“Yiddish Soul“, an annual concert organized by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, is gearing up for its third year, which will include several non-mainstream Jewish artists.
The lineup will include The Klezmatics, Zusha, The Maccabeats, Daniel Kahn, and cantors Yaakov “Yanky” Lemmer and Chaim Dovid Berson. Iconic radio personality Nachum Segal will be hosting.
The event will be held at the Central Park SummerStage on Wednesday, June 14, at 7PM. You can find more details here.
Klunk (short for “klezmer-punk”) released their debut EP on March 23. Klunk takes Old World, klezmer songs in Yiddish and mixes them with punk rock and metal. It’s fusion of klezmer with punk (or metal) rather than klezmer with punk elements (along the lines of Golem) or punk rock with klezmer elements (along the lines of Di Nigunim).
The EP’s best klezmer-punk song is “Daloy Polizey.” The title/refrain translates to “Down with the Police.” According to the Jewish Music Research Centre, the song dates back to at least 1905 and “the chorus was shouted rather than sung.” The Centre explained, “The text of the song tends toward anarchism, even anarchist terror, especially in the verse that calls to bury Tsar Nicolai along with his mother. These verses may be connected to more radical sections of the Labor Bund or to smaller groups of Jewish anarchists.” Klunk’s “Daloy Polizey” features raspy vocals, with shouting at times, in addition to crunchy guitar chords and a fast tempo.
Klunk mines Yiddish music of yesteryear for radical/socialist/anarchist songs, reminiscent of Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird. Klunk’s music is definitely heavier than Kahn’s. I recognized one Klunk song, “Arbetlozer Marsh,” from Kahn’s version. Whereas Kahn added English lyrics to the Yiddish, Klunk added French, so that their audience would understand.
Here is my interview with Jean-Gabriel Davis, lead singer and pianist of Klunk.
In “Daloy Polizey,” I hear Klunk taking a klezmer-punk approach. In “Sha Still” (with the slower tempo and especially the guitar solo in the bridge) and “Yiddish Honga” (especially the metal/metalcore breakdown), I hear a klezmer-metal approach.
I feel they are different approaches. Bénédicte [violinist] and I are punk music fans. Julian [guitarist] and Roman [bassist] are metal fans. So we play both styles. Depending on the song, the story, and the arrangement, it may be more punk, more metal, or a subtle blend of the two. What links everything is the Yiddish language, the violin, the electric guitars, and the drums.
In “Daloy Polizey,” “Barikadn,” and “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you’re playing old, radical, traditional Yiddish songs. Do you identify as a socialist, communist, anarchist, etc.? Do you find punk messages in Jewish tradition from yesteryear?
We identify as very close to the left-wing political ideas. We don’t bear a specific label. We believe in peace for everybody, equality, justice, love . . . and we are angry about how the world is turning now. All this anger and hope for a better world were already there in the old Yiddish songs (“Daloy Polizey” and “Barikadn” against oppressors, “Arbetlozer Marsh” against poverty, unemployment, and inequality).
We play songs with messages that we agree with, but also just the fact of singing Yiddish songs, in Yiddish, is a claim itself. I consider myself a Yiddishist, and I try to promote the Yiddish language and culture by all means possible. This band is another way for me to promote Yiddish language and culture to people who wouldn’t know about it.
Why do klezmer and punk fit together?
They have the same energy basically (concerning the fast-tempo klezmer songs). Klezmer and punk are festive in a way. They make you want to dance, jump, smile, laugh, and drink beer! I loved the 2 styles of music, and I strongly desired to play in a klezmer-punk band.
In “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you had some lyrics in French. Were you trying to make it relatable for your audience at shows in France?
We incorporate French lyrics, translated from Yiddish, in order for people to understand a little bit. It’s true that in many punk or metal bands, even when they sing in English, we don’t understand anything. So it’s not that important—we explain a little the meaning or context of the songs during a live show. Most important is the energy.
It’s a difficult time to be Jewish in France. Is there a statement that you’re making by playing such overtly Jewish music in Paris today?
We do not claim to be a Jewish band. Yiddish is a language, and klezmer is a musical tradition. Klunk plays traditional folkloric songs with social themes, of a people who were oppressed, poor, and almost completely killed: Eastern and Central European Jews at the beginning of the 20th century.
Personally, I am not at all religious. And when I discovered the Yiddish world, I found a history of a culture of a people, not necessarily religious, but still Jewish. That was very strong for me as nobody told me about that, and I personally found myself. So it’s the Jewish culture that we claim and not the Jewish religion.
Klunk says F*** all oppressors, dictators, and mean people. Institutionalized religion, politicized religion, is a kind of oppression as strong and fatal as other ideologies. Punk is anti-religious in its essence.
Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published in April 2016 by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about other Jewish punk artists!
