Posted Ian Shulman
Each of them alone could be a headliner of any festival. David Krakauer, clarinet magician and klezmer legend of The Klezmatics; Fred Wesley, funk master and James Brown’s composer, and SoCalled, Jewish Canadian rapper and experimentator. You don’t even need to a rapper C-Rayz Walz to make the mixture explode and rock the splendid Furth Town Theater building. Once upon a time, jazz music was simultaneously shaping by similar and different, Yiddish and African-American experiences. Abraham Inc. shows how easily the prototype of the first, klezmer, can merge with the products of latter - funk and hip-hop. A revival, a reunification, a rethinking - none of these are actually standing behind the music. What really drives the musicians is the deep love to their music, openness, freshness and curiosity. So they are behind the scenes - friendly, talkative and excited with the things they are doing. David, SoCalled and Fred on roots, experiments, bubamaises and Abraham.
Ian: I am happy to have a chance to interview all three of you together. Frankly, when I first heard about the band, I though it’s a bit of a strange idea. All three of you are great musicians, each sounds perfect in his own style, but I wasn’t sure how good it all sounds together. It appeared to be much more than I could have expected. I’d like to start with a question which I was discussing with Frank London yesterday: what klezmer actually is? Is there something which can cover all those styles which were present at the festival during those days? Is there something in common?
SoCalled: Klezmer is technically Eastern-European instrumental dance music, which surrounded the Jews and which they were a part of. All that Ukrainian, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, Bulgarian music. And then, of course Roma, Gypsy music, which influenced the Jewish music. The music for celebration, cantorial synagogue music; technically all that is what klezmer music is. That’s the style, because Jewish music is something entirely different. Jewish music could be Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, could be Sephardic music or African music, the music of Ethiopian Jews. Jews are weird, because they are the culture, they are the race, they are the religion. Jewish music can be all those things, but klezmer is Eastern European Jewish dance music.
Ian: So does this mean that for you the festival which is taking place now is more like a ‘Jewish music festival’ then a ‘klezmer music festival’?
Ian: Good then. I’m just asking this question because it’s something which amazed me as well. It’s all too broad to be labeled by one name, be it klezmer or whatever.
SoCalled: The word ‘klezmer’ just means ‘musician’, so in a way the word klezmer was flapped on this Eastern European Jewish music, but in a way it’s not about a word for all types of jewish music.
David: Well that’s a bit loaded. Certain people may say ‘oh, i’m playing Gershwin, so it’s Jewish, so it’s klezmer. I think that the first thing you said is very important, because there is a specific style. I got to the klezmer music through my work with The Klezmatics in the late 80s. There was a certain klezmer revival in the United States and also in Argentina with Giora Feidman and so on. People say: ‘oh wow, there was this old Ashkenazi Eastern European Jewish music, let’s do it again, let’s bring it back!’. There were actually different bands in the mid 70s bringing it back, almost duplicating the records, which was cool, just like being able to hear it live. Older people were happy about it. Then The Klezmatics came and there was this desire to innovate the music, to do it differently, to play it electric etc. The thing is that now, over the past 25 years I’ve observed that klezmer, more then let’s say sephardic music, Buchari Jewish music or mountain music from Azerbaijan, became a sort of catalyst, which made people curious. So they call it a klezmer music festival, but there is a spectrum. Klezmer is just a handy word, but as I observed it, there was a catalyst from klezmer music, which has exploded in many different directions.
Ian: Speaking about directions and styles. Can you possibly name different music styles which can describe your music now?
Fred: Well, I’m from Alabama, and the first music I ever heard was blues, and then I’ve been into jazz, and then jazz became R’n’B, and then R’n’B became funk. And I was just introduced to klezmer music recently by these two gentlemen. I have heard klezmer music and to put it together with funk was thought to be some kind of adventure. To try it at least would have been a great thing to do. I have this song called ‘Breakin’ Bread’, it’s about people sitting down together, actually breaking bread and making a house party. What’s good with klezmer is that it’s about celebration, having a party. That’s exactly the direction we’re going to now: togetherness, breaking bread and a house party. We will do more of that with the new album and that’s the way it’s going now.
SoCalled: Our rapper, C-Rayz Walz, calls it ‘blendation’.
Ian: And from the klezmer perspective, as well as all other directions which your music includes, when did you first get the idea that these different styles can actually work together?
David: Before I left The Klezmatics in the mid 90s, I was always bringing in electric guitars, different kinds of influences, some jazz, some funk, some rock. I was also working with samplers, but in a kind of more ‘poetic’ way, especially on the albums I did at John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Then in 2001 I met SoCalled; we were at the festival in Canada called KlezCanada and SoCalled gave me the CD he made called Hip hop Seder. I thought ‘Oh God! Passover music with the hiphop beat is going to be like the worst nonsense I ever heard!’ But then i say ‘Well, he is a nice guy, I’ll listen to his CD.’ I listened to it and it’s just absolutely amazing. We did a couple of albums together and I felt that he is a visioner. Hip hop is coming to all kinds of world music, but SoCalled was the first one working with klezmer music, looking at the jewish heritage, and bringing that together. We were working together and co-produced the album called ‘Bubamaises: Lies My Grandma Told Me’. As we were touring with this album, we were just on the road thinking ‘What is the next step? What would be cool? SoCalled, what about Fred Wesley?’ And this was like a wow, a revelation, a lighting bolt, bell ringing…
Fred: Trombone solos…
David: Yes, so we called Fred, he was asking what it’s going to be and was a bit unsure, but once we got into the studio and started to work together, it worked really well. Funk is the root of hip-hop, and klezmer is an old music,
Fred: And jazz is the element which combines it all. You played jazz, you studied jazz, I played jazz. This guy (points at SoCalled) studies all music, he knows everything about music, so he had the vision to put it all together.
