Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gone Fishing

I'm heading to Europe and will be away from blogging until the end of August. I registered for Nefesh BeNefesh's bloggers conference here in Jerusalem but I'm still unsure if I will be able to make it. If I make it, I will post videos and pics about it.

Also, I will be posting a review of Shuli Rand's Good Point when I come back. And Yeedle's album should be out by then and I will be reviewing it as well. See you then!

For the Lipa Lovers

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewish Music, Poetry and the Three Weeks

Blogging about Jewish Music during the two times of the year we are not allowed to hear music is very challenging. Even more so than Sefiras Haomer, this is specially true now that we are coming close to Tisha Beav, the saddest day of our calendar, and bloggers deal with this in their own way. Some go out for vacations, some write about older acapella albums (no new albums came out this time, as far as I know) and I decided to go for something more exotic - I got into Ben Bresky's poetry initiative in his radio show. You can hear my piece here (click in "Listen Now" and skip to 35:34).

You must be asking yourself who in the world would be interested in poetry these days and that's kind of understandable. Last time I wrote poems was in school, years back, and this poem is actually old - I originally wrote it a few years ago because I wanted to understand's business concept after meeting its founder. So, it's not like I write poems everyday. Okay. But how is this connected to Tisha Beav?

In case you didn't realize, Tisha Beav is all about poems - that's what the Kinos are, poems. In fact, we all spend two or three hours reciting the (numerous) poems and most people don't even understand what's going on, aside from the implicit connection to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Poetry was one of the tenets of Judaism in the Spanish Golden Age and poets would be sponsored on a yearly basis to write poetry about Judaism, history and also love stories. That's why most of our Zemiros come from that time - Zemiros are also poems, written by real poets who were very knowledgeable about Judaism or even famous Rabbis like Elazar Hakalir, the most prolific of them all, and Ibn Ezra (you read some of his poems here).

Now, Jewish Music and poetry are also intrinsically connected. Although the vast majority of JM lyrics today are taken from the Tanach and Chazal, Jewish musicians of the past would focus in composing music for their own original lyrics. Adon Olam, Lecha Dodi and Yedid Nefesh are good examples of popular "liturgical poems" that are commonly used as song lyrics. Taking lyrics from the Torah and Chazal is halachically problematic and many religious musicians refrained from doing it until the past century. Only recently JM has become flooded with Torah and Chazal lyrics, most probably because of Reb Shlomo Carlebach's influence - JM of today is a brainchild of Reb Shlomo, who would always find touching lyrics in the Torah and Chazal.

But even today most of the Sephardic songs, called "Pizmonim", are solely based in poems. Back in Syria and Lebanon, the poets were celebrated and well-respected as a noble and noteworthy class, and if you look into their songs is possible to learn a lot about their "Avoda" and life back in the Arab countries.

It's getting harder and harder for JM composers to find meaningful and "new" lyrics from the Torah and Chazal. The times were every singer would come up with a new Hamalach Hagoel or Acheinu are over - most recent CD's have very original lyrics. As I see it is a matter of time until JM turns back to poems as its prime source of lyrics. Many singers are already in this stage - Chaim Israel is a good example (no wonder he is Sephardi) and my man Shuli Rand (review coming soon!) - it's really cool to hear songs that actually tell a whole story (of course, I also like songs from Chazal and Torah, but original lyrics are more dynamic and leave more room for creativity, if you know what I mean). But in order to come up with great new lyrics we need great poets. And poetry today is often times seen as outdated or one of those things no one does anymore (come on, admit you thought I was weird when I said I was writing poems).

My poem is stam something I wrote long ago that is not really connected to Torah or Tisha Beav. But maybe that's the birth of a new poet, who will down the road compose lyrics for an actual JM star. Who knows?

But one thing is clear - we need more poets/lyricists! Rav Shwab (maybe I'm confusing with the Bobov Rebbe - see Artscroll's comentary on the Piyutim) wrote his heartbreaking Piyut about the Holocaust, which many congregations recite in Tisha Beav, after he saw in a Sefer that whoever is capable of writing Piyutim should not refrain from writing about the destruction of the Beis Hamikdah. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nirvana and Shuli Rand

I'm reposting this interview with Shuli Rand as a follow up on what I wrote about his album, a Good Point.