On Monday night, I saw Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird, which calls its music “Radical Yiddish Punkfolk Cabaret,” at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan. It was my eighth time seeing Berlin-based Kahn perform, including with Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird, with other musical outlets, and as an actor. Below is a recap of all eight shows.
While some Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird songs have discernible punk rock elements musically, that isn’t really the point. I’ve seen Kahn rock out as part of a seven-piece band, and I’m seen him solo or with little accompaniment. In Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, Kahn explained why he thought “punk”—or “punkfolk—was a fitting label:
There’s the rejection of . . . commercial market populism: the idea of trying to make something that’s appealing to everybody. There’s the cultishness of it. There’s the idea that we are building a functional life raft for endangered ideas. . . . There’s a do-it-yourself [approach] . . . we’re not part of a larger market structure. There’s a kind of exuberant irreverence and aggressiveness to it. There’s the sardonic acid humor. There’s the theatricality of it, with trying to avoid sentimentality and nostalgia. I’d say that, to a large degree, it has to do with our willingness to engage with some dark s*** — like, really dark s***. But in a way that it’s playful and serious but doesn’t have the adolescent kitsch of the way that, say, metal deals with the same issues.
September 2009 (Barbès, Brooklyn): I saw Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird for the first time at this fun, lively show in an intimate venue. As part of a seven-piece band that also included trombonist Dan Blacksberg (Electric Simcha), Kahn was joined by two electric guitarists, Vanya Zhuk (Nayekhovichi) and Avi Fox-Rosen (Yiddish Princess). The songs rocked harder with an extra oomph, especially “Yosl Ber/A Patriot.”
January 2012 (Symphony Space, Manhattan): Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird played as part of an “Artists Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” show organized by the Manhattan JCC on MLK Day. Kahn played an unreleased song called “Among Us,” which addressed the nature of leaders and heroes and how it’s the people who have to create change. My friend Eli was so moved by the lyrics that he emailed Kahn afterward to get the song.
March 2013 (Gramercy Theatre, Manhattan): I went with my friend Dan, and this was a great show by Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird. In introducing “In Kamf,” Kahn said, “This is a punk rock tune from the 1880s. Play it f***ing loud!” As he explained in Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, he took a Yiddish song about the struggles of sticking up for the poor and gave it a punk “treatment.” He matched the “strong” and “defiant” message with a guitar riff reminiscent of The Clash’s “London Calling.”
May 2015 (Sidewalk, Manhattan): Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird played on May Day, which was quite appropriate for an artist with songs about labor issues like “March of the Jobless Corps.” In an intimate venue with a piano onstage, the cabaret side of “Radical Yiddish Punkfolk Cabaret” was evident.
June 2015 (The Paper Box, Brooklyn): At Borscht Ball, the kickoff event for KulturFest, Kahn marched toward the stage while boldly shouting, “Nazaroff is coming!” I was cracking up because I realized that most people had no clue what he was talking about. He and other members of the band The Brothers Nazaroff performed songs from their forthcoming debut, The Happy Prince.
November 2015 (Castillo Theater, Manhattan): What better way is there to spend a birthday than seeing Death of a Salesman in Yiddish? Kahn played the role of Biff.
December 2015 (DROM, Manhattan): At the Yiddish New York Klezmer Blowout, Kahn made a guest appearance with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars. As I noted in the first blog post for OyOyOyGevalt.com, “I’ve attended some notable Jewish concerts in the last decade, but with so many YNY festivalgoers present, this was the first time where I really felt transported to another world. It was like a parallel universe where klezmer and Yiddish culture were appreciated—and rocked out to—by engaged fans in such a resounding way.”
April 2017 (Joe’s Pub, Manhattan):Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird consisted of Kahn on vocals, accordion, piano, and acoustic guitar and violinist Jake Shulman-Ment, with occasional guests. The first song with vocals featured just Kahn and Shulman-Ment, but it was evident that Kahn’s brand of klezmer has an edge to it, thanks in part to the fast tempo, his snarling in Yiddish, and saying the f-word as part of his English translation. One of Kahn’s greatest strengths is playing old Yiddish songs that offer social commentary about contemporary circumstances. He explained that when he released “Embrace the Fascists” (based on a 1931 German song) for his 2009 album, he thought it was clever to have an old song that spoke to contemporary times. Now he wished it wasn’t so clever and fitting. “[The songwriters] wrote this in 1931, about Richard Spencer,” Kahn quipped. He introduced “Sunday After the War” by noting that he wrote it during the Iraq War, for its relevance about one war, and it turned out to be pertinent to multiple things. “I hope some day I can stop playing the damn thing,” he said. Kahn has written, “I wish we did not have to sing about crippling poverty and sweatshops and imperialist war anymore. But we do. Those old songs remind us that the problems we face today are nothing new. We can learn much from those who struggled with them before us.”
Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published in April 2016 by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird and other Jewish punk artists!