SoCalled: Each of us is really always been into trying to mix things together. You worked with African music, also country music and I was always trying to sample sounds and put them into different cultures together. It just wouldn’t work with everybody.
Fred: I would say that if you got a random klezmer musician, a random hip-hop producer, and a random funk musician and put them together it wouldn’t necessarily work. I think we consider each other to be very open, and that’s what matters.
Ian: On your opinion, what actually attracts the listener to your music: this kind of strange combination or specific elements of it? Why do you think people actually like your music?
Fred: Because people can dance to it, they can celebrate to it. When David plays strictly klezmer music, like for example the solo of ‘Der Heisser Bulgar’, I like it a lot, because I can dance to it. But we always ask: what about breakin’ bread? They understand what is this about, and when we do a houseparty, all of that in combination makes them enjoy the entire show.
SoCalled: I am a traditionalist. I love pure funk, I love pure klezmer, I love pure hip hop. I always wanted to see what happens if you mess around a little bit, and if on top of it you just pumping and rocking music. We thought a lot about the tunes, to find really catchy melodies and lyrics with it which mean something. It just everything you like about any kind of music.
Ian: Do you think that klezmer as a genre can still be popular as a pure klezmer without any mixings and influences from other styles?
David: Oh sure. Most of the people coming to our show are klezmer fans.
SoCalled: I’m not so sure, maybe Krakauer fans or SoCalled fans, meaning fans of klezmer as it is today, but pure klezmer fans are not there.
David: Well, maybe a very small percentage. Klezmer festival is like doing classical music. There’s a place for it as well as fans for it, but I think traditional fans are not so many.
Fred: I don’t think we have a lot of funk fans.
SoCalled: What’s up with that?
David: I think people just don’t know about it.
Fred: We’re trying to get a funk element and then I see there are a couple of people here who came to see me.
David: I remember there was a guy who came from 300 miles away to see Fred; he was like freeking out.
SoCalled: But if you know about funk, you wouldn’t miss any chance to see Fred Wesley playing!
Fred: And you wouldn’t miss this show too!
David: It’s sort of a funny problem with klezmer: you have the Shoa, you have Communism and especially Stalin, who brought a heavy hammer down on any Jewish culture in Eastern Europe, and then you have a desire to assimilate. My grandparents stopped speaking Yiddish when they came to the United States; they wanted to leave it behind, and believe me, we travelled in Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe; there were places where Socalled and I said: ‘Oh we know why our grandparents left, because it’s so hard’. We have a lot of empathy for the people which are still there, we can see how hard it often is. My grandparents came to the United States and definitely had a better life, My father says he wouldn’t been here, he would have been killed in Holocaust if he would have been born in Poland. So the culture has been basically destroyed. When you play klezmer music today, no matter how perfectly you play it - it’s a fish out of water. No one cares about hearing klezmer music on weddings anymore. Really virtually no one cares. If jewish people have klezmer music at the wedding, they have to think about, they have to think ‘Oh, maybe this could be cool!’ In Eastern Europe hiring musicians was a part of the culture, almost like going to a supermarket now. It has all been destroyed. So we are in a particularly weird position with Jewish music and Jewish culture.
SoCalled: You say it can never be popular. But it has never been popular.
Ian: What I mean is that there are bands which play only traditional klezmer tunes in traditional arrangements. But those are not the artists which became really famous.
SoCalled: You mean that even The Klezmatics made it rock’n’roll and not quite traditional. Brave Old World played sort of traditional.
David: But Brave Old World just can play tunes in traditional manner. Everybody can, and so do we, but it’s always a matter of choice.
SoCalled: In the commercial world that we live in playing instrumental dance tunes is not enough, you have to add words, you need to add sense, something different.
Fred: Like it is in jazz.
SoCalled: So the best thing so that to get known is always marketing.
Fred: In Alabama state, where I was born, it was not allowed to play jazz at the rehearsals. Jazz was not allowed just because we were trying to assimilate into the white world. Allthough some of the greatest musicians in the world came out of Alabama state, they couldn’t practice jazz at the rehearsals.
David: And there’s such thing even in Jewish music, where Klezmer was really put down.
SoCalled: Yes, klezmer was a dirty word. If you were playing klezmer, you were an uneducated musician. There was a kind of negative connotation. But it’s interesting about the dance music, because jazz in the 30s was actually the pop music, the dance music, so it you’re talking about African-American culture, they were totally entrenched into the common culture. You could go hear Count Basey and dance to it without going through all those steps. In the late 60s you could go see James Brown and just dance to it as well.
Ian: I really enjoyed your Hava Nagila interpretation, which actually reminded me of the early recording by Bob Dylan of Hava Nagila in blues. I just thought that this is a tune with an interesting fate, since a lot of musicians are producing their own interpretations.
SoCalled: Basically we did it because I’m sick and tired of people which say when they hear of klezmer music something like ‘Oh, that’s Hava Nagila.’
Fred: That was the only Jewish song that I knew.
SoCalled: So we say: if you want Hava Nagila, we give you Hava Nagila! So we made the funkiest Hava Nagila ever. There are all versions, including a reggae version of Hava Nagila from the 70s. There’s a film being made right now about Hava Nagila, and hopefully the closing credits will be our version of the song. There’s also a Habana Nagila written by a Cuban Jewish keyboard player.
David: I had written some riffs in a klezmer mode, and I gave it to Fred asking what did he think about harmonizing it, and SoCalled said just do what you do, turn off the breaks. Then three of us together shaped the arrangements and it appeared to be pretty rocking. One of our guitar players, Allem Watsky, Jewish but grew up playing funk, came up with a great opening tune. A nice Jewish boy from New Jersey…
Fred: But he knows how to play funk, believe me!
