Imagine a beautiful summer afternoon with an amazing world music band performing a free concert in downtown Boston. It’s a nice scene, isn’t it? But something very curious is happening. Listen closely and you realize the lyrics are in Hebrew. But how on earth is Hebrew being sun over distinctly Indian rhythms?
What the heck is going on?
Find out for yourself on Sunday, July 21 at 4 pm at the American debut of Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Gypsies, a unique band of Israeli and Indian musicians who produce what they call ‘world devotional groove music.’ It’s the grand finale of Boston’s first Outside the Box Festival, a new, free nine-day festival of over 200 music, dance, and theater events presented in partnership with the Boston Jewish Music Festival.
Everything about this is proving to be extraordinary.
Let’s start with the music. It is simply irresistible. Shye is an Israeli songwriter who fell in love with Indian music – more specifically Qawwalli music, which is a Sufi-based call and response style of devotional music. He moved to India, studied with Indian musical gurus, and started writing Hebrew lyrics to qawwali music. While I’m no expert, I am struck by the similarity in approach of this music to Song of Songs. The lyrics are about love and fulfillment only the beloved is often divine, not human. And don’t worry; Shye gives a translation of his lyrics in English before most songs. The sound is contemporary, accessible, and just makes you want to get up and dance. Personally, I think Shye is producing music as exciting as Israel’s other world music master, Idan Raichel.
">See for yourself in this video.
But what is proving to be just as extraordinary is how warmly this event is being welcomed in Boston’s Indian community. From Indian participants in a Google non-profit class I attended to the local coordinator of the American Indian Foundation to a Sikh community leader who is hoping to hold a community feast for the group to Indian sponsors including Deepak Chopra’s brother, the Indian community loves the music but is even more excited to showcase Indian:Israeli:Jewish cooperation. As a result, the concert is being made possible by support from both Jewish and Indian philanthropists, as I believe it should be. After all, if the music is a fusion of two great mystic and musical traditions, the funding that makes the concert possible should be multi-ethnic, too.
And that is what gives me hope. Like when BJMF began some 5 years ago, I’ve been spending the last few weeks introducing myself and this idea to people I had no clue even existed two months before. In high tech, finance, and medicine, there are so many occasions when Jews and Indians are working together and becoming friends. I never had an Indian friend. But I think I do now. And BJMF even has a very talented Indian intern, Jay Sharma, who will be working on our publicity outreach to the Indian community.
I think this event is an exceptional opportunity for all of us. Not only is it an incredible showcase for Indian and Jewish cultures, this concert is a living, breathing, creative representation of the type of tolerance, cooperation, harmony and creativity inherent in our traditions. The music –and performance– conveys a positive, universal message inspired by shared, almost universal, approaches to spirituality. It is an opportunity to inspire multi-ethnic study, collaborations and friendship. With music this great, the event will be celebration, not just a concert, enjoyed by thousands of area residents of all ages and ethnicities.
On the deepest levels, this entire experience fills me with hope, just like their music does.
BJMF thanks go out to Ted Cutler and the staff at Outside the Box for seeing the incredible potential of this concert and to the Israeli Consulate and our Jewish and Indian sponsors for making it possible.
Please plan on being at Boston City Hall Plaza on Sunday, July 21 at 4 pm to be part of this. Oh, and if you get hungry from all that dancing, there will be a Food Truck Festival going on at City Hall that afternoon, too.
See you there.
I am honored to share a recent article I wrote that was published by eJewish Philanthropy. The essential – and far too overlooked- role that Jewish art and culture plays in Jewish identity is becoming clearer and clearer to me. Here’s the link to the article. And please add your comments to this important discussion. I’d love to read them.
Guitarist Tim Sparks has released several beautiful albums of Jewish inspired music on John Zorn’s Tzaddik record label. One is called Little Princess, which is the translation of Kleine Princessin a klezmer classic made famous by Naftule Brandwein, a king of klezmer clarinet.
Hear just how different two musicians can make the same song sound. First, let’s hear Naftule (who was quite a rascal it seems) play it.
And here’s Tim’s version.
How does a guitarist decide to take a wild klezmer tune and reinterpret it as a lilting, almost lullaby stringed statement? Let’s ask Tim when he performs at Club Passim on Tuesday, March 5.
As we are about to launch the 2013 Boston Jewish Music Festival, I’ve been thinking a lot about the very concept of religious music. For instance, on March 3, the Celebrity Series of Boston is presenting the Eternal Echoes concert program of Itzhak Perlman and renowned Israeli cantor, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. BJMF is incredibly honored to be a marketing partner for this event and to sponsor a special reception with the artists after the concert. Yes, a limited number of tickets are still available by clicking here.
But my thoughts aren’t about selling tickets (at least right now they aren’t). I’m pondering just how universal is religious music. Does music itself open you to divine presence or do you have to be open to it? How spiritual an experience will this concert be for the non-Jew?
