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.

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).

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).

Eerie Harmony, Hot Rhythm and Radical Braininess

You haven’t discovered Charming Hostess yet?  Well, if you’re interested in the latest in the radical Jewish creative spirit unleashed, then you’ve been sleeping on the job.

There’s no way I could do them justice, so I’ll let them describe themselves:

Charming Hostess is a whirl of eerie harmony, hot rhythm and radical braininess. Our music explores the intersection of text and the sounding body – complex ideas expressed physically, based on voice and vocal percussion, handclaps and heartbeats, sex-breath and silence. We live where diasporas collide, incorporating piyyutim and Pygmy counterpoint, doo-wop and niggunim, work songs and Torah chanting.

ChoHo’s leader is Jewlia Eisenberg, a San Francisco-based  “composer, extended-technique vocalist, lay cantor” who has been exploring exciting musical terrain with a variety of collaborators.  Their last CD, “Sarajevo Blues,”  juxtaposed music and text from the Jewish, African, and Bosnian Diasporas to explore

(Genocide) and nationalism, freedom under siege, the nature of evil, and resisting war by any means necessary – themes that Jews think about, maybe even obsess over.

And if that’s not enough for you, just check out ChoHo’s current work-in-progress, “The Bowls Project:”

The Bowls Project is an immersive music performance that takes place in a dome. (It) is based on texts from incantation bowls, common amulets 1500 years ago in Babylon. Simple clay bowls were inscribed with a householder`s secrets and desires, then buried under the house. Incantation bowls speak of mysticism and sex; angels and demons;and the trials and joys of daily life. Especially (and unusually) audible are the voices of the era`s women–their work, hopes, and dreams.

These spiraled Aramaic inscriptions from the same time and place as the Talmud open up a larger discussion: of the connections between material and literary culture, between canonized and marginalized voices, between ritual power and popular practice, and of how music mediates these relationships.

Click the link below to  “Yedidi,” my personal favorite from “The Bowls Project.”  On the YouTube clip above Jewlia Eisenberg performs the classic Ladino lullaby “Durme, Durme” at the 2008 Krakow Jewish Culture Festival.

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.

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.

In Memory of Judy Frankel

I was so very saddened to learn about the passing of Judy Frankel, the luminous musician/singer of traditional Sephardic folk melodies, after a long illness.

I first encountered Judy’s music fifteen years ago or so and was immediately transfixed. There are many new interpreters of Sephardic music on the Jewish music scene today, but Judy always stood out from the pack for me. She possessed the rare combination of true musicianship (she was classically trained on guitar), an incandescent  voice, and a profound appreciation of Sephardic culture and tradition.

I had the pleasure many years ago to bring Judy to my previous congregation in Denver – it was so gratifying to see my congregants transformed into instant fans as I just knew they would be. I had always wanted to arrange a concert for JRC as well, and I mourn that this now will not come to pass.

Judy was a sweet and lovely soul and I am only heartened that her voice remains with us still. I encourage you to discover her music for yourself – you can begin by clicking here to hear her sing the classic Sephardic lullaby, “Durme, Durme.”

Zichrona Livracha – may her memory be for a blessing.

My Israeli Music Pix

Some of the Israeli tunes I’ve been listening to since I’ve returned…

When I was in Tel Aviv, I made a beeline for Tower Records and picked up the first two Israeli releases by The Idan Raichel Project. Raichel is a musical phenom who has been extremely popular in Israel for some time, but has only recently introduced to American ears. He’s a multi-talented keyboardist, composer, producer and singer, whose musical “project” involves over 70 different musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and he produces an amazingly rich musical synthesis of Israel’s ethnic diversity. While Raichel highlights Ethiopian music and musicians prominently, his songs also feature Arab musicians, traditional Yemenite vocalists, a percussionist from Suriname and a South African singer, among others.

Unlike most Israeli popular music, which is for me too often a mediocre rehashing of Western style rock and pop, Raichel’s music represents an attempt to create an authentically Israeli style by bringing together the unique musical traditions of a uniquely multi-ethnic Israeli culture. (I know I’m making his music sound like an anthropology dissertation here, but trust me, this is eminently listenable and often beautiful music.)

If you’re new to Idan Raichel, I’d recommend his 2006 American-released CD which is a “best-of” collection from their first two albums. While you are at it, click above to see the video of his song, “Mi’Ma’amakim.” (Even more exciting: according to his MySpace site, he’s coming stateside this fall – I hear his performances are not to be missed.)

Pick #2: While I was at Ben-Gurion and preparing for my flight home, I wandered into the Duty Free shop and I noticed the latest CD by Habreira Hativit– an Israeli group that I haven’t listened to in years. Habreira is led by great Shlomo Bar, a Moroccan-born Israeli, and has long been creating exciting Israeli music that combines Eastern Jewish cultural influences. I became a devoted fan after seeing them in concert in LA in the early 1980s, and I confess I didn’t know Habreira was still alive and kicking. I’m delighted to become reacquainted with their new lineup and their latest music. (Click below for the video of their song,”Da’re,” from their recent album, “Low Clouds.”)

The Cantor from Poughkeepsie

Thanks to my good friend (and clergy partner-in-crime) Cantor Howard Friedland for steering me toward this amazing piece of footage: cantor-comedian Shepsil Kanarek doing one of his routines.

This particular bit involves Shepsil’s outrage at being forced to audition for a High Holiday position at a synagogue (“Me?! Shepsil Kanarek from Poughkeepsie??!!”) I’m not quite sure how to describe his comedy – this man was simply a force of nature and really must be seen to be believed. If you understand Yiddish or know anything about old school cantorial styles, you will love this. Howard howls every time he watches it…

This clip is beginning to make the rounds on the Jewish blogosphere, so it seems that Shepsil is finding new life via the internet. I’ve searched in vain for more info on him – if any of you know anything more about the cantor from Poughkeepsie, please write in!