Get Down, Moses

Upstart local Jewish musicians weave a coat of many colors

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All-black, all-Jewish Jersey gospel singer Joshua Nelson re-energizes the synagogue experience.
photo: Dennis Kleiman

In 2001, Makor curator Brice Rosenbloom promoted Hip Hop Hoodios' and Matisyahu's NYC debuts, thus launching the music's even more eclectic second wave. The Hoodios (a play on Spanish for "Jews"), led by a pair of Jewish music industry toilers, have amassed a huge Latino following, thanks to blistering Latin–hip-hop beats, razor wit, and a mission to reinvent the image of Jewish men: "My sound is fresh, like a pound of flesh/My nose is large, and you know I'm in charge." Producer-accordionist- rapper Socalled builds ferocious hip-hop tracks laden with recovered Yiddish music samples and collaborates with clarinetist David Krakauer. Socalled's recent Montreal date featured 90-year-old mentor Irving Fields, who klezmerized mambo on a recently re-released '50s album, Bagels and Bongos. 50 Shekel also had promise, but a single viewing of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christturned him goy.

But it wasn't until NYU student Aaron Bisman founded JDub and invested as much in promoting music as making it, that industry heavy hitters pricked up their ears and took out their wallets, proving that sick Jewish sounds aren't such hard sells after all.

Downtown collective Balkan Beat Box mix punk, Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, rock, reggae, and electronica.
photo: Shaune McDowell
Downtown collective Balkan Beat Box mix punk, Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, rock, reggae, and electronica.

Details

Joshua Nelson
Mi Chamocha
unlabeled
Stream "Avot " (Quicktime)
Stream "Adon Olam " (Quicktime)

Matisyahu
Live at Stubb's
Sony
Stream "Stream "Chop 'Em Down" (Macromedia Flash)

Soulfarm (C Lanzbom and Noah Solomon)
Jerusalem Ridge
Desert Rock Records
Download "Mayim Rabim"
Download "Tal" (Mp3)

Balkan Beat Box
JDub 2005
JDub Records
Download "Bulgarian Chicks"
Download "La Bush Resistance f. Tomer Yosef" (Mp3)

Yossi Fine's Ex-Centric Sound System
West Nile Funk
The Birdman Recording Group
Stream "The Original Ragga"
Stream "Alice In Voodooland" (Windows Media)

Pharaoh's Daughter
Out of the Reeds
Tzadik
Stream "West African Niggun"
Stream "Hevel (Ecclesiastes)" (Windows Media)

See also:
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    by Elena Oumano
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    All this poses the questions: Just what is a Jew, and what is Jewish music? The popular notion of a slope-shouldered, schlumpy Woody Allen–esque self-deprecator no longer fits. Neither do borscht belt jokes like Uncle Moishe and the Mitzvah Men. Having lived everywhere and representing virtually every human race, the original wanderers adapted their liturgy and culture to wherever they landed. So naturally, Jewish music is literally all over the place. As Rebbesoul's Bruce Berger observes, the scale Yiddish speakers call "fragish" is the Arabic "hijaz," the Israeli "Oriental style," and the West's harmonic minor based on the fifth. What makes music Jewish today can be any familiar reverberation—snatches of Rosh Hashanah melodies, a da-da-dee-da-dum niggun refrain, an explosion of cantorial flamboyance, a mother-in-law plaint. Or even the juju of African drums.

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