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Klezmer Strikes Back

Ian Shulman

April 9, 2012 | 1:59 pm

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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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