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Jewish Journal

Hard as klezmer

Ian Shulman

April 9, 2012 | 1:42 pm

Photo by Aviv Nave

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.

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