Ian: Well, that just proves once again that these all styles and communities perfectly coexist together and make a perfect, how you called it, blendation. You were mentioning the second album?
SoCalled: We met for four days in South Carolina, where Fred lives, and we had this beautiful space, like a jazz club there. We just hang out, each brought some ideas. There was a piano, a trombone, so we made a plan, a wishlist. It’s not just a bunch of old klezmer tunes, its different materials, also chassidic nigunim. We are really trying to bring all the cool stuff together, so we’ve done the same thing again. There’s some klezmer, some chassidic tunes, some original songs too.
Ian: So are your future works actually going to take a different direction?
SoCalled: I think it’s just going to get more comfortable in its scheme; it’s going to be less of explanation, less of trying to tell the story. Tweet-tweet is really about the tweeting, about klezmer, funk and hip-hop; it was a sort of introduction, like ‘Hey, it’s possible!’ The next album is just going to be more like: ‘The story has been told, you know what it is, here is some more.’
David: We are sort of creating our own genre. In fact, there was a crazy caricature of a black fat character with a big hat and a big Jewish star. That should probably become our logo.
Ian: How did your band name appear, what is the story behind?
David: I had a friend down in North Carolina; once we went to an incredible African American church. There were probably two or three non African Americans there. We came and were sitting there. The preacher saw us, and maybe I have a kind of Jewish looking face, ‘cause the preacher said: ‘Let’s welcome our guests, let’s always remember that Jews and African Americans stood side by side during the civil rights movement, and if it wasn’t for the seed of Abraham we wouldn’t have our saviour’. I began to think: ‘Wow, Abraham was sort of an important figure for Jews, for African Americans, for Christians, Muslims. Abraham is sort of all encompassing father figure. That’s how the name appeared.
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April 9, 2012 | 11:41 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
Yuriy Gurzhy: music can’t change the world anymore, but might still help
Yuriy Gurzhy is a Ukrainian-born musician and DJ living in Berlin, who won his fame as a founder and a DJ of Russen Disko (Russian Disco) as well as the lead singer of RotFront band. His concert at the Klezmer festival in Furth required some re-tuning of the audience, since it was not really a concert, but another thing he is engaged in - a disco. The re-tuning was a piece of cake - the program labeled as Shtetl Superstars - Funky Jewish Sounds From Around the World had everything its name says and makes everyone dance, regardless of one’s age or cultural attribution. Yuriy Gurzhy on cultures, stereotypes, Russian disco and many more.
Ian: Yuriy, could you tell us a bit about the program for today. I’ve read the name ‘Klezmer disco’ and my first obvious association is ‘Russen Disko’. Tell us a bit about what are we going to hear today.
Yuriy: Actually I keep on asking the organizers still from the first year of the festival not to label my part as ‘klezmer’. They always say ‘of course’ and keep on writing ‘klezmer’ in their program. So I decided not to pay attention to these conventionalities anymore. The program is going to be bright and diverse. I had this question from the very beginning, a rather rhetorical one, to which I either could not find any answer, of could find a whole bunch of. The question is what Jewish music really is and how can it be defined. In reality, it can be defined however you like and a lot of different musical directions can be classified as Jewish. There is a musicological term saying that it should be music somehow reflecting a certain Jewish experience; directly or indirectly, in music or in lyrics. On the other hand, it should be music written by Jews. In other words, there’s a lot of opportunities for interpretation. So I’m using these opportunities and playing things I just stumble upon. At the same time I have certain musical preferences which always emerge, both in Russen Disko and in my own band RotFront. I am attracted by certain genres, certain instruments and try to compile the music set accordingly, so that it is harmonized both for me and the audience and danceable as well. It’s going to be like this today too. Of course, there’s a certain part of klezmer in there, which is even a significant part, but partially it’s really not klezmer, not really klezmer, or maybe even some kind of Israeli hip-hop. Well, may be, but won’t be. Actually classifying music is a dead frost today.
- Especially Jewish music
- Not really, any music. There’s just good music and maybe bad music, which can still be alright though. So today we are going to have a real blast. The public is really grateful, at least according to the previous experiences here, so I hope on the mutual harmony.
- Speaking about Jewish music. Would you call RotFront a Jewish music, and if yes, to which extent?
- This sends you back to the previous answer. Sure: it can be Jewish music, can be Hungarian, or can be Russian/Ukrainian. All these elements are present there. I came from Ukraine, speak Russian and also have a Jewish background. We can be attributed to any culture or style, but I hope there’s no term for this hybrid invented yet. In other words, there’s a certain number of the elements mixed, and as for me, mixed in a rather unique way. So surely, we can be called a Jewish music, especially today, on such occasion. We have songs on different topics, Jewish as well (shows his t-shirt saying ‘Gypsy, Jewish and Gay’).
- That’s actually something I was going to talk about. In this song, ‘Gay, Gypsy and Jew’ there are many bands involved besides RotFront itself, including Ukrainian band ‘Perkalaba’...
- Yes, ‘Perkalaba’ has recorded 42 tracks; I can imagine how happy our producer was having realized he has to work with 42 files for one song, and this is not the end at all…
- Everyone recorded separately?
- Yes, they recorded everything separately and then sent it. They are all based in their own countries and we don’t have any means to gather them all together, like it was done in the video clip ‘We Are The World’.
- There is actually a connection between the two songs. What’s the story behind this one?
- The idea was prompted by the events in Hungary, since we play quite often there. It’s getting really serious when start to you hear about the problems of certain minorities from people which do not belong to them. When minorities consider themselves to be oppressed, it’s still somehow subjective, but when others start to talk about this, something should be done. In Hungary, these three groups precisely are facing such problems. I thought that there are some clear commonalities and this is something I should sing about. I was always trying not to make any direct political statements.
