Category Archives: Jewish Music

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.