Sunday, March 19, 2006

From the mailbag...

Zvi Lampert writes:
Hey, this is from an email I sent to a jewish music yahoo group on the topic, and I though it might be an appropriate response to that numbskull zealot who wants to bring mashgichim into Jewish recording studios or some crap like that.

What is it that makes Jewish music Jewish?

I hear lots of talk about "this sounds goyish" or "that's too rocky". Well, what does sound Jewish? What most of us mean when they say something sounds Jewish is that it sounds like the music the Jews of Europe developed over many centuries of living there (I.e. Klezmer, niggunim, chasidishe marches, chazunnis, and their more recent American offshoots). Ironically, those stereotypical Jewish styles (which are legitimate styles of music) sound a lot like the 'goyish' music of those locales. If you listen to traditional Sephardic pizmonim, it sounds a lot like the local goyish music of those Middle Eastern or North African countries from which many Sephardim hail. And so it is and has been with the music of Jews anywhere in the world. We borrow (not only in music) from the culture and styles of our host countries, and we incorporate elements of it into our own culture. This is not assimilation, it is adaptation.

Why should it be any different for American Jews to adopt our music to the styles of our host country (rock, jazz, R&B, hip hop, blues, just to name a few)? We have been living in America, many of us since WWII, many of us far longer, but certainly long enough to consider our communities here well established. Why was it OK for some rebbe in Hungary 200 years ago to take a local beer anthem and apply it to lecha dodi or keil adon, thus 'creating' a permanent niggun, but if a current Jewish artist uses something even resembling a back beat, or, Hashem yeracheim, takes a rock tune and puts in Jewish lyrics (i.e..Schlock Rock, or MBD's Yidden), somehow its judged as tainted? It's a major double standard, based on a false impression of Jewish history, and in many cases, stemming from self riteousness and ignorance. In my opinion the only purely Jewish music is what Dovid Hamelech composed for the Leviim, and those songs have been lost to us (although there is an obscure theory that the Gregorian monks adopted some of those melodies for their famous chants, which would make even those original Jewish composition possul.)

I believe that Jewish music, like any other art form, if not allowed to evolve, grows stagnant. So many new albums are flooding the market that all sound the same, the same composer, same arranger, same musicians, many singers are clones of Avraham Fried (a true professional who I love, and with whom I've worked many times, but only he is the original). It's getting stale. We've gone as far as we can go with this idea that Jewish music has to sound like the ancient folk songs of the European countryside (hot rhythm section from Israel and overblown, disruptive horn arrangements notwithstanding). It's time to start opening our minds to some growth and freshness in new Jewish music. I'm not trying to knock mainstream Jewish artists, I'm just trying to say don't be so quick to knock the new school guys.
Shalom Septimus writes:
quoted from yer blog:

E writes: "I just reminded myself of another wedding where they played during the procession (not for the bride or groom) but during the procession they played the theme music from the tv soap opera the young and the restless."

I should point out, in the interest of historical accuracy, that this piece didn't originate with the soap opera: it was originally titled "Cotton's Dream" from the soundtrack of the movie "Bless The Beasts And Children". I have that LP somewhere.

(O yeah, and "Turkish Kiss" is actually titled "Simarek", which means "spoiled" (as in brat). Wrong titles bother me. Unfortunately if you use the correct ones, nobody knows what the heck you're talking about.)
Yeah, try requesting Nigun Ratza Vashov one day and see what happens.

A reader writes:
it just hit me the tune of the bagpipe intro on legabay is the intro to the back to the future soundtrack probably unintentional but ...
Jeremy Gimbel writes:
Are you bored with Passover songs? Do you wish Hanukkah wasn't the only holiday with new songs like Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," or "Hanukkah Hey Ya"? Do you wish there was a Passover parody that wasn't written to a melody that was popular before you were born? Are you tired of reading rhetorical questions? Well, here's a question that actually has an answer: What do you get when you take the "k" out of Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi"? That's right: "S8er Boi". Check it out at and liven up your s8er!
Yosef writes:
Check out the following blog on jewish music, particularly the last 2 posts relating to "the 14 songs that changed the world of Jewish music" -- it's not directly on point with respect to the "must have" albums, but it's a good talking point. here's the link, let me know what you think (feel free to post about it): JEWISH MUSIC REVIEW
I haven't seen the article, so I don't know what the thought process is behind this list, but it doesn't resonate with me.

Yosef's also been asking for the Top 5 or 10 Jewish albums:
I guess if you're having a hard time narrowing it down, you can expand the list to include the top-20 or something like that -- or maybe something like the top 10 for separate decades (i.e. 2000 -- present, 1990 -- 1999, etc.) As for me, I'm really a novice and wouldn't know where to begin in identifying the albums that would answer my question -- that's exactly why I asked the question to you (and your readers).
I find it difficult to answer these kinds of questions. I did list of *some* of my favorite albums for my J-Blogger interview.