Personally, there have been several non-Jewish music recordings and experiences that I have savored both musically and mystically. Don’t get me started on the magic that happens in trhe Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And hearing an old Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers live version of Nearer My God to Thee always gets to me. Hear it for yourself (stay with it…it builds each minute to an unbelievable climax).
And lately, I’ve been held rapt by a CD of hymns that jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas released. These were songs that his mother wanted him to play at her funeral. I hear God’s presence in every note though I wouldn’t recognize a hymnal from a science textbook. Well, that is an exaggeration. Hymnals do have musical notations and science texts doesn’t.
Two very different approaches to praying to God musically. Let’s try one more, one of ours.
Why do some of us only hear divinity in country gospel or qwaalii music, chazzanus or a Springsteen revival concert while others can hear it in all great music? If we really do believe that there is one God, then shouldn’t we accept the idea that the divine is present in so many different musical styles? Personally, I think music is one of humanity’s greatest gifts to God. Or is that the other way around?
What do you think? Of these three examples, what touched you? Why? Care to share a piece that speaks to your soul?
And lets talk about it and share all this and more here on this blog and at the festival, March 1-10.
There is much discussion and concern in the Jewish boardrooms, committee meetings and community about continuity and engagement. Everyone, rightfully, wants to know what it takes to keep people engaged with the Judaism. The usual suggestions tend to focus on social media and social opportunities, about open door policies and lowering entry costs.
Perhaps what we really need is more music. Well, not just music, but a full range of art and culture. We need to support the singers and writers, the painters and poets who demonstrate that Jewish faith and traditions are rich sources of inspiration for exceptional artistry. We need to support Jewish artists and increase awareness and exposure to them among the entire Jewish community.
Why? Just how important are the arts to Jewish peoplehood at this time? They are essential and have been from the very beginning, from when the angels sang, yes sang, in celebration of the creation of the world. From Miriam’s timbrel to Matisyahu concerts, music is a part of us. And, with the demise of radio stations and record labels, if we want to ensure people get to experience great Jewish art, we, as a community, must make it a priority. Yes, we need rabbis and teachers and camp directors, but we also need musicians and poets. There are important artists in all genres who are taking our traditions and reinterpreting and rejuvenating them.
Here’s one example that has been particularly thought provoking for me lately. Daniel Kahn is a young singer/songwriter who grew up in a suburban Detroit, got turned on by hearing the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars and has since moved to Berlin and dedicated himself to Yiddishkeit. I personally think his work is both cool and important. But my personal taste is not the issue right now.
Rather, I’d like to talk about what one song, Mayn Rue Plats (My Place To Rest), a written in Yiddish by poet Morris Rosenfeld, the poet laureate of the slum and sweatshop. Now, I knew a bit about the Lower East Side sweatshops and the roles Jews played in labor rights. I even knew that there was once a thriving – though unimaginable to me – Yiddish theater world because I got to see Molly Picon with my grandmother when the show Milk and Honey came to Boston.
But back to the song. This is the last song on Daniel Kahn’s Partisans and Parasites cd. And it just moves the heck out of me. Here we have, in one song, buy a dedicated and talented Klezmer/Punk/Protest/Rock singer (a Yiddish Billy Bragg perhaps?) beauty, history, and the values of Tikkun Olam. All in just 4 minutes.
I am convinced that opportunities to hear music like this, as well as all other Jewish arts, can be an irresistible invitation to inspire, expand and rejuvenate large segments of our community, especially those that mainstream Jewish institutions are having a difficult time reaching.
After seeing a great work of art, whether on stage, in a concert hall or at a museum, when I feel that unique sense of wonder and pride that I am part of the humanity that created it, I often say, “Boy, I’m glad I’m alive.” When it’s hearing a song like this, though, I tend to say, ‘Boy, I’m glad I’m a Jew.”
Click hear to hear it.
Something really cool happened this morning. We got an email on behalf of a Japanese journalists who is writing about klezmer music. He will actually be at some of the BJMF events. It turns out, there is a growing curiosity about klezmer music in Japan. Best of all, maybe my son will be able to translate the article when it comes out (May, tentatively) for his college Japanese course. Isn’t it amazing how music can bring people together. Check it out this sample of Japanese Klezmer. Maybe they’ll come to our next Klezmer Idol?
The web site is live. The tickets are on sale. The brochures will be going to the post office this week. And the Third Annual Boston Jewish Music Festival is up and running. Obviously, we’re incredibly excited about the range and quality of the programs that have been planned. And, of course, we hope you’ll buy lots of tickets to lots of events (notice we eliminated as many service fees as possible). But allow me a few moments to share some of the little personal moments that have touched me.
