Daniel Kahn On “Inner Emigration”

I’ve sung the praises of Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird before; my favorite “Punk Cabaret, Radical Yiddish, Gothic, American Folk, Klezmer Danse Macabre” band. Been listening a lot to their latest album, “Lost Causes” – particularly a brilliant ditty called “Inner Emigration.” This song is simultaneously a meditation on identity politics, a treatise on the absurd reality of national borders, but ultimately, I think, a blistering diatribe against the way we all assent to our own inner/outer oppression. It’s also catchy as hell.

Click above for a clip of Kahn performing the song solo in Tel Aviv. Click below for the lyrics. (The song is truly a text study in itself…)

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Sephardic Music Fest Tunes Now Available!

This is very good news:

A mix of traditional, dance, electro, hip hop, and folk songs from around the Sephardic world makes up the Sephardic Music Festival’s first compilation album, set for world-wide release on November 30th…Like the Sephardic Music Festival itself, this compilation offers a taste of the amazing depth and breadth of Mizrahi and Sephardi inspiration, culture, and creativity. Album tracks incorporate Jewish liturgical and ceremonial texts, Shabbat songs, and classic love poems, as well as original compositions inspired by traditional themes. The album presents a tapestry of harmonies, rhythms, and motifs as rich, vibrant, and diverse as the Jewish world itself.

I’ve never been, but I’ve been told that the SMF is one of the most amazingly eclectic Jewish music festivals around.  For a taste of just how eclectic, click above for a more traditional Sephardic experience (“Yah Ribon” with Yair Dalal on the oud) and below for something completely different:  DeLeon performing “La Vida Do Por El Raki” complete with lead banjo. (You’ll have to purchase the CD for the Sephardic electro and hip-hop…)

If you’re in NYC from December 1-8, you should probably attend this year’s festival. Click here for the schedule.


Thank God We’ve Still Got Pete Seeger

If you’re starting to feel cynical and worn out at what’s going on in the world, just remember how long Pete Seeger has been fighting the good fight for us all. Check out his latest protest song, “God’s Counting On Me, God’s Counting on You.” (Note among other things, his pointed reference to the BP oil disaster.)  Click below for the lyrics:

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A Must-Have Pesach Mix Tape

You need to play this at your seder.

The Idelsohn Society has released a breathtaking mix tape for Pesach, weaving together such musical liberation classics as The Kiddush (Richard Tucker), The Four Questions (Socalled), Passover Time on the Range (Moe Jaffe & Henry Tobias), Passover (Joy Division), On My Way To Canaan’s Land (The Carter Family), Freedom (Charles Mingus), I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, (Nina Simone), Where Can I Go? (Ray Charles), I’m Set Free (The Velvet Underground). Defintely something for everyone.

All who are hungry, give a listen!

(H/T to Josh Karsh for discovering this gem).


Geoff Berner’s Subversive Olympics Anthem

Warning: Deeply Dark, Black Humor Ahead…

If you’re feeling less than festive about the chronic loosening of public funds that enable the media extravaganzas we call the Olympic games, then here’s a song for you. Vancouver-based klezmer musician Geoff Berner has released an alternative Olympic anthem, entitled “Official Theme Song for the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympic Games (The Dead Babies Were Worth It).”

Berner is a true klezmer purist, i.e., noisy, sloppy, drunken, and deliciously subversive. Here’s a sample lyric:

All you terrific foreign visitors -
We’re so glad that you’re here,
For our eight billion dollar, two week party
That we’re putting on this year.

Of course the credit goes to the government;
When they approved the eight billion bucks,
They cost cut out the office that
investigates childrens’ deaths.

The Dead, Dead Children Were Worth it,
The Dead, Dead Children Were Worth it,
The Dead, Dead Children Were Worth it,

The Vancouver/Whistler Olympic Games…

Click here to hear the song. Above to see a video of the Berner classic “Whiskey Rabbi.”


Interfaith Jamming the the Desert!

Just learned that the great alt-Jewish band The Sway Machinery, recently played at “Le Festival au Désert” – an amazing international music festival held annually in the Sahara desert near Timbuktu, Mali. Apparently, SM played before a largely Muslim audience and performed with several local African musicians as well. Click above for a taste.

Afro-pop Worldwide:

Koudede was followed by Sway Machinery’s own set.  They were strong and energetic.  They brought the audience into their groove within seconds.  While (band leader Jeremiah) Lockwood sang singing in Hebrew, the Muslim crowd respected the music and showed its appreciation by dancing along.  Haira Arby joined the group for their final song and showed once again her mastery of music.  She was immediately in the groove and brought her own authenticity to the number.