The credit for the video goes to Dixie Yid, a great blogger who also wrote about the album, and although I usually refrain from re-posts, I made an exception this time because I was stunned to see that Mordka's theory, which last week seemed to be nothing more than a late night fabrication, was absolutely on the ball and that the cover of Shuli Rand's Good Point is indeed a response to Nirvana. Here's his comment:
"Album cover reminds me of Nirvana's Nevermind (1991)- though obviously its a far more uplifting message. While Nirvana's seemed to imply the inevitability of being born into consumerism in America, Rand's message, to me at least, is that one can be consumed by the outside world and still maintain their focus (their dress, music, etc.), hence his chasing nothing, wearing clothing, and bringing his possessions with him.
Just my two cents.

Well done Mordka, and I take this opportunity to wish you a big mazal tov on your recent engagement. It seems everything is going right for you!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Screechiness and Jewish Music

Jewish Music, like any other musical genre, has its own particularities.

One good example is the traditional horn-filled arrangement, a shtick that somehow made its way into Jewish Music decades ago and was perpetuated by Yisroel Lamm and Moshe Laufer's signature arrangements, which made up to 70% of all arrangements in JM until some 7 years ago. Horn lines are not popular anymore in the goyish (or to the more sensitive readers, gentile) music industry - guitars, acoustic guitars, synths and techno took over a long time ago. But for some reason, the JM public thinks that horn-filled arrangements have more "Yiddishe Ta'am" than the contemporary and "innapropriate" arrangements we hear in the goyish world.

That explains why some even try to ban singers - Lipa, Rap in Yiddish(I love their first song), Oif Simchas and so on - that make music that don't seem to fit the usual "pure" JM. These people think that the definition of Jewish Music is music that fits in their usual standards, and songs that have a "different" Ta'am must be stopped at all costs. The irony is that good music IS music that sounds different, original and fresh; the usual sound we got so used to hear until a few years ago was primitive. Music isn't perpetual, music evolves with time and whoever negates this will join the ban club eventually. Why? Because we are already witnessing an irreversible shift in Jewish Music towards better and more modern arrangements (and compositions), and today there are many great arrangers out there who know how to put together a decent arrangement. Personally, I like Ilya Lishinsky and Leib Yaakov Rigler, but there are many out there today.

Before you start wondering about the link between this and the post title, let me get to my point.

Another pillar of JM is the love for screechiness. Yes, the love for screechiness. For some reason, just like the crowds are (or were) into horn-lines they are into screechiness. I don't know how this started but that's the only explanation why people liked Shloime Dachs and Yisroel Williger in the 90's, two singers who are not really good but have enjoyed great success until very recently.

That's why people are so into Boys Choirs, from Tzil Vezemer and Miami Boys Choir until the "iconic" Yeshiva Boys Choir, the most screechy group I've ever heard. Please don't take this as a criticism, I'm just giving you factual info here - however way you slice it, the Jewish Boys choirs are screechy. And even if you don't agree with this last point, you will surely agree YBC is. That's black on white. But don't get me wrong, I own all MBC albums and YBC's two albums - I was also into it, like many of you are today. But I evolved. I probably heard YBC's albums 5 times before getting tired of the child vocals.

Let me clarify my point a bit - not all boys choirs must be screechy. In fact, I attended a secular wedding last week were I had the honor to hear a magnificent secular boys choir that was smooth and just very well balanced (they sang Karduner's Shir Hamaalot). I didn't have a camera with me but I managed to get a snap with my phone, although the quality of the sound and image is poor (I will try to post the video soon). All Jewish Boys Choirs I know are seemingly intentionally screechy - I guess the people in the industry unconsciously know that screechiness sells. But how can you expect a kid to sing like a seasoned singer like Lipa or Helfgot? Song interpretation requires brains, experience and common-sense and it's unfair to put so much attention in child soloists that can scream a note out of their lung. Benny Amar's great debut album was hardly hit by the exaggerated use of child soloists and I think in today's day and age that's just unacceptable.

I can bring more examples. Yaakov Shwekey is extremely screechy and people adore him. When Shomati came out, people couldn't stop saying "Did you see how high he goes in Rachem???" or "Wow, he goes even higher than Avraham Fried. Wooow!". Well, a distinction must be made between kvetching a note and reaching a note properly. As my voice coach used to say, it's more enjoyable to hear a good low note than a screechy high note. It's possible that your mind is so used to hearing screechiness that you think I just landed from Mars, but musically speaking screechiness is horrible. Not bad, horrible. (Disclaimer: there are many things I like about Shwekey, I'm just pointing out his Aquiles Heel).

