaking Yiddish today, pointing out that there are classes and institutions and growing numbers of people—even outside the ultraorthodox communities where Yiddish is still the day-to-day language—who are not only learning and speaking Yiddish, but who, like Dolgin, are creating new poetry and music in Yiddish. Strauss and her husband, Jeff Warschauer, certainly fall into that category, as does Hankus, as does Michael Winograd, whose band, Khevre, recorded several new Yiddish poems, put to music by Winograd by the young Sarah Gordon. There was some anger at the way that Hebrew was assumed to be the Jewish language, and also a strong sense that this didn't mean that Hebrew was not important. It's just that we Jews don't speak just one language, and for American Jews, Yiddish is a very important component of who we are and of our history in this country, and of the roots of those who came from Eastern Europe to this country. Mark Slobin made a point that I had never thought about in quite that way, pointing out that after the Holocaust, most American Jews no longer had a homeland—the cultural replenishment that came from the old country was gone.

It was a good talk, and great music, and it was wonderful that it was sold out. Good words and good music deserve to be heard. I was also pleased to hear that Dolgin's concert at the Lizard Lounge had attracted a good crowd.

As a side issue, grassroots organizer and labor songster Si Kahn happened to be there, and I got to meet a songwriter whose music has sustained me through so many good and bad times. His album, "Doing my Job" is such a deep part of me at this point I don't think it could be surgically removed. That's the album where the song about his grandfather's journey from the Tsar's army to Canada, "Crossing Borders" first appeared. It is my favorite song about the North American Jewish experience, one that honors the horrors that that generation left, and the hard work and family values they contributed on this continent. The song caps an amazing album about working people and working, from my favorite song about paranoia "who's watching the man who's watching me" to the haunting, a capella mountain holler "go to work on monday one last time"—maybe, your average Si Kahn album, but the one I know best among so many. Later Kahn echoed what the panelists had said about being "out" about their Judaism and Jewishness, and how that was an important part of what he had to sing to North American Jews—not just to be an activist and organizer—also motivated by his sense of being Jewish—but to do it as who he is.

There is a slew of new Jewish music, newer than the klezmer revival music that informed the name of this website. It ranges from the fascinating punk-lounge Yiddishkeit of Golem to the new klezmer fusion of Khevre or the Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish music reclaimed by Divahn or the new American-Middle Eastern fusion of Pharaoh's Daugher.

But, for tonight at least, the most exciting of it all is the lack of boundaries in Josh Dolgin's music and the still-uncategorizable, wonderful-to-watch-in-formation fusion that he performs, and I had to get it down, as best I could, while it's all still playing in my head and before life moves on and I find myself lamenting, as I have since February, that it's time I wrote down something about some new music that is so very very worth hearing. It's good to hear it at a polite setting, as tonight at Hebrew College, or best yet, in a small club wherever Dolgin tours to next (according to the KlezCalendar, that would be Chicago on June 22).

June 19, 2005

The Jewgrass Boys go to Harvard

Si Kahn mentioned this very interesting new paper out of Harvard tonight:

The Jewgrass Boys
Bluegrass Music's Emergence in New York City's
Washington Square Park,

By Timothy Josiah Morris Pertz

Winner of the 2005 Edward Chandler Cumming Prize for the Thesis of Highest Distinction in the Field of History and Literature and the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize For Outstanding Thesis of the Senior Class At Harvard College

What's more, it looks like a fascinating article about that whole crowd of Jewish bluegrass fans (Andy Statman, among them) - the NYC counterpart to the Jewish blues mafia of Chicago and New York (then, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Danny Kalb and so many others).


June 16, 2005

Yiddish Dancing as a metaphor for life

Browsing through feedster, I noticed this fascinating entry A Real Update: Life Lessons from a Jewish Folkdance by a blogger on livejournal called "dreamplum."

I say, anything that gets more people onto the dancefloor is a good thing. Maybe Helen Winkler can incorporate this into some of her amazing dance classes.