- I didn’t find any political statements in the song.
- True, but it is still the most direct thing I’ve ever done. The song is partially based on Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, which has a reggae version as well. The chorus is influenced by ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘YMCA’ by Village People.
- I was thinking what does the song remind me of…
- See, it reminds you at least of three tunes. I really enjoy putting not really direct, not really obvious quotations, since each of them is disclosing a different layer. It’s clear with Hava Nagila, it’s clear with YMCA as well.
- I wasn’t trying to invent anything, it all just came by itself. This is a kind of song you sing all together. It sounds well live. Of course, music can’t change the world today anymore, but might still help.
- By the way, why most of your songs, like this one for example, are in English?
- You have probably listened to the new album, since the songs of the first one are mostly in Russian.
- I mean the hits first of all.
- Right. In reality it’s very pragmatic, since for some time we were singing exclusively in Russian, Hungarian and German. Meaning each one was singing in his mother tongue. Finally German remained, Hungarian remained there too, and Russian was put a bit aside, ‘cause I was singing more than all others. At this time we were touring quite successfully, when suddenly I received a phone call from Shantel from Frankfurt. He sent me the instrumental and asked to write the lyrics for it. He wanted it to be in English, and I wasn’t writing in English for a while, only when I was 15 or 16, in times of a terrible decadence in Ukraine, when it sounded appropriate to sing in English. Since then I thought it’s better to sing in one’s native tongue. But when I wrote the song for him, it appeared to be quite easy; it was actually the song ‘Discoboy’ which has its own, legendary fate now. We were singing the song live afterwards. Before that I thought that we have a perfect mutual understanding with the public of going crazy together. At the gig I realized that there is a different level too, that everyone understood everything in English, and our audience is not only Russian or Hungarian. This was a motivation for me to write more in English, to which I almost switched now, though now I write in Russian too sometimes. The main thing is that the audience should understand you.
- When I heard RotFront for the first time, it was the song ‘SovietoBlaster’. It seemed to me to be a sort of banter of all post-Soviet stereotypes…
- There is nothing Soviet in the song itself, and the clip doesn’t have any relation to us. Both clips were produced by a wonderful woman from the USA, Nathalie Lawhead. I’ve never seen her, she just sent us a mail saying that she’s our big fan and would like to make a video clip. I’ve looked through her other works and honestly, by that time I could not imagine how could this be combined with our work. I replied ‘of course, please’; it’s not everyday that people approach you with such offers; she requested the lyrics and in a month sent us the ‘Sovietoblaster’. The first impression was that she’s visualizing each line, but at the same time she’s chosen some weird bearded soldiers from Smolny, while there was nothing like this in the song. She sort of added things. So there was no banter neither in the song itself, nor in the very word ‘sovietoblaster’, a vague definition of some sort of device. Being involved in Russen Disko for many years, I’m acquainted with such aesthetics and techniques, this ‘recycling of the past’. From the first moment it seemed to me that she just goes too far. Then I realized that it’s already beyond good and evil. For her it’s not a banter at all, she actually doesn’t know all those Soviet things. She just juggles with some elements she likes, and actually it’s her right and she’s done it in a great way.
- The clip seems to impress even more then the song.
- Indeed, and when she’s heard that there’s a song planned called ‘Gay, Gypsy and Jew’, which wasn’t even recorded by that time yet, she immediately said that she wanted to do the clip. It’s rare that you get to meet such people. The second movie clip is wonderful too, seems like there’s nothing Soviet in it, thanks God.
- There’s a common stereotype that many of Russian emigrants in Germany or elsewhere are constantly fixated to their background and are not really well integrated. Indeed, if you visit a random ‘nostalgic’ Russian store in Berlin, the stereotype is easily proved. At the same time RotFront is showing the bright, diverse side of the emigration culture. How does the artistic perspectives of Russian emigrants look like in general?
- Can’t really say. But for example, I notice more and more Russian authors in German and American literature. The future surely doesn’t belong to those who are fixated. The younger you are, the easier you find it to adjust to the new conditions. As for me, it’s the natural course of events, this is how it should be and this is how it actually happens. I see a lot of talented people coming to live in Germany and it’s great if they are well integrated.
- You are originally from Ukraine. It seem that often Germans, as well as others, don’t see any difference between Russians and Ukrainians and label everyone as ‘Russian’.
- You know, lately I realize more and more that Russian and Ukrainian are totally different people, even though they have a lot in common. I grew up in the USSR, grew up Russian-speaking and still remember the times when one could get exempted from learning Ukrainian for health reasons, just like it was with physical education. I almost don’t have a single Ukrainian-speaking friend. It took time for me to notice the difference in the mentality. The common language unites. Of course, for Germans we all are ‘relatively Russian’. But I think that it’s going to change too.
- You mentioned Russen Disko. How did it all began?
- By a simple coincidence, like all the best things. Vladimir invited me to his place and I’ve seen his impressive collection of tapes and LPs. I asked him if I could take some with me. In a couple of days I came back again and we started to exchange and discuss LPs, tapes and books with each other regularly. Once I was there when we have received an offer to organize an event in Tacheles, in the legendary cafe Zapata. This was on the Novemner 7th, Russian Revolution anniversary.
- When was it?
- 11 years ago. Vladimir was a theater director and an actor, but his theater activity was almost in the past by then. So when we have received the offer, his spouse said: ‘guys, why wouldn’t you make a disco if you have so many tapes and disks’. So that was what we did. In reality, it appeared during the disco that our views on dance music were quite different from those of the audience. But from a certain moment everything went smoothly. There were people from Kaffee Burger there, which wasn’t open yet, but was already acquired. They offered us to do such events on the regular basis. That’s how it started. In half-year from then Vladimir Kaminer has published a book of his short stories, and he needed to find the name. The name was on the surface. And it’s already on Wednesday that we’re playing with RotFront on the RussenDisko movie premiere, based on his book. It’s a giant German project with a very popular young German actor Mattias Schweighofer playing young Kaminer. It’s being advertised all over Berlin and Germany.