I'm quite certain that just like the horns are definitely behind us, screechiness is following the same path. Yossi Green's The 8th Note is a roadmap (or in Chaim's words, a bible) for JM in the coming years and one thing that album doesn't have is screechiness - the pillar of the album is smooth vocals and no kids are to be found there. And of course, there are virtually no horn arrangements. Well done YG.

Yitzy Spinner is one of the most promising talents out there and he also didn't have kids singing nor screeching vocals. Just the opposite, pure smoothness. So is Lev Tahor - just smoothness.

AKAPella, which came out with a decent album with superb vocals, is another good example of how non-screechy vocals can bring an album to new heights. Ok, the songs were not original but AKAPella's vocals are spotless.

Dovid Gabay is a non-screechy Shwekey and he is great; it's a pleasure to hear him. He did use kids in Zaroh but it fitted well in the song's theme, that is, he used common-sense. The problem starts when grown-ups use child soloists without any commom-sense.

Lipa is also not screechy and I happen to like his voice just because of that.

Another sign that screechiness is on the way out is the rebirth of Chazzanut that we've seen in the past decade. Let me explain: all Chazzanus concerts are packed lately and so many youngsters, this blogger among them, are starting to get into the genre - think of Hasc, where Helfgot is today the major player with Avraham Fried (they were there in the past 3 years). Whoever likes Chazzanut hates screechiness, because Chazzanut is the anathema of it. The Chazzanim sing the notes the way they are supposed to come out of a singer's mouth - without ANY screechiness. Listen to Yaakov Motzen once and you will throw away your YBC's cds.

Finally JM is walking out of the woods, and the days of the horn arrangements and screechy boys choirs are counted.
My ears are cheering.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Great Clip

Someone mailed me this clip of Ki Ata Kadosh from Adi Ran. We all know this song, but it's the first time I see the clip.

Adi Ran rocks!! Such a wacky guy, he's has style. I'm planning to get his last album, Unplugged (see previous post) - I'm suddenly craving for Israeli albums.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Round Up

From the "mailbag" (yes, I'm quoting BlogInDM):

Mordka, in his signature witty style, reacts to my comments on Adi Ran in my previous post:
Adi Ran's unplugged album sounds as if, during a period of drug withdrawal, he was handed an acoustic guitar and locked into a studio for 4 days. And nights. Adi modulates between playful/cute and raw/angry, but is consistently personal. Its like the time you were on your marpeset and your neighbor was practicing his guitar with the window open, and didn't know you were listening. Its a welcome reprieve from over-produced albums that modify everything into a sugary-sweet gloss (read: Shwekey, Lev Tahor). I once met a Chabad Rav with a long black beard who moved from New Jersey to Ofakim. Ofakim is like a 19th century western town. Poor, dusty, and ugly, but real. In the car, he blasted Adi Ran. "Can't listen to any other Jewish music," he said. For a real town like Ofakim, you need real music, like Adi Ran's.

Anonymous on JM today:
While some strictly jewish music is trully good and good for you (YG,
Carlebach, Yishai Lapidot - Lipa is not exactly in that category), it
is just like jewish recepies for cakes and kugals. Meaning, while
Judaism probably doesn't have room for filthy lyrics, its doesn't have
anything against 90% of (U2, Coldplay, Elton John, Bocelli, Pavarotti,
Julio Iglessias) goyish songs! (That is even before we tackle the debate on recorded Kol Isha and if
this was said about durning Krias Shma only or not). So listening to JM is just as part as being jewish as eating kugal -
and yes, kugal sells.

Chaim started the Take 1 Miztva Campaign and this blog fully supports his initiative. On a personal note, I will try daven Aleinu from the siddur, and that's my contribution. What about you?

For the beer lovers, you can't miss this JPost article on He'brew (the Chosen Beer), the new sensation in the boutique brewery market, featuring a variety of beer that include Genesis, Rejewvenator, Jewbilation and more! Yum!!!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Introducing Shuli Rand, the Singer

Most of you know Shuli Rand or at least find his face somewhat familiar - you have surely seen him staring as Moshe Ballanga in the award-winning Israeli movie Ushpizin. Until now he was just an actor, actually a great one (he won Israel’s Theater Actor of the Year several times), and he has been out of the spotlight since the buzz around Ushpizin faded out (he used to live in Ramot until recently, and was very frequently called "Ballanga" because many people actually thought that was his real name). But Rand is back, this time releasing his first album, "Good Point".