June 15, 2005

This is my idea of a music calendar

I've been gradually working my way out from under work, then catching up with listings and reviews. Still a ways to go. One move that may happen this year is into a "framework" website that will facilitate the listings, the calendar, the blog, all as one integrated piece. I've been mostly looking at something called "Drupal", which is written in a language I sort of understand (PHP) and which would be a great framework for many of the non-profits that I work with. Drupal was used by the Howard Dean campaign last year, which spawned a very, very interesting meta-Drupal project called "CivicSpace," which is now inching towards a first release. CivicSpace looks to me like "Drupal, plus all the cool community features that I've been looking for." We'll see.

So, one of the sites using the still-beta CivicSpace framework is Music Across America. Take a look at this calendar and tell me that it wouldn't be cool to have for the klezmershack calendar - we'd need the world, not just the US, but imagine being able to zero in on music and events relevant to Jewish music just my moving your mouse (or, one hopes, speaking or using alternative navigation devices, as needed or preferred)! If I can find a way to make more events more accessible - and to make it easy for bands, musicians, and venues to list events by themselves - we could really do something neat.

June 14, 2005

Christian Dawid on Klez-Vienna

Christian Dawid posts this to the Jewish-Music mailing list. Note that the Klez-MORE Festival comes up July 3-10, www.klezmore-vienna.at

... seems like Vienna is the place to be these weeks in Klezmerland. Looking forward to Ruth Schwarz' KlezMore, I just returned from Roman Grinberg's KlezVienna, and I'm deeply impressed.

The concerts were superb - thanks to Maxwell Street Klezmer, Kishinev's Theatre of Jewish Song, Grinberg's own Frejlech, Stanislav Rayko and many others. But most important seemed the in-depth work at the seminar. What makes KlezVienna special is the intense collaboration of East and West - people from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Austria, Slovenia... and some people, like the Grinberg brothers themselves, who seem to have lived in all of those countries. We basically exchanged tunes, dances, stories and knowledge all day and night.

My favorite revelation were Konsonans Retro, a six-piece family brass band from Kodyma, Ukraine. They're not Jewish, but still playing the repertoire and style they learned from their fathers and grandfathers, who had played with Jews. Wonderful repertoire, wonderful sound, wonderful people.

New Jewish blog aggregator - welcome to JewishBlogging.com

Leslie Bunder, who already does a radio show in the UK and is a major force behind "somethingjewish.com" announces to the Jewish-Music list:

If anyone has a Jewish music blog, then you may like to submit it to a new site we have just put into beta - JewishBlogging.com

We already have a couple of Jewish music blogs indexed, but are there any we are missing? [He already lists the KlezmerShack and hte Jewish Music WebCenter. There are more needed? ari]

JewishBlogging.com is from SomethingJewish and offers all bloggers the opportunity to get their blog indexed.

And if you know other Jewish blogs who should be featured, then let me know.

2nd International Jewish Music Festival/Seminar in Moscow, Dona-Fest, March 2006

festival logothe 2nd International Jewish Music festival-seminar in Moscow DONA-FEST, March 2006

The Moscow Centre of Culture and Education "Euro-Class" announces the 2nd International Jewish Music festival-seminar "Dona-Fest, 2006" which will take place in Moscow from March, 2006 (dates to be confirmed). "Dona Fest" will take place in some of the most prestigious concert halls in Moscow and will include appearances by the most esteemed performers of Jewish music in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic states, as well as foreign stars of Klezmer. Along with the concert programme, "Dona Fest" will also include an International music seminar, which will be lead by the leading specialists in the field of Jewish music and culture (Klezmer music, Yiddish songs, etc.) The seminar programme includes:

  • vocal and instrumental master classes;
  • lectures on Yiddish and Ashkenazi culture;
  • Jewish theatre and drama classes;
  • Jewish folk dance;
  • regular jam sessions;
  • round table discussions, exchanging experience and knowledge;

For more info: Center Euro-Class
tel: (007 095) 764-42-21
Moscow, Russia 115093
E-mail Center Euro-Class

The teachers:

  • Grammy Award nominee and world famous Yiddish singer Adrianne Cooper (USA),
  • Former musical director of the Royal National Theatre and The Shakespeare "Globe" theatre, one of the leading performers of traditional Klezmer music Merlin Shepherd (Great Britain),
  • Member of "The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band", composer and a famous jazz pianist Marylin Lerner (Canada),
  • Leading European Jewish choir teacher and composer Polina Shepherd (Great Britain),
  • European klezmer violin virtuosi Stas Rayko and Mark Kovnatsky (Germany),
  • Drama art teacher and a popular Russian Jewish singer and actress Alina Ivakh (Russia).

