Category Archives: Jewish Music

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!

Everybody Jump!

Woo hoo!!! I had the very good fortune to catch the Balkan Beat Box concert last night at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. I don’t get out to the clubs an awful lot, but boy am I glad I caught this particular gig – they did not disappoint!

For the uninitiated, here is a description of BBB, cribbed from their MySpace site:

Balkan Beat Box is steeped with an intense lifetime of research into their own non-Western roots as well as other cultures. A quasi-circus event, BBB performs with a core of 6 musicians, collaborating with artists from Bulgaria, Morocco, Spain, Israel, and Turkey who draw on a variety of styles from around the world. Every event keeps the audience guessing what the next surprise will be.

BBB makes connections that politics often keep separate. Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, and American are united by hip hop beats and dancehall toasts. BBB’s musical hitch-hiking continues as they mix things up with dub and electronics, juxtaposed with ancient Moroccan and Mediterranean melodies. The band’s uncategorizable sound gives equal weight to soulful acoustic timbres and digital rhythms creating a uniquely organic sound with electronic elements.

Yep, that pretty much sums ’em up. And it’s true: BBB is one of those acts that you must absolutely see live to get the full effect of their artistry. This band is clearly at the height of its musical power – this was one of the best concerts I’ve seen in a long time in any genre (make that multi-genre…)

Last night was the final stop on their current tour, but don’t pass up the chance to see them on their next go around. In the meantime, check out their great new album, “Nu-Med” or click below for a clip of them performing in Europe. (That’s the chronically shirtless, indefatigable lead singer Tomer Yosef singing “Ramallah Tel Aviv,” the song that closed last night’s show.)

(Eternal thanks to Adam Davis and the good folks at Kfar Jewish Arts Center for bringing BBB to town!)

New Jewish Music: From the Sublime…

From neo-klezmer to world music to Israeli hip-hop (not to mention hasidic reggae beat-box) there’s a pretty amazing renaissance going on in the world of post-modern Jewish music. That doesn’t mean, however, that all the music being generated is worthwhile – like all wide-ranging movements, this new scene certainly contains its fair share of musical dross.

Here’s an example: take a look at two different contemporary musical pieces based on Jewish liturgy. Click above for a video of Israeli “hip-hop violinist” Miri Ben-Ari and Israeli rapper Subliminal performing their version of Adon Olam. It’s an incredibly heavy-handed reworking of this Jewish prayer as a Holocaust remembrance – and like too much new Jewish music it’s all pose and very little substance. (Note Miri’s completely inappropriate seductive smirks – and what’s with the goofy interpretive dancers?)

Now compare that to Basya Schechter and her band, Pharoah’s Daughter (below) performing Kah Ribon (a piece from their upcoming album “Haran.”) Pharaoh’s Daughter is one of the truly talented groups producing new Jewish music today, synthesizing a vast array of musical influences (Indian ragas, Arabic folk, hasidic niggunim) to create something both original yet utterly authentic.

Feel free to weigh in with your own picks and pans. (For great discussion of emerging Jewish music and new Jewish cultural trends in general, check out Adam Davis’ blog, Jewish Fringe).

Pushing the Button

The world press is abuzz about the Israeli entry in this year’s Eurovision song contest: “Push the Button” by the Israeli rap group Teapacks. Contest organizers say they may ban the song because of its “inappropriate message.” Seems “Push the Button” is a semi-satirical song that expresses fear about nuclear war and crazy world rulers. (Guess who they might be referring too?)

If you’d like to read more, here’s an article about the controversy from JTA. Apparently the Eurovision folks are going to convene a meeting in Helsinki to figure out how to handle this. (Good lord!!)

Those of you who follow such things will note the irony in all of this: Israel WON the Eurovision contest back in 1998 with “Diva,” a song sung by Israeli transsexual Dana International. Apparently Eurovision’s tolerance extends to LGBT acceptance but not as far as concern over nuclear proliferation…

You can see a performance of “Push the Button” by clicking above. Politics notwithstanding, I personally think it’s a pretty lame song (though I do appreciate Teapacks’ attempt to deal with such a terrifying issue through humor).

For video of Dana International in her moment of victory, click below. (Viva la diva!)

People You Should Know About: Andy Statman

Forget about the Jewish nouveau/pseudo-cool music acts that drive the 20-something Jewish hipsters gaga these days (sorry “Kosha Dillz…”) For my money, the greatest Jewish musician alive is virtuoso bluegrass/klezmer/folk mandolin/clarinet player Andy Statman.

In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, Samuel Freedman called Statman “one of the most important Jewish creative artists of the postwar era.” As a die-hard Statman fan for years, I will say without hesitation that Freedman is not engaging in mere hyperbole. He’s the real deal: an uncompromising musician who follows his artistic/spiritual muse into surprising and often transcendent territory. (Listen to Statman and David Grisman interpret “Mim’komkha” on their recent CD “New Shabbos Waltz” and you will understand what I mean.)

Those in the know will attest that the best kept musical secret in NYC is Statman’s standing gig at the Greenwich Village Synagogue on St. Charles St. If you aren’t able to make it to New York any time soon, click on the video above for a taste.