Posts Tagged ‘Yiddish songs’

Just Your Typical 6’1″ African-American Yiddish Singer

April 27, 2013

This article first appeared in The Times of Israel.

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell (photo credit: Clara Rice)

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell (photo credit: Clara Rice)

If you think you know what a Yiddish singing star looks like, think again. The new, hot name in the world of Yiddish musical performance is Anthony Russell, and he’s a 33-year-old, 6’1’’ African-American hipster from Oakland, California.

Russell, whose full stage name is Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, is a Jew by choice, an opera singer by training, and a Yiddish singer by calling. Proving that you don’t need to have roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe to connect deeply with mammeloshen, Russell is quickly gaining notice for his expressive interpretation of Yiddish folk songs and Hassidic niggunim (wordless melodies).

In a conversation with The Times of Israel at a San Francisco café, Russell good-naturedly admitted to a few drawbacks to his lack of an Ashkenazi background. For instance, his patter with audiences ends up a bit atypical. He can throw around a few Yiddish phrases, but “I won’t be getting up on stage and telling stories about my bubbe,” he said. “She didn’t speak Yiddish.”

Click here to read more and watch a video.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Klezmer In Their Blood

October 10, 2011

This piece first appeared as “Russian Klezmer Orchestra Tours Stateside” on The Arty Semite blog of the Forward.

Members of The Klezmasters enjoying themselves

It’s no coincidence that The Klezmasters are highly reminiscent of The Klezmatics. The former band, which bills itself as Russia’s only klezmer orchestra, was inspired by the latter. Having been created in 2003 by a group of classical music students who met through Hillel in Moscow, The Klezmasters have been gaining notoriety in recent years both at home and abroad.

In the San Francisco Bay Area this week for their first U.S. tour, members of the group took time out to meet with The Arty Semite at a Russian-owned café in Palo Alto, Calif., and to talk (through an interpreter) about their passion for Yiddish culture and klezmer music.

The band now consists of six members ranging in age from 27 to 65: Lev Sandyuk on piano; Mikhail Blinkov on clarinet; Ilya Shvetz on violin; Alexander Fain on accordion; Vladislav Uralsky on percussion; and Fyodor Kurzanov on guitar and bass. The first four were able to come to the U.S. for the tour.

Click here to read more.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Free To Take Yiddish To New Places

April 18, 2011

This profile was first published as “Monday Music: From Prague to Masada and Back Again” on The Arty Semite blog of The Forward.

Lenka Lichtenberg

While on her first visit to Israel in 1987, Czech-born Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg looked out from the top of Masada and never looked back. It was at that moment that she decided to leave behind her then-lounge singing career in pop, jazz, rock and folk and focus solely on perpetuating Yiddish culture through her music. Now, having built a noted international career in performing and recording Yiddish songs, Lichtenberg has recently released a new album called “Fray” (pronounced “Frei” and meaning “Free”), in which she circles back to Israel through her melding of Yiddish poetry with Middle Eastern and World sounds.

“I was always more attracted to sounds of the Middle East than of Eastern Europe, even though I was born and grew up in Prague,” the petite and animated singer with long curly blonde hair explained in an interview with The Arty Semite in her home in Toronto. However, her desire at the start to be “authentic, legitimate, to justify my connection to my personal roots,” (her father was from Moravia and her mother and grandmother were survivors of Theresienstadt) led her to ground herself firmly in the repertoire of Yiddish standards. Having grown up in Communist Czechoslovakia atheist and uneducated about her Jewish heritage, she “sometimes felt like an imposter. It was a strange dynamic singing to people who knew more about the culture than I did. But my voice really helped me to ease my way into the whole thing,” she reflected.

Click here to read more and watch a video from Lichtenberg’s “Songs for the Breathing Walls” project.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.