First, you should have seen Basya Schechter’s face when I told her she would be performing her Songs of Wonder program in a shul where Rabbi Heschel frequently spoke and his daughter still belongs. It was a wonderful combination of fear and excitement and pride. Her concert will be incredible. As will her Kabbalat Shabbat in Sudbury.
I’m also blown away by how many phone calls we’ve been getting about the Hadag Nahash concert at Johnny D’s and the Andy Statman/David Grisman Opening Night at Somerville Theater. David will also be doing a master class at Berklee School of Music while he is in Boston. BJMF always tries to have our outr-of-town guests do something in the community besides their concerts. And most artists are all too happy to do so.
Lastly, I just want to tell you how much Jim and I appreciate all the kind words people offer us. So many people are so appreciative that Boston finally has a Jewish Music Festival. And not just any festival, BJMF is already considered a model of innovation, collaboration, and community building. Your simple ‘thanks’ and ”this was so enjoyable’ mean so much to us. So get ready. Clear your calendars. And be sure to attend something wonderful at the 2012 Festival.
Save the date–September 15, 2011, when the BJMF and partners present a veryspecial world premiere of Galeet Dardashti’s MONAJAT (Fervent Prayer) at Tufts University. Iranian-descended composer and singer presents an evening of Middle Eastern musical poetry commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture. Using texts recited as a means of reflection and spiritual preparation, Dardashti weaves these lyrical gems that are sung during the month preceding the Jewish New Year into a unique and stunning new piece. She reinvents Persian melodies and Hebrew texts with electronic soundscapes, inclduing recordings of her grandfather Yona Dardashti, a renowned cantor and Persian master singer. The piece includes dynamic video projections designed by Dmitry Kmelnitsky. It’s an evening not to be missed.
Boston is one of six cities selected by the Foundation for Jewish Culture to premiere Monajat through the New Jewish Culture Network, an initiative to bring music and other art forms to various cities throughout the U.S. This program is presented in partnership by the Boston Jewish Music Festival, the New Center for Arts and Culture, the Tufts University Music Department and Tufts Hillel.
Galeet Dardashti’s Monajat commission inaugurates the New Jewish Culture Network, an initiative to create and deliver outstanding music and other art forms to audiences in the U.S. and beyond through a selective network of venues and presenters. This collaboration fosters the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s mission to invest in creative individuals in order to nurture a vibrant and enduring Jewish identity, culture, and community.
The New Jewish Culture Network has received major support from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Milken Family Foundation, Sylvia M. Neil, and other individual donors. Wardrobe for the Monajat tour has been generously provided by Elie Tahari.
Tonight (Saturday, March 12), the Boston Jewish Music Festival concert rocked the Berklee Performance Center. We floated. We soared. The Divine Sparks concert was truly a magnificent experience. Featuring Frank London and an all-star band, with Cantors Yaakov Lemmer, Aaron Bensoussan, Elias Rosemberg, Gaston Bogomolni, and rabbinic student Jessica Kate Meyer, I believe they actually achieved what Allen Ginsberg tried to do to the Pentagon back in the 60s: the Berklee Performance Center was lifted several feet off the ground. It was an elevating concert, and judging from the audience reaction…well, several people floated out.
It’s exactly what our hopes for the BJMF are–to present the diversity of our people in a way that unifies us. To present the power of Jewish music to bring the many threads together in unique ways. Art breaks down barriers; music moves our souls, and we know that we are One.
Thank you to everyone who helped to make it possible. Now, on to tomorrow (Sunday)–and the Zamir Chorale of Boston and Brookline Chorus presenting an all Leonard Bernstein concert at Sanders Theater at 2 PM, and Neshama Carlebach at Temple Emanuel in Newton at 7:30 (PS–that concert is almost sold out; hope you have your tickets already).
Tonight’s (Thursday, March 10) Boston Jewish Music Festival concert, Yemen Blues, was a true gem. If you missed it, you missed a major force in Jewish and world music. By the end of the evening, people were dancing in the aisles of ther Somerville Theater. The energy, the musicianship, the excitement was palpable. This unique fusion of Yemenite music with blues and rock and general Middle Eastern funk was both traditional and contemporary, an expert mix of ancient and modern. (How many Yemenite groups have a trombone and trumpet). Lead man Ravid Kahalani makes you want to jump and shout. It was an absolutely infectious performance.
That’s what’s been happening all week at the BJMF. And this Saturday night, at the Berklee Performance Center, the next concert installment will feature a truly compelling and different concert: imagine jazz with cantorial music and niggunim, imagine some of the finest musicians anywhere improvising together using folk song and traditional themes. Imagine your spirit soaring.
So maybe you missed Yemen Blues, which will be one of the most talked about concerts of the year. THEN, don’t miss Saturday night, 8 PM at the Berklee Performance Center, for DIVINE SPARKS. Tickets still available at: http://bostonjewishmusicfestival.org/events-tickets/. It’ll be the best thing you do for the weekend, and probably longer.