The Sway Machinery website reports:

In an unprecedented act of intercultural exchange, underground rock cult favorites and iconoclastic champions of historic Jewish music traditions, The Sway Machinery, have been invited to perform at The Festival of the Desert in Esekane, Mali, in the depths of the Sahara Desert this January. The Sway Machinery will bring its unique vision of Jewish Spiritual Music traditions to the heart of Islamic Africa, performing for an audience of thousands!

While in Mali, The Sway Machinery will record a new album, featuring collaborations with stars of the Malian music world. A documentary film about this journey is also in the making!

“The Sway Machinery Pilgrimage, as they have entitled their Africa project, is a beautiful example for the world of the great role artists can play in building bridges of love and understanding between cultures. This project is of clear importance in establishing new and positive images of Jews and Muslims engaging with each other”  (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative).


New Jewish Radical Resources!

paintedbird_3I recently discovered that a blog called “Jewdas” was linking to Shalom Rav so I checked it out. Hoo boy! It turned out to be this amazing Jewish radical/Yiddishist/anarchist/post-modernist blog originating from the UK. I must say that perusing it was a sinus-clearing experience. There’s too much to surf through at the moment, but I do commend to you this powerful eulogy-tribute to Marek Edelman, the last of the Warsaw Ghetto commanders, a remarkable man who continued to make his home in Poland, spoke out for Palestinian rights, and remained true to his socialist/Bundist ideals until the very end of his life.

On another radical Jewish note, I’ve just learned that Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird (above) will be playing in Chicago this Saturday night. Have you discovered Kahn yet?  Got in himmel! - this is definitely one band worth checking out. They are practitioners of a genre they describe as verfremdungsklezmer (which means, roughly, “Punk Cabaret + Radical Yiddish Song + Gothic + American Folk + Klezmer Danse Macabre.” )

Their leader, Daniel Kahn, is a 30-year-old Detroit native wunderkind who is one of the leaders of the current wave of American Jewish musical ex-pats in Berlin. His music is everything you would imagine and more. On DK and the PB’s new album, “Partisans and Parastites,” Kahn holds forth on a dizzying array of topics, from poverty to Hurricane Katrina to worker justice to contemporary fascism. The most attention-grabbing song, “Six Million Germans/Nakam,” is a jaw-dropping meditation on Jews and revenge.

Dunno if I can make it  Saturday night, but you should go. Safe to say it will be memorable.


Who Shall I Say is Calling?

This one should deepen your spiritual prep for High Holidays: Leonard Cohen performing his “Who By Fire” with able assistance from the great Sonny Rollins on shofar (I mean tenor sax…) I believe it was taped on “Night Music with David Sanborn” back in 1989.

(Tip of the hat to JRC Prez Josh Karsh for directing me toward this transcendent clip.)

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?


Dreidel I’m Gon’ Play…

This year’s big Hanukkah release: “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” – an eclectic anthology compiled by Erran Baron Cohen and featuring songs performed by Cohen, Idan Raichel, Jules Brookes, Yasmin Levy and Orthodox African-American rapper, Y-Love.

Cohen has been fairly visible promoting his disc. He was recently interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he had this to say:

I remember from my childhood, listening to Hanukkah songs at home and listening to these children singing slightly out of key and some wonky old piano player to make a terrible record. The idea was to create a new concept in Jewish holiday music, something that everybody would enjoy listening to.

Click above for a taste: Cohen and Y-Love (along with some other unidentified hasidic-looking folk) performing “Dreidel” on Conan O’Brien.


Enjoy Every Sandwich

So my son Jonah discovered the Warren Zevon tunes on my iPod and I’m kvelling to no end as he turns into a big fan. (I’m a lifelong Zevon-devotee; his 1981 concert in LA in 1981 remains for me an indelible musical memory). Jonah’s discovery has inspired me to go back and listen to the songs of the late, great WZ. In particular I’ve been appreciating his later stuff: the lesser known post “Werewolves of London” tunes that are at turns hilarious, morbid, touching and always so keenly intelligent.

I’m also listening more closely to his final album, “The Wind” – the project he worked on while he was dying from terminal lung cancer. When it first came out in 2003, just two weeks before he died, it was just to raw and painful for me to listen to at length. But returning to it now, I’m realizing what an amazing work it is – a kind of “musical living will” that touches on all of themes of his life’s work without ever being maudlin or over-sentimental. This is a artist who didn’t flinch from exploring his demons while he was alive and he was a true role model for how to make the most of one’s life down to the very end.

Check out the clip above, an excerpt from his astonishing appearance on the Letterman show several months before his death. Letterman (his longtime friend who featured Zevon countless times over the years) devoted the entire show to him and they talked at length. Even if you’re not a fan, I encourage you to watch. It’s truly an incredible TV moment: a dying musician speaking openly and honestly about his terminal illness on a late night talk show before performing some of his greatest songs in public for the final time. He couldn’t hit all the high notes, but it was still a muscial performance for the ages.


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