- Seems like Russian emigrant culture is probably even more interesting to Germans then to Russians…
- Actually there’s no connection between the book and the emigrant culture. The book is originally written in German and for Germans. Even though in this book Kaminer writes about Russian, his next one, for example, is dedicated to his journey through the German countryside.
- Still, in TV shows he is always being presented exclusively as ‘Vladimir Kaminer, Russian author’
- ‘True, but he is also often invited to Jewish festival, where he is ‘Vladimir Kaminer, Jewish author’, and when he goes to Russia, they offer him an interpreter and announce him as a ‘German writer’. I don’t care about such things anymore. Once I was always correcting others, like ‘we are this, and not this by any means’, or ‘this one is good, but this is not what we are’. Whatever. Let it be any culture, even African. There might be actually some connections with this one, by the way.
April 9, 2012 | 2:10 pm
Posted Dana Addadi
Saturday night Purim party by OY GEVALT, a Jewish student organization. Their Moto: here EVERYONE comes to have a good time. NO CLASS divisions; no remnants for status orientation.”
It was my first night in London and I didn’t comprehend what they were talking about, later on I learned having money plays a major role in English society. http://www.shmultz.com/
BAT MITZVAHS REVISITED- an evening of poetry written by women in conjunction with the Jewish Book Festival. Intelligent, moving, and very intimate.
Hosted by Rachel Mars and Mekella Broomberg with the co-operation of JCC.
JCC’s new building is now under construction. This significant facility will stand out in the British capital, where 200,000 Jews live, and will mark a new mile-stone in the cultural life of Hampstead, which is notably considered to be a mainly Jewish area in London. http://www.jccventures.org.uk/
Ivor Dembina will be performing and discussing, to say the least, his unconventional stand-up comedy. If you are looking for pure Jewish humor, this is definitely it. Come open-minded but bring your critical self.
Mr. Dembina’s sessions are aimed at giving humour an importance in your life. They are open to everyone, be it the public or comedy artistes young or old. http://thinkbeforeyoulaugh.com/
Moishe House in Willesden is hosting a series of cultural communal events. These events could be the alternative festival celebration to those who are just taking their 1st steps in secular Judaism, or just to socialise in a relaxed atmosphere with other kindred folk.
The JLC Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership. Open Meetings are held in London as well as in other English cities. Wishing to make some change in the way women are (not) represented as a crucial voice. http://www.thejlc.org/consult.html
If to sum up the total London Jewish experience for me- not assigning it to any of the specific agents mentioned above (!)- it was in general very unpleasant and not at all friendly.
Organizations offering services to the community are shutting out their own customers on a base that security is high priority for Jews socializing.
Having spent my last May in Budapest at the Israeli Cultural Institute, while skin-head protested down the window, but we were still open and in business and welcoming took the entire paranoid Jews of London out of proportion in my eyes.
April 9, 2012 | 1:59 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
While the word ‘klezmer’ still bears a strong attribution to Jewish community life for most of the people, Klezmer festivals are emerging in new less dominant Jewish places each year, proving that this connection is not able to regulate the ongoing revival.
Apart from the States, Israel, Western Europe and ex-USSR capitals, where large Jewish communities are present and there is a natural demand for such events, there is the new trend of playing klezmer in cities with a great Jewish history but currently small communities, which were almost eradicated by the Holocaust and often also post-war communist rule. Krakow, Vienna, Warsaw and small towns in Poland or the Czech Republic have some specific historical meaning for Jewish people, which turns any Jewish-related event there into a commemoration, the new beginning or rising from the ashes.
The name of the German town Fürth prompts some associations as well, keeping in mind that it was one of the Jewish centers of the Franconia region as well as the birthplace of the Jewish American politician Henry Kissinger. Should one mention that the town shares borders with the city of Nuremberg, which name is overloaded with negative historical connotations?
The Fürth International Klezmer Festival was bearing the risk of becoming a sorrowful reminder of the past culture, buried under the ruins of World War II. Instead, some 6,700 visitors to the event witnessed a sparkling show, where klezmer came alive as probably never seen before. Apart from the smooth organization, festival director Claudia Floritz and project coordinator Anna Sankowski managed to gather a stunning blend of very diverse bands, almost turning the event into a world music festival. Nevertheless, the klezmer flavour was always there, be it a hardcore music by young Israeli band Ramzailech, Soviet-kitsch pop by Opa! or a wild mixture of klezmer, hip-hop and funk by supergroup Abraham Inc., not to mention the artists playing the more traditional folk tunes which were well-represented on stage, or the legendary The Klezmatics.
Putting it metaphorically, klezmer seems to travel around the world mixing itself with other genres, trying out different combinations and is now on the stage, showing all its variety, power and liveliness. Klezmer has also become international: throughout the whole festival there were no direct connections drawn between klezmer and Jewish culture; nor was the significant number of visitors Jewish. The interviews with the musicians such as RotFront-leader Yuriy Gurzhy with his Klezmer-disco, The Klezmatics, Ramzailech and Abraham Inc. are going to reveal even more about the past, present and future of klezmer, as well as something about the artists’ music, stories and much more. Stay tuned.
