November 26, 2010
Jewish world music releases
This fall saw the release of two CDs that illustrate the depth and breadth of what world music has to offer. Lenka Lichtenberg’s Fray (Free) was released in September at the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, while Itamar Erez’s Hommage, with the Adama Ensemble, came out last month in Israel.
Born in Prague, in the former Czechoslovakia, Yiddish singer and composer Lichtenberg received her first formal vocal training at the Prague Music Conservatory, continuing her education at the University of British Columbia, then at York University. Now based in Toronto, Lichtenberg is also part of the all-female swing-klez band Sisters of Sheynville, among other muscial endeavors. Fray is her fourth solo recording, and features the poetry of Simcha Simchovitch, Mordekhai Gebirtig, Haike Beruriah Wiegand and Yosef Papernikoff. After its release at the Ashkenaz Festival, the CD had a South American release at the Klezfiesta in Buenos Aires.
The Independent caught up with Lichtenberg by e-mail on one of her current trips.
“I am continuing with my Songs for the Breathing Walls project in Europe,” she said. “In fact, I just got a word that Czech TV wants to make a 50-minute documentary on the project in 2011. This is a project recordings liturgy, new and old, some of my own works, in Czech and Moravian synagogues who have lost their entire communities.... I started that in July 2010 and [have] recorded almost a full CD with various guest artists, and I will resume working on this as soon as I stay put at home long enough.”
Another project on which she is working is with members of the Indo-Canadian world jazz ensemble Tasa, who were in Argentina with Lichtenberg in October. It was suggested that they return to South America for a multi-country tour, and they’re aiming for 2012.
About how comfortable she is with so many musical cultures, Lichtenberg explained, “All the songs are Jewish from my point of view. Of the 14 [on Fray], all but one are in Yiddish or Yiddish and English. That, to me, makes the songs Jewish, just as songs in French will be French songs to me, no matter what accompaniment comes along with it. Yiddish makes it specifically, and unmistakenly, Jewish. It’s a Jewish language, one that is dear to my heart even though it is not one of my background, but I see it as a very important part of our heritage, and that is why I choose to create new songs in Yiddish ... to help it keep evolving as all cultures do.
“There’s danger in a culture like ours to become obsessed with nostalgia only,” she continued, “and, while the familiar is sweet, soothing and needed for people’s hearts, new steps are needed so that the culture does not stagnate and fall asleep ... becoming nostalgia only. That is of no interest to young people, who must discover it for themselves if we want this culture to stay alive. These days, a number of Jewish artists are creating new Yiddish music that is great, such as hip hop, rock, etc.
“Musically, my music is a fusion, combination of elements,” she continued. “Many of the elements are Jewish, such as still very often, the scales and modes ... and the occasional clarinet and violin playing in a familiar manner. What is not Jewish is the instrumentation and many of the rhythms. In this way, I deliberately transpose Yiddish music into the realm of today’s global roots music, the intent being to make and view Yiddish music as a part of today’s rich ‘world music’ culture, which often is in languages people don’t understand and yet is accepted by people of different origins.... Opening up instrumentation and rhythms to North Indian classical influences, such as in ‘Es Khlipen di Malokhim’ or ‘Dancing on the Titanic’ (there are tabla in most songs), makes the music very appealing to me personally. The Middle Eastern-sounding songs, such as ‘Eybik,’ sounding Mizrachi as it does, only make sense, as the flip side of the Jewish coin.”
Erez is an Israeli-born composer, pianist and guitarist, who also has an eclectic range, including classical, jazz and world music, and he composes for a variety of media: performance, theatre, modern dance and film. According to his biography, he formed the Adama Ensemble in 2003 “to explore the commonality of Middle Eastern, world music and contemporary jazz.” Adama released its debut CD, Desert Song, in 2006. Hommage is, as its title suggests, a tribute to musicians who have inspired Erez over the years. It features ensemble work, as well as solo guitar pieces. Some of the tracks are “Anouar,” “Belonging” and “Intense,” the last of which readers can hear on Erez’s myspace.com site.
“I left Vancouver in winter 2007 and, since then, I live in a small town called Pardes Hana,” Erez told the Independent about his return to Israel. “Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Canada twice, once to record a live CD with International Guitar Night (in Duncan, B.C.) and then to tour with the group. It was a great experience for me musically, and also wonderful to spend some time with friends and family in Canada.”
Erez shared some of the reasons for his choice of musicians to honor on Hommage.
“First of all, Egberto Gismonti, the great Brazilian composer, has been a great inspiration since I was 18 – his mastery of both the guitar and piano, and his beautiful music. I met him few times and he was very encouraging and supportive of my music. Hommage is dedicated to him,” said Erez.
“I have played with Omar Faruk Tekbilek (who also plays on the CD on the track ‘Omar’a’) for over three years now. We toured all over the world (Japan, India, Australia, Spain, etc.) and it has been a great learning experience for me. Apart from that, he is also a wonderful person.
“Lulo Reinhardt is a good friend and really a fantastic guitarist with whom I shared the stage many times during the International Guitar Night tour. I wrote ‘Choro for Lulo’ as a tribute to him. He is related to the great Django Reinhardt and is a great inspiration.
“Vicente Amigo’s playing really amazed me when I heard him first at the Vogue Theatre in 2002 (or thereabouts). I am still amazed to this day... :)
“Anouar Brahem, the great Tunisian composer/oud player, creates a beautiful fusion of East and West in his music, very personal and moving music,” he concluded.
While Erez hopes to tour North America with the Adama Ensemble soon, he said there are no concert dates yet. He added, “I love to communicate with listeners and friends of my music” and encouraged JI readers to visit his page on Facebook or to sign the mailing list on his website.
For more information and to purchase CDs, visit lenkalichtenberg.com and itamarerez.com.