By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
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 Latinhip-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 Christ turned 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.
All this poses the questions: Just what is a Jew, and what is Jewish music? The popular notion of a slope-shouldered, schlumpy Woody Allenesque 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 reverberationsnatches 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.