Posts Tagged ‘Hava Nagila’

How ‘Hava Nagila’ Became A Global Hit

July 13, 2012

This article was first published in The Forward.

One day, in the summer of 2008, the question “‘Hava Nagila’ — what is it?” popped into Roberta Grossman’s head. Although she was familiar with the ubiquitous song, she was clueless about its origins. Thus began the filmmaker’s four-year quest to investigate the Jewish standard’s century-and-a-half journey, from Ukraine to YouTube. The result is her new documentary film, Hava Nagila (The Movie),” which premieres at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on July 19.

“It turned out that ‘Hava Nagila’ is an amazing portal to 150 years of Jewish history, culture and spirituality,” the Los Angeles-based Grossman told the Forward in a recent telephone interview. “Once we started sticking our toe in the big Hava river, so to speak, we realized there was a lot out there.”

Grossman had always thought of the song as a touchstone of her own culturally Jewish childhood, but until she began researching it, she had no idea of its reach and effectiveness. The quest to understand “Hava Nagila” turned into an inquiry into her own American Jewish identity, as well as into why certain songs have such staying power.

Click here to read more and to watch a video of Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte singing Hava Nagila.

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Dude, This Is Crazy

December 24, 2009

I knew there were Jewish surfers, and I’ve already written about the first (Jewish) family of surfing, the Paskowitzes, but who knew there was Jewish surfer music?Thanks to a heads up on the matter from Kookykitsch.com owner, Jessica Lindsey, I am now hip to the existence of Meshugga Beach Party, a Bay Area band that plays traditional Jewish songs to a surfer beat. The perfect thing to download to my iPod and play in the car on my way down to Southern California on my vacation next week! No matter what kind of traditional Jewish lider (that’s songs in Yiddish) I may want to listen to – be they klezmer wedding music, liturgical pieces, or songs from Fiddler on the Roof – those Meshugga surfer dudes have got them covered.

But, as I have pondered before, why is it that, no matter what kind of Jewish musical fusion or innovation we are talking about, the performers are always compelled to appear like ZZ Top gone Hassidic? It’s such a hackneyed stereotype, and – well, kitschy. Here’s Erran Baron Cohen (Sacha’s brother) performing his Latin-inspired “Dreidl Song” (a hit on Hanukkah last year, when it first came out). It looks like he must buy his black suit and fake, adhesive beard and peyes from the same wholesale supplier as the members of Mushugga Beach Party.

© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.