Klezmania (Australia) / Oystralia

Album cover: Lovely naif painting of nature singing, delightful lettering for the album name

Klezmania / Oystralia
Klezmania Records, OZKLEZ 601, 1995

This is a really fun intro from the first klezmer band to send me a review-worthy recording from "down under." What is most striking is that, for the most part, this album could have been made in the United States. The opening "7:40," one of my favorite "speed klez" tunes leads into a wistful folksong, "Sheyn Vi Di Levone" (As matchless as the moon), and excepting a version of "Di Mashke" which is okay, but feels faintly of the "I am singing a quaint song from long ago" that characterizes many contemporary male vocals of Yiddish songs, this is quite the wonderful Jewish music/klezmer sampler.

Lest we forget that this album is from Australia, and not Boston or Winipeg or San Francisco, there is the delightful "Tale of the Kangaroo Klezmer" and, of course, an Australian version of "Romania, Romania." But where Lebedeff was singing nostalgically of the pleasures of a Romania that he had left behind, Klezmania sings with gusto of the pleasures of the Australia to which they have arrived: booze, barbecues, and didgeridoos. This type of adaptation of this particular song, which I first heard from the Mazeltones on their "Seattle, Romania" recording is especially poignant as it reflects the very real fondness those fleeing oppression feel on finding a welcoming haven, be it the Americas or, yes indeed, mate, that other new world: Australia. It also reflects the difference between the period when Lebedeff sang, when the New World was still scary and foreign, and a couple of generations later when, mostly assimilated, we are rediscovering whence we came (Note the opposite contradictions in the way each generation has used this song).

Another pleasure lies in the sheer diversity of the album. Female vocalist Freydi Mrocki's singing is expressive, and a delightful discovery. Her rendition of the wistful Holocaust lullaby, a capella "Dremlen Feygl" is near-perfect. The band also finds room for the haunting, chamber-music-like Russian folk song "nyet nyet", which they claim was popular among Hassidim sung in defiance of oppression. The clarinet is especially notable, as well as a perfect bass behind it, and then the chorus of vocals arrive. Special. And, then, moving on, a few songs later we have a delightful non-klez Slim Gaillard "Dunkin' Bagels." (I hope this is not discovered by a Northeast US donut chain that has recently begun marketing bagel-shaped breads.) In this versatility and musical excellence the band reminds me of that mindblowing, elusive Canadian prairie treasure, Winnipeg's own Finjan.

In short, this is the sort of diverse and delightfully-played Jewish music album that typifies the best of klezmer revival recordings in the US and Canada (a range of styles different from those encountered in Europe). The unfamiliar Yiddish folksongs that are presented are an added bonus, as is the (to me, unfamiliar) vocal accompaniment to "Vu bistu geven." The fact that this album comes from Australia, instead Canada or the United States, only ensures that this is "must have" album. Someone should distribute this in the Europe and the States. Tara Music, this one's for you.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 9/26/97

Personnel this recording:
Freydi Mrocki: vocals, percussion
David Breytman: bayan, vocals, balalaika
David Krycer: double bass, vocals, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, washboard
Lionel Mrocki: clarinet, soprano sax, guitar, didgeridoo, vocals

Ernie Gruner: violin (#3)
Martin Splitter: backing vocals (#5, #16)


  1. 7:40 (trad.) 3:18
  2. Sheyn Vi Di Levone--As Matchless as the Moon (music: Joseph Rumshinsky; Lyrics: Chaim Tauber) 2:07
  3. Di Mashke—The Whiskey (Music & lyrics: M. Gordon)
  4. Moskowitz the Spy (orig. "Sadegerer-Khosid"; music: Joseph Moscowitz) 3:26
  5. Nyet Nyet (trad. Russian melody) 4:53
  6. Vu Bistu Geven?—Where the hell were you? (folksong) 2:37
  7. Fishelekh (folksong) 3:23
  8. Tale of the Kangaroo Klezmer (music: unknown, from Australian folk tune: "Lachlan Tigers"; words: L. Mrocki & D. Krycer) 2:15
  9. Di Varnitshkes—Buckwheat Dumplings (folksong) 3:35
  10. Wedding Dance (F. DeVol) 3:04
  11. Akhas V'akhas (Folksong) 3:53
  12. Dunkin' Bagels (Music & words: Bulee 'Slim' Gaillard) 1:57
  13. The Dance of the Bessarabian Gypsies (trad.) 3:53
  14. Dremlen Feygl—Drowsing Birds (Music: Leyb Yampolski; words: Leah Rudnicki)
  15. Landsman/Lebedike Lid (Music: 'Landsman', David Krycer; 'Lebedike Lid', trad.) 2:57
  16. Oystralie—Australia (music: A. Lebedev; lyrics: F. Mrocki, D. Ringelblum, A. Zable) 2:57

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