Left to right, Tzimmes’s Saul Berson, Yona Bar Sever and Moshe Denburg perform in the Ukrainian Hall Community Concert and Social on Nov. 5. (photo from Heart of the City)
A festival favourite, Tzimmes, will perform at the 20th Annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, taking part in the Nov. 5 Ukrainian Hall Community Concert and Social, which closes out the 100-plus live and online events that take place at more than 40 venues over 12 days.
Presented by Vancouver Moving Theatre with the Carnegie Community Centre, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and other community partners, this milestone year of the festival – with the theme “Grounded in Community, Carrying it Forward” – starts Oct. 25.
“We have performed at DTES Heart of the City Festival on several occasions over the years,” Tzimmes founder and band leader Moshe Denburg told the Independent.
“November 2008 was the first time and, two years later, in October 2010, we performed again. We were invited a few years ago, in the fall of 2020, but couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict.”
In addition, said Denburg, a small group from the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO), which Denburg founded, played the festival in 2011. “The repertoire was, of course, intercultural, but included klezmer and Hebraic pieces as well,” he said. “Every time we played the festival, there was a truly welcoming atmosphere, and I would like to say it is an honour to be part of the mitzvah (good deed) that Heart of the City is performing for the neediest amongst us.”
“For 20 years, the Heart of the City Festival has been grounded in the Downtown Eastside and focused on listening and learning from the cultural practices of the community,” notes the press release. “The festival works with, for and about the Downtown Eastside community to carry forward our community’s stories, ancestral memory, cultural traditions, lived experiences and artistic processes to illuminate pathways of resistance and resilience.” The festival’s mandate “is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”
The closing event at which a trio of musicians from Tzimmes will play – Denburg (lead vocal/guitar), Yona Bar Sever (lead guitar/backup vocal) and Saul Berson (clarinet/flute/saxophone) – will also feature the Barvinok Choir, Dovbush Dancers and the Vancouver Ukrainian Folk Orchestra. The concert will be opened by cultural speaker Bob Baker of the Squamish Nation and DTES resident, artist, poet and community activist Diane Wood will read “100 Years of Struggle” by the late Sandy Cameron, an historian and poet, among other things, who was very involved in the Downtown Eastside.
About what the Tzimmes trio will play at the concert, Denburg said, “The Tzimmes repertoire is always made up of Jewish music in the larger world context. So, there will be aspects of klezmer and Yiddish song (European), Ladino (Judeo-Spanish/Mediterranean), and pieces in a more Middle Eastern style as well. If anyone wants a primer on our repertoire, they can visit our YouTube page: @BigTzimmesProductions. Have a look/listen to ‘Dror Yikra,’ ‘Cuando’ and ‘Moishe’s Freylakh,’ and you’ll get an idea of what’s to come.”
The Independent last spoke with Denburg in 2021 about Tzimmes’s then-new two-CD album The Road Never Travelled. Since that interview, the group released, in 2022, a remixed and remastered version of their first album, calling it Sweeter and Hotter.
“In 2020, as we were creating our fourth album, The Road Never Travelled, I realized that there was almost enough material for a second disc, but it needed a few more pieces,” said Denburg. “Around that time, my dear friend and band mate, Yona, suggested that I try to remix our debut recording. We always felt that we were constrained by a simpler technology back in 1993, and that certain aspects of the mix could be improved – vocals could be clearer, instruments brought into better relation and so on. Looking around, I found a fine facility in Red Bank, N.J., that specialized in transferring old reel-to-reels to a digital format. The tapes of Sweet and Hot were 27 years old, but they transferred wonderfully to digital tracks.
“On the second disc of The Road Never Travelled, we included several remixed liturgical pieces from Sweet and Hot,” Denburg said, noting that the group continued the process and worked on every track of their 1993 debut album. He said, “The result, we believe, is an enhanced version of Sweet and Hot that does not compromise the original at all; in fact, we humbly submit, the result of all this work is that the sweet parts are even sweeter, and the hot stuff even hotter!”
The closing concert/social of the Heart of the City Festival – called Building Community: 20 Years of Friendship – takes place at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre, with doors opening at 2 p.m. and the concert at 3 p.m. Tickets ($30/$20) are available at eventbrite.ca.
Among the many other events taking place during Heart of the City is an exhibit of photographer David Cooper’s work for the festival over its 20-year history, curated by Vancouver Moving Theatre co-founder Terry Hunter. (For more on Cooper, see jewishindependent.ca/capturing-community-spirit.)
Cooper will attend the Nov. 1, 4 p.m., opening reception in the third-floor gallery at Carnegie Community Centre. The exhibit, which runs to Nov. 30, will feature two to four photos from each of the festival’s 20 years, displayed chronologically with the festival poster for each year.
Organizers said Cooper provided guidelines for selecting the images: “simple, elegant, expressive images with energy, movement and/or emotion that represent the cultural and social diversity of the festival’s programming and people.” The exhibit also will include photos of festival participants who have passed away.
For more information, visit heartofthecityfestival.com.