April 9, 2012 | 1:42 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
It starts with just two musicians in black t-shirts and really hard electric riffs and beats. You might call it hardcore or hard rock, but the word ‘klezmer’ will probably be the last to come to your mind. Not until a pale neat guy with a clarinet suddenly appears on the stage, starts his tune - and perfectly fits into the party. You don’t know how to label it, but seems like labeling is not necessary anymore. There’s a hurricane, hardcore klezmer hurricane, with musicians jumping all over the stage and all over the audience, inside and outside of the building. As wild as hardcore can be, and if you think about it, as wild as klezmer can be. It’s funny how this band reflects the Jewish and Israeli society in its own way: there are wild guys influenced by hard stuff and Arabic music; there are seemingly quite guys playing klezmer and being into the tradition. They are, still, one culture, and only together, improving and harmonizing themselves, they can reach the edge of magic. Three faces of Ramzailech - Amit, Gal and Deckel - tell the secret of their success.
Ian: Let’s start with an obvious question: where does the name come from?
Amit: Hmm, would you like the short version or the long version?
Ian: The long one, of course.
Amit: You got it. Go ahead.
Gal: So in 1922 there was a rabbi called Abraham Ramzailech; he taught Torah. Those days were hard, there were pogroms and different regulations against Jews, so instead of Torah the rabbi taught klezmer nigunim. So we decided to commemorate his life and name our band after him.
Amit: OK, the short version now. When we just started playing, we needed to print the word ‘klezmer’ in Hebrew; and the printer got messed up, because Hebrew and printers don’t go that well together. So actually the word ‘Ramzailech’ is the word ‘klezmer; spelled backwards. And as we actually looked at it we thought it could be a word in Yiddish. So we thought it should become our name
Ian: So this rabbi actually existed?
Amit: No, we made up this story. It’s just our name. But when we first started playing, our audience were people in their sixties or seventies, and some of them spoke Yiddish.
Ian: Meaning you started with more traditional klezmer and not the stuff you’re playing now?
Amit: Yes, it took us some time to get there.
Ian: You mix a lot of different genres. A bit of klezmer, a bit of arabic, a bit of rock. How do you combine in?
Dekel: That’s our influences, that’s what we like. There’s no formula. If we like rock, let’s do it in rock. This guy (Gal) brought us some klezmer spirit. All other things are the stuff we were listening at the high school. We were studying in high school together, and it was just a natural evolution of our influences.
Ian: But still, even though they are different, they sound good together.
Amit: We tried to pick some nigunim in the beginning and it worked. Then we started to write nigunim, and we set it in rock, we set it in disco, we set it in hip-hop. It all worked.
Gal: The next step was lyrics in Yiddish, so we started to write in Yiddish. The thing we’ve done afterwards was setting up this entire show so that to bring our music to the world
Ian: I haven’t seen the show element yet; I’ve read a lot about it and hope to see it tonight, but still, what exactly the show is about?
Amit: Well, there’s nothing like dancers and cages there. We are just doing a big party with the music we are playing. It’s a very wild show, and it’s also very natural for us to do it. We play with wireless microphones, we can jump on the audience, we can do whatever we want on the stage, we try to make people feel as if they are at home.
Ian: A nice approach.
Amit: Exactly! It’s very nice to have a beautiful stage, but it makes a distance between the performer and the audience. Which is a good thing sometimes, but we would rather have a choice to jump around, have a good time and do whatever we want to do. This is very liberating and has a party-vibe. Although it’s somehow more natural to look down; that makes more sense. Playing together, like marching men is impressive and almost impossible to do today because of so much electronics and wires between the instruments. But we can do it!
Ian: So for how long are you playing already?
Amit: Six years.
Ian: You said you were starting with a whole different music and then you started to play what you play now. What are the plans for the future?
Gal: we just grew up. We were kids. With a fresh and new idea, but that was nothing more then an idea. To develop it you have to be more mature and finally bring your idea through all the step to the snow. In the future we gonna go more and more mature, so the show will be wilder and happier, ‘freylakhier’.
Dekel: We are here just six years. It’s a lot for a band, but it feels like we just started today.
Ian: I honestly wish you to feel the same in another six years from now. How does your music goes with klezmer; can you attribute yourself to the klezmer style?
Dekel: Of course. It’s just not traditional. We call it ‘hardcore klezmer’ because we feel this is what we’re doing. We never feel as we have to name our music for any reason, it just includes many different things. Things from backgrounds, cultures and stuff like that.
Ian: How does the story with klezmer music in Israel look like? Can you describe its development? Is it somehow different from the klezmer music in Europe or the States?
Gal: In Israel, klezmer is more associated with Orthodox Jews, all different celebrations, rabbis, holidays. Klezmer which we are speaking about, meaning Eastern European klezmer, almost disappears, almost vanishes in Israel. There are some groups, like for example, emigrants. who came from Russia during the 1990s, continue to play such kind of music. But this is not the music to become famous with; it’s rather a music for going to a party, wedding, bar mitzvah or this kind of stuff. There’s of course a revival, but unfortunately this revival is not directly connected to the klezmer roots; it’s rather a part of the Balkan revival, which goes worldwide. I think that today the Balkan period is almost gone, so we would like to bring some more klezmer to Israel, so that the people say: ‘we want some klezmer’.
Ian: Are there other bands in Israel which you would say are doing the same thing?
Gal: Sure, Oy Division is a good example. They are famous, if we are talking about secular people among us playing such music. There are also people playing very traditional things but bringing their own, unique show. We are three secular guys from Kvar Saba; we know how to do the traditional music and would like to bring in something new.
April 9, 2012 | 1:30 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
Frank London of The Klezmatics: ‘We can really live with the tradition. We don’t think it should be mummified’
Just like there’s rock and classic rock, there’s klezmer and classic klezmer. The Klezmatics are often being called ‘The Rolling Stones’ of klezmer, which is no wonder for one of the first and the most successful contemporary klezmer bands with two Grammys in their pocket. We expect the revelation from the concert, we expect the guru opinion from one of the band’s founders, Frank London. Frank told us about the future of klezmer, tricks of history, Jewish poems of Woody Guthrie, the story behind the ‘world music’ and many more.