June 9, 2005

Who drove 50 Shekel to Jesus?

Someone forwarded this article to me, "Change for 50 Shekel", by Arye Dworkin

In it, Dworkin writes that parody rapper 50 Shekel has gone over to the dark side, er, announced to the world his embracing of Christianity. The cause (as I understand Dworkin to be writing)? All those nasty Jews who posted hurtful comments about 50 Shekel.

If Dworkin wants to make the point that lashon ha-ra is bad, I am all in agreement. It is not a good thing that we get into the very "hip" sound of dissing folks.

But the idea that 50 Shekel left Judaism because he was dissed? Not a chance. 50 Shekel left Judaism because he is a confused person trying to figure things out, and for now, he has found in Christianity the anchor he is looking for.

It is very popular to criticize those who criticize, and entirely wrong. First off, individuals, both those who do the dissing, and in this case, the one who decided to try a different brand of faith, need to separately take responsibility for their own actions. If there was lashon ha-ra, then people need to look at what they said. (In this case, the items cited go beyond criticism to what looks like lashon ha-ra.) You want to criticize lashon ha-ra, criticize the specific lashon ha-ra. But 50 Shekel has to be held accountable for himself and for his actions. It's not my fault, not Jew*School's fault, not your fault, nobody's fault and all 50 Shekel's responsibility. "Fault," here, as in most places (other than figuring out what broke in an accident) has everything to do with pointless blame, and nothing to do with taking responsibility

I could add something about the language and the posts in which 50 Shekel was dissed as being quite consistent within the hiphop world, but that takes us off topic. Sole responsibility for how he lives his life ultimately rests with 50 Shekel. 'Nuff said.

June 7, 2005

BBC commemorates 80th anniversar of YIVO

Lorin Sklamberg posts this to the Jewish-Music mailing list:

Check out Tim Whewell's in-depth radio documentary, Plucked from the Fire, commemorating the 80th anniversary of YIVO (including many vintage recordings from our collections) at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4.

3rd Annual Rozhinkes Retreat for Cantors

the Rozhinke Retreat
Reclaiming the Cantorial Art for the 21st Century
AUGUST 21-24, 2005

Kutshers Country Club, New York

Now in its third year, the "Rozhinke Retreat" is an effort to preserve and continue the great Cantorial art tradition of yesteryear. At the turn of the Millenium, we have seen many Jewish cultural revivals: Yiddish, Klezmer... and Hazzanut is due a revival of its own. This retreat has its roots in the great Cantorial stylings of such renowned Hazzanim as Yossele Rosenblatt, David Kousevitsky, Zavel Kwartin and many others—with an emphasis not on historical examination, but rather living reproduction of an art form which is so intrinsically Jewish, and so passionate, so filled with pathos and sweetness, that it can only be described as "Rozhinke"—the sweet sound of raisins and almonds.

  • Faculty to include world-class Cantors
  • Workshops with "hands-on" singing
  • Nightly Cantorial Concerts
  • Late Night Sharing Sessions
  • Faculty to include world-class Cantors
  • Workshops with "hands-on" singing
  • Nightly Cantorial Concerts
  • Late Night Sharing Sessions


June 6, 2005

JTS Music Archives online upgraded

The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the upgrading of its Music Archives web site, which now includes finding aids to all the special music collections that have been arranged, described and cataloged by music archivist Dr. Eliott Kahn over the past eleven years.

The Music Archives at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary consist of the special music collections of prominent cantors, composers, musicologists, collectors and teachers of Jewish music. Descriptions of the collections—with visuals—may be accessed at:


Because many of the collections once belonged to European and Russian Jewish émigrés, the archives serve as a repository for an extinguished culture. There are unpublished manuscript musical scores from late-nineteenth, early twentieth-century Ukraine as well as eastern and central Europe. There is twentieth-century correspondence in Yiddish, Russian, German and Hebrew. There are also photos, music programs, personal artifacts, etc.

