Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lipa and Yiddish Music

I got many inquiries about my Lipa review and I feel like exposing what's in my mind now and I warn you that this post is very personal and straightforward - you will not necessarily agree with it and that's just ok.

Here's the deal - I do not speak Yiddish (I did try) and I consequently have a major problem digesting Lipa's music, as I can't really listen to an album with an Yiddish dictionary in my desk. That's just not an option. True, not all Lipa's songs are in Yiddish and many of them just have a bit of Yiddish here and there but from what I heard it's mainly Yiddish (at least 6 songs are 100% Yiddish).

This leads me to another point that is not necessarily linked to Lipa. A simple question: if you take all JM listeners, what is the percentage of Yiddish speakers? I'm not Gallup so don't expect a precise answer, but my estimation is MAYBE 40% - again, that's my personal estimation and I might be a bit off. But my point is that Yiddish music has a quite limited appeal, if compared to regular Hebrew and English songs, and I wonder if this hurts Lipa's sales. Of course, Lipa is able to charge a fortune for weddings and all else, however I attribute this to his vibrant and charismatic personality and not necessarily because of his Yiddish songs. Yeah, Gelt was huge but still non-Yiddish speakers have trouble with this kind of songs.

This post could lead many of you to think that I'm opposed to Lipa and conspiracy-theorists might even think "that's why YK was not mentioned in Lipa's supporters list" or even "YK is just upset he didn't make it to the list" . Let me be clear: that's not true. Although I don't fully "get" Lipa's songs, his music sounds fresh and cool, with above average arrangements and production, added to his great skills as a lyricist. Not to mention Yossi Green, who is working with him for a while. I just don't speak Yiddish, period.

You might think that it doesn't matter if you don't understand all the words, as long as we understand here and there what the song is all about. I don't like that idea - I want to be able to hear music that I actually fully understand. And don't think I'm a single-minded when it comes to languages - I'm fluent in four. I just somehow never felt the urge or need to learn Yiddish.

In today's day and age, Hebrew and English have a much wider appeal and I think Yiddish-centered songs have shorter shelf life since the younger generation is less interested in knowing it (that's something you see very clearly in Israel - even many Chassidim got over their reluctance to speak "modern" Hebrew). For instance, if you take two modern day Hebrew and English hits from Yossi Green - Vezakeinu or Someday - they seem to be much more "eternal" than Lipa's Gelt.

I don't mind when you have a Yiddish word here and there in songs, like in Shloime Gertner's Hu Yisborach, but to buy a ganz album mit alles Yiddish nigunim is more complicated for a poshiter yid like me. So, in short, I'm not planning to buy Lipa's latest album. Nisht far mir.


JoeFlix said...

Hey YK,

You're probably making the argument that was already made so many times that its a big mistake that this mega-talent Lipa was born and raised in a very restricted enviroment, within the ultra ultra (repeat 5x)chasidish getho of New Square. It is my opinion that even if he was born a non-Jew he would be a major leaguer.

Anyway, that's his thing and he can't possibly do it good otherwise. Lipa thinks in Yiddish, Andrea Bocelli thinks in Italian, and Julio Iglesias thinks in Spanish. And yes, I am comparing them.

Btw, which four languages do you speak? (You're like a garbage dump, when you start digging, youre always surprised with what you find. Lol)

YK said...


I don't really got your point in your first paragraph - I agree Lipa is a major talent.

And I also agree with your point your 2nd paragraph- Lipa's groove is in Yiddish, that's a fact. But since, like so many other JM fans, I don't understand Yiddish, it's pointless for me to buy and review Lipa's album.

My languages: English (duh!), Hebrew, Spanish and a fourth secret one :). I'm currently trying to learn some French as my wife is from Europe - but I still have a long way before becoming fluent.


JoeFlix said...

Hey YK

Point in first paragraph is that Lipa grew up in a very restrictive enviroment and besides speaking strictly Yiddish at home, he probably didnt learn much English in school.

Had English been his mother tounge, or at least had he learned it pretty goodin school (as is the case with me) his influence and fan base wouldve been much larger.

JoeFlix said...

You should consider learning Yiddish. It is a fun language and very rich in its expressions of thoughts and feelings.

As a plus it is a stepping stone for maybe the most beautiful and rich languages in the world: German.

YK said...

I hear you. But you did went way too far in your Bocelli/ Iglasias comparison. As a matter of fact Bocelli is excellent with languages - he also sings in Spanish and English (see his latest album, I got it in iTunes).

German one of the most beautiful languages? It doesn't sounds nice at all I should note. And French is far more handy. Wtvr

Anonymous said...

the truth is that most people may not know exactly what is going on in lipas lyrics the music and the way words flow together is excellent the arrangements, music etc are incredible and more professional than pretty much anyone and it comes up to at least of the level of the eighth note and i loved that album. comparing gelt and someday and vezakeini is comparing apples and oranges there is no comparison gelt is a more dated song and was intended for the time it was released. someday and vezakeini are more like fine art they are songs for the ages more like carlebach. as far as the yiddish thing you cant underestimate the chassidish market i am yeshivish and i dont really understand yiddish as well as many of my friends but i can understand bits and pieces and that is more than enough that is i think the case with a lot of people. i am not a yiddish speaker either and this album still has a huge amount of appeal. you probably know more yiddish than you think but you dont have to understand all the words to enjoy the fabulous music. besides didnt you say in some other post maybe the one on the eighth note that people needed to get fresh lyrics? this album definitely has that and there is also an english song for what its worth. so get over your hang up live a little and enjoy one of the greatest albums out in recent years.

YK said...


You actually have a very good point - I do think original lyrics are the wave of the future for JM. And indeed, Lipa does that well.

But here's where we disagree - you are willing to hear music you don't 100% understand, as long as you have an idea of what's going on. I'm not willing to spend 17 (actually over 20 as in Israel US albums are overcharged) bucks for such deal. If it would be free, I would definitely give it a chance, but there's no free lunch.