Ian: Here, at this festival, there’s a huge variety of music, which all goes under the same name ‘klezmer’. For yourself, what klezmer actually is?
Frank: Basically, there are two definitions of klezmer: sort of technical and correct linguistic definition and a practical definition. The correct linguistic definition is that klezmer is an instrumental music, so basically anyone who sings is not klezmer. It is also the music which is written by ashkenazi Yiddish speaking Jews in Eastern Europe, which broadened out to other places, to the Americas and other places in the mid XIX century. But then of course we know that nowadays, just like jazz, rock and other genres, any time the genre is established, the name is used in many ways. It’s the case of klezmer as well, and hopefully they all have some relationships to klezmer, to that real meaning of the word klezmer, but probably this relationship is different for each one. So similarly, klezmer get used to talk about as the music of the same people, Yiddish speaking Jews, so Yiddish songs are called klezmer. So that what klezmer is: certain rhythm, certain style, certain ornament.
- As far as I know, the main thing about the Klezmatics is that the band managed to turn the klezmer music into something more contemporary, more acceptable. It managed to add the tunes from other genres, according to my impression at least. Do I perceive it correctly?
- We don’t think of this this way. If you look at any music you can see that it grows and changes. Just be careful not to put anything into a little box. Because we are not the first band in Jewish/Yiddish music with mixing influences, we’re not the last, and it’s not like we only do that. You have to understand: the audio recording started around the 1890s. Commercial recording started in around 1905. Some of the first recording of klezmer music in New York City in 1911-1912 was a disk with two sides and two songs. One of them was called ‘The Yiddishe Charleston’. What i say is that from the very beginning you had a strictly East European klezmer and a fusion klezmer. Immediately, from the very beginning.
- As for Klezmatics, one of my favourite albums is the one with the songs of Woody Guthrie. I was wondering how did the idea appear?
- That’s a great question, the one when you can never think of it. So much about our careers and our lives are just about giving act into some history, and it’s kind of amazing. So what happened was that we met Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, and she told us about these amazing stories about her father Woody Guthrie. His mother in law was famous Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt. So Woodie Guthrie was living with his Yiddish mother in law and he wrote these Jewish songs. His daughter said: ‘We don’t know which music he was using, so we would like to write these songs on his words’. So it’s not as if we thought of it; it happened, and we did what we did.
- But do you see any connection between your music and Woody Guthrie music or country music in general?
- Well, that’s funny, because if you listen to the two recordings we’ve made as well as the third part we haven’t recorded yet, ‘Wonderwheel’ and ‘Happy Joyous Hanukkah’, you hear a very big spread of style of music, more than on any other records, and that’s because we didn’t decide anyone’s strategy, like ‘we gonna write Jewish music’, ‘we gonna write country music’. We just looked at the words and wrote songs. Some songs have some kind of influences, some other. And that what’s great about this project - the diversity of it.
- You just mentioned the third part of the this album series; can you tell a bit about that?
- It’s just that we have more songs than those on two CDs; we have a third set of songs which we haven’t recorded yet. We feel like we shouldn’t waste stuff which we have there. I think that the band is anxious to move to the new Yiddish material, but I feel like we have it and we shouldn’t let it go away.
- Is it also mainly unrecorded material?
- Yes, and what interesting is that Hanukkah record contains all Hanukkah songs, and Wonderwheel is about certain more adult songs, there are also a lot of kid songs, a lot of funny kid songs on there.
- If drawing some connection between klezmer and jazz, or rock music, we can say that jazz originated as a music of a certain cultural group. Do you think that klezmer, just like jazz, can also become a very widespread music which everyone enjoys and not like it’s now, when klezmer is mainly known among people who have a certain connection to Jewish people and is perceived exclusively as Jewish-related music.
- Well, it is a Jewish-related music. The difference is between where does music comes from and who either enjoys listening to it or playing it. When a music comes from a community, then it has a certain function and role in this community. You can’t say klezmer has a certain function and role for Jews, because if you go to a rocky Jewish community, klezmer means nothing to them. It’s not about Jews, it’s about a certain subgroup, if not a subgroup of a subgroup of the Jewish people. That’s the functional thing, but it has nothing to do with who’s interested in hearing it or who is interested in playing it. Just like you said jazz is not precisely African-American music. So your question ‘how big will klezmer get’ - it’s already got to something. It’s interesting in the way how in the last 25-30 years klezmer has an effect on the world music scene.
- How would you explain that?
- ‘Cause it’s great. They all actually are.
- But why didn’t it happen before for some reason?
- Well, there wasn’t a world music scene before that. The world music as a genre was invented in 1986 more or less. There was a bunch of people in the music industry in London. I met one of them and he told me about their meeting in a pub and their discussion on how they are going to market this burgeoning interest in a different music from allover the world, which is both popular and folkloric. They were choosing which term to use, and they were talking about ‘global beat’, ‘world beat’ etc. Finally they decided at that meeting to call it ‘world music’. There was a certain group of people at a certain time and a certain place. Then they started world music festivals. At that time there were record stores, which had signs like ‘pop’, ‘rock’, ‘jazz’, ‘classical’ and ‘world music’. The goal was to have a sign there, so that to have a section so that people could come and see it. The simultaneous resurgence of klezmer music, with the Klezmatics being formed in 1986 and the world music being started in 1986 is just a trick of history. Our career is just parallel to the rising of the world music. That’s maybe why we had an effect, and klezmer music had an effect on world music. The klezmatics was formed right at the same time and had the right to be seen as the part of world music. We had some authenticity; they say ‘Oh, they are Jews, they are from New York!’. Of course, we are not all Jews, and whether or not we are authentic is another story. They also say: ‘they are playing traditional music, world music, we didn’t hear it before, they are playing with contemporary edges, they would fit nicely into our world music festival’. And what happens at the world music festival is that everyone goes and hears everyone’s concerts. So all of the sudden pignic groups, caribbean groups, aboriginal groups are looking at klezmer bands and we all are affecting each others music. My personal opinion is there’s the way a lot of American klezmer musician are getting attracted to the people all over the world, and it’s not unique for Americans. It’s a dual respect for the tradition. We really love our tradition; and we go, investigate, really trying to know it good. But on the other hand, we can be free with it, add to it; we can really live with the tradition, we don’t think it should be mummified and kept in the museum. That kind of the relationship and the process of how you do it is literally the process of learning world music, and replicating it is the process which has been done to all the world music.