The Music Archives also provide a home for the scores, papers and archival recordings of Jews who lived and worked in the United States. Researchers and patrons are free to access these historic materials, which date from the late nineteenth century up until the present time.

HaZamir reaches new heights in 36th anniv. gala

Judy and I went to see Boston's HaZamir last night. For those who don't know, the first HaZamir was part of the Jewish Nationalist flowering back in Lodz a century ago. There are two related choirs in the US - the one in NYC is the first, and is currently led by Matthew Lazar. Boston's is also highly regarded by afficionado's of Jewish choral music. The couple of previous times I saw HaZamir I felt very frustrated. The choir has been relatively small, and the material bounces from popular Israeli folk ditties to new classical compositions such that the result is nice, but not compelling.

But last night was the 36th anniversary concert (36 is a significant number is Jewish folklore, being both 2 x 18 where 18 symbolizes life, and significant on its own because reputedly there are 36 holy people—the "lamed-vavnikim" on earth by whose merit the world continues).

The first half of the concert contains commissions, old and new, and they ranged from "okay" to "pretty good" - a Benji Ellen Schiller piece was quite nice, as was an Israeli commission that followed.

But the second half was the most amazing performance of Bloch's "Sacred Service" I have ever heard. More significant, it's was the best performance that Judy, who has performed the piece, had ever heard. It wasn't just new melodies to which the Reform Friday night service of 1929 (when this was premiered) was set. Bloch entirely rethought how each prayer should be arranged and sung, and in so doing, created a spiritual work of enormous power. After a long, wonderful service, Bloch ended with a rethinking of Adon Olam that will probably change how I hear that prayer (no longer, in my mind, the ditty with which we end the service) from this point forth.

I feel as I did when I saw King Crimson about 30 years ago—this is not music that I thought interested me, but damn, how amazingly powerful. And, for once, HaZamir was better than ever. This is the way to celebrate a significant anniversary. Josh Jacobson, the co-founder and director should feel very proud of himself, as should all of the participants.

June 5, 2005

Weimar Klezmer Wochen - still a few openings

part of the Weimar Klezmer Wochen logo
From Alan Bern, director of the Weimar Klezmer Wochen (Weimar Klezmer Weeks):

There are still some openings for participants in the Weimar Klezmer Wochen, running this year from July 23 through August 18. We're offering intensive, week-long, single-topic workshops on: Yiddish language (with Pesakh Fishman and Dorothea Greve), Yiddish and Greek song (with Michael Alpert, Shura Lipovsky, and Sophia Papazoglou), Yiddish dance (with Michael Alpert, Zev Feldman, and Erik Bendix), and Yiddish and Greek instrumental music (with BOW, Christian Dawid & Sanne Moericke, Steven Greenman, Kyriakos Gouventas, Yannis Alexandris, and others). The Weimar workshops are for experienced musicians who enjoy learning by ear, small class sizes, and intensive focus. Most of the classes are team-taught in an atmosphere of musical and intellectual exploration. The evenings are dedicated to public jam sessions and dances in the cafes and markets of Weimar. The student body is truly international, coming from all over Europe, North America, and even Asia. For more information about the individual workshops, faculty, dates, costs, etc., please visit our website. Thanks!


And, from the NYTimes via Alex Lubet: JewsRock.org

Jews Rock Blog logoWho knew there was so much of real interest in the world of Jews and rock music? Someone does, because there is a very interesting website, www.jewsrock.org, and you can visit (but not subscribe, I believe - there doesn't appear to be RSS) the jews Rock blog

Newly discovered Jewish Music Blog

I've just discovered this blog, the Jewish Blogmeister. The correspondent refers to himself as someone who has been performing at weddings for a decade. The last three headlines were:

  • The Yeshiva Boys Choir try outs!
  • London band dips into Klezmer (about Oi Va Voi)
  • The real deal behind Abbas

Which I'd describe as a reasonable range. Probably not my politics, but I'm glad the range is there and that there is another, interesting take on Jewish music, culture, life, and politics. Enjoy!