Syrian Trio Hewar Returns to Chicago this Sunday!

On of the most powerful moments of Tzedek Chicago‘s inaugural year last year was a benefit concert by the world-renowned Syrian trio Hewar in support of Syrian refugee relief. I’m thrilled to report that Tzedek is bringing to Chicago for return benefit concert this Sunday on May 7, 7:00 PM at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.

Hewar (which is Arabic for “dialogue”) is led by Kinan Azmeh, a Damascus-born clarinetist and composer, graduate of Julliard, and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Kinan has appeared worldwide as a soloist, composer and improviser; with Hewar, his trio of Syrian musicians engage in a breathtaking mash-up of Arabic music, jazz, scat and western classical melodies. Comprised of clarinet, oud and soprano, the band builds on the talents of each of its members, juxtaposing and meshing traditions to create truly unique, genre-breaking music.

I’m particularly excited that for this concert, Hewar will be joined by 15 members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including the Associate Concertmaster Stephanie Jeong. Following the concert, Jamil Khoury, the Syrian-American Founding Artistic Director of Chicago theater company Silk Road Rising, will moderate a Q&A with the musicians. The musicians are donating their time and proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Save the Children.

As those who attended last year’s concert will attest, this promises to be an incredible and important evening. If you live anywhere near the Chicago area this Sunday, I strongly encourage you to attend. You can purchase your tickets here or pay at the door on the day of the concert.

Kinan made the news earlier this year when he was stranded in Lebanon during Trump’s Muslim ban. You can read more about it in this interview with Rolling Stone. Click on the video above for a taste of last year’s concert. I hope to see you there!

Co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee – Chicago, Beth Emet the Free Synagogue, Chicago Area Peace Action, Congregation Hakafa, First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, Refugee One, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, St. Nicholas Church; and the Syrian Community Network.

For the 4th: “A Hemisphere Where All Live in Harmony”

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New American citizens say the Pledge of Allegiance after taking the oath of citizenship at a U.S. naturalization ceremony at Austin’s Delco Center on April 26, 2011. The ceremony included 984 people from 105 countries. (Photo by Jay Janner)

This morning we sang this song at our interfaith vigil at the Broadview, IL immigrant detention center – a powerful reworking of “America the Beautiful” by Sister Miriam Therese Winter.

I encourage you to sing it at your 4th of July gathering today – a profoundly aspirational prayer for the America/s – “A hemisphere where all people here/all live in harmony:”

How beautiful, our spacious skies,
our amber waves of grain.
Our purple mountains as they rise
above the fruited plain.
America! America! God’s gracious gifts abound.
And more and more we’re grateful for
life’s beauty all around.

Indigenous and immigrant,
our daughters and our sons;
Oh, may we never rest content till all are truly one.
America! America! God grant that we may be
a sisterhood and brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

How beautiful, sincere lament,
the wisdom born of tears.
The courage called for to repent
the bloodshed through the years.
America! America! God grant that we may be
a nation blessed, with none oppressed,
true land of liberty.

How beautiful, two continents,
and islands in the sea
That dream of peace, non-violence,
all people living free.
Americas! Americas! God grant that we may be
a hemisphere where all people here
all live in harmony.

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.”