March 26, 2012 | 2:55 am
Posted Przemysław Dudek
Every now and then I am really happy that my opinions and decisions are not influential. The pressure on the leaders of nations, heads of the armies and other significant individuals must be overwhelming in many cases. The matters of peace and war seem to be, from my point of view, the hardest ones to analyze. The decision is not a theoretical question in an academic debate but a choice that will end in survival or death of real people.
The recent days have shown that the narration for the need for bombing Iran is not the only one in the Israeli society. The photos of Israelis declaring love towards Iranians and promising NEVER to bomb their country went viral in the social media and were responded by mutual feelings and declarations among some Iranians. Peace is good, war is evil. The ones who declare war are unjust; the justice is always for the peace. If only this could be so simple.
The history of the Jewish people shows that violence is not always unjust, in many cases it is necessary for the higher cause in order to save the lives of families or not to perish as a nation. We celebrate Purim not because Ester convinced Haman to change his plans but because the enemies were killed before they managed to kill the Jews. World War II has shown how people, not demons, can bring horror to the face of earth and the Nazi concentration camps were not liberated by pacifists. Israeli War of Independence was not a conference for global peace and understanding but a violent way to save the newborn country from annihilation.
In my eyes, eyes of a person living in the diaspora, who has never experienced war and lives in a bubble of multicultural circle of friends, war can just be theory. Peace is always. I can only imagine what it feels like to be woken up in Be’er Sheva by the sound of sirens or serve in the army in the Golan Heights. I wish all my Israeli friends could say the same thing, but we do not live in a perfect world. It would be very easy for me to cheer for the “We will never bomb you” slogan while having a cappuccino and updating my status on FB and a part of me really appreciates the good will of the people on the both sides of the conflict but how can one say that peace is justice when Iran will get a nuclear bomb? How can one actually believe that Israel will NEVER bomb Iran when the spiritual leaders of that country tell to: “Kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel”?
In Babylonian Talmud, one of the sources of Jewish sense of Justice, we can read: “if someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.” And I do not feel like having any other option than to say that sometimes justice is war.
March 25, 2012 | 3:21 pm
Posted Estera Schreibman Poland
Justice. Studying law I found out two things: justice is all in all just a way to remove tensions in community and other - there is no a hundred per cent way to be objective cause a human is just a human. And we all make mistakes. But we as a humankind managed to create rules called law. This useful tool among others is being used when one is harmed by other. Victim has a right to seek justice.
And here enter: culture, tradition, religion and heritage. How can we seek justice? What actions allow us to use force or power? Where defendant can be oppressor? And when people are even? Answers for those questions are in my opinion in all mentioned above.
To be honest I never made an effort in studying in details what Judaism says about justice. I strongly believe my grandmothers passed it to their children. And the message when I think about it is pretty much clear – respect life, never forget injustice or harm in any way and do not rest until enemy is not down.Well, I am granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandmother say: G’d is to forgive, we are to remember.I carry pacifism in my heart but I am very aware of fact that this is not a solution. With pacifism in heart there would be no Jews in Europe after Holocaust and there would not be Eretz Israel.And we cannot forget that. We need to fight for justice and fight with injustice which among many, many names has one called anti-Semitism.
Jewish people never remain silent when it comes to human rights. Silence is what we got during Second World War. Of course none of Holocaust victims can seek justice now. But this is another thing about Jews – collective responsibility and memory. I will never forget what happened to my family but I am not going to seek revenge till the seventh generation. No, that was others idea – communists in Soviet Russia, who decided to throw away Jewish people from Poland in 1968 just because Israel won Sixth Day War. We found other way – we are regaining our strength and focus on building ourselves. And on top of that I dare to think that all injuries we suffered through thousand years made us more sensitive about others – about life, about human rights.
But back to the removing tensions. I am still shocked after killings in France last week. My mind goes around this all the time.
So how can we remove tensions – meaning find justice – after what happened in there? (We can also apply this to Holocaust and many other matters). There are four Jewish people dead - just because they were Jewish. Among them there are little children. Killer is also dead. How can we seek justice now?
I blame his parents, his friends for what happened. I blame people who where whispering into his ear fanatic words. For me they are all responsible as well. I have many Muslim friends and I blame them to – why you always keep saying my dear friends – he was just another bad person. No matter whether he was Jewish or Muslim, he was another evil man.
I want justice. Maybe I am too radical at the moment – but I am just another emotional Jew who is tired to read in headlines like that– and try to understand me I am against victimizing, siege mentality and I have true friends among Muslims. But this time I feel I am very bitter.
I want all people who let and made this 23-year old terrorist do what he did punished. I also want a Muslim world to stop accepting that kind of behavior. Accepting silently.
There are no representatives like European Court of Human Rights in Arab League who would raise to life some commission who would prosecute terrorist organizations who fed up this killer-boy with madness. Another truth about justice is coming to us now – no way to be objective and no way of being even. I do not even know what would be sufficient now.