Of course, this news didn't reach and probably will never reach US soil. As I noted several times, most Israeli albums never reach the US simply because the US and Israeli JM buyers like different things - in the US, Jewish Music albums are more standardized, mainly comprised of mainstream or more yeshivish-styled albums. In the other hand, the Israeli JM market is much more eclectic and there is a ton of "alternative" Jewish Music choices, like Adi Ran and Chaim David. In my period here in Israel I've come to learn that we never get to hear many Israeli hits that enjoy incredible popularity here in Israel. For instance, Shai Barak's Ana Bekoach is so popular that many Shul's have permanently introduced it in their Kabbalat Shabbos services. It's very likely that you have never heard this exquisite song, a kind of song you will probably never hear from an American JM singer (I actually bought this album in Eilat's boardwalk after hearing it in a kiosk). Another example is Adir Ran's Ata Kadosh, which only crossed the Atlantic because it was featured in Ushpizin. If not for that, we would never hear it. Those who say Levine's Vezakeini is the best hit in the last couple years are terribly mistaken - Vezakeini doesn't comes to the heels of Ata Kadosh, Ana Bekoach, two songs that should be in everyone's top list. Although Vezakeini is a nice song, it's "more of the same", while the these two songs are new, creative and original. But let me come back to my original point.

In that context, you have Shuli Rand's debut album, which sounds different than anything you've heard until now. Rand composed all the music and lyrics of this album, and his work was acclaimed by the secular critics in Israel. I didn't hear the whole album yet, but I can already say one thing: it's weird and original. Rand's voice is very very raw, that is, he never took a singing lesson in his life. But that doesn't means he's unable to do great music. Take Adi Ran, as an example, his voice is BAD (after you see the link you'll agree), but somehow it's really enjoyable to hear him singing Ata Kadosh, a world-class song. Like Adi Ran, Shuli Rand is a Breslov Chassid and his lyrics are pretty much stories linked to the Breslov movement - he wisely didn't go for the usual yeshivish lyrics (Hamalach, Achienu, Mi Von Siach and all). And what's most important, everyone can understand his Hebrew lyrics (laafukei Lipa).

Aside from the musical side of this album, I must note Rand has a special PR talent. Somethings I see out there make me think "I could've done that too", but to jump in a pool, with your whole beketshe, shabbos hat and guitar in order to come up with a cool album jacket, that's just brilliant. How did he come up with that? That's how an album cover is supposed to be - COOL. A cover with a violin, or a clock, or just with the singer name in font size #64 it's just not cool.

I'll come up with a review soon, even though I know none of this blog's readers will ever buy Rand's album. But just because Rand's album will never reach the US, that doesn't mean he is worth nothing; actually, the opposite is true.

Where the Hell is YK? Here! (Don't forget to zoom out first)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sad News: Terror Attack in Yafo Road Kills at Least Three People

For those of you just waking up in th US, today was a sad day in Jerusalem. An Israeli-arab, resident of east Jerusalem, was apparently working in the light-rail construction near Geula (where I learn everyday) and started his terror plan by driving a bulldozer deliberatly at buses and cars in Jaffa road. One car was flattened by the terrorist and at least other two buses full of passengers overturned causing injuries in at least 45 and setting the area in panic. In Israeli TV they showed a video of how the terrorist was stopped, with some very shocking images of two policeman climbimg in the bulldozer and shoting the monster.

The worst about this is that this idiot was an Israeli citizen, living in Israel, getting money from Israeli tax money and he still has the guts to go against Israel. And there's little Israel can do in response to this attack, since it didn't come from the "occupied" territories.

In short, we are living besides potential terrorists everyday here in Jerusalem and there's very little that can be done against it. The Merkaz Harav attack was also done by an Israeli-arab and I now hear today's terrorist is a cousin of the one of Merkaz Harav attack. It's a trend.

My conspiracy theory is that Hamas orchestrated the cease-fire expecting something like this would happen - a terrorist living in Israel - thus showing that Israel too can't hold terrorists back inside Israel. We need urgent measures and I think we are living now in the tipping point of this whole terrorism wave.

The same it's happening in England, Spain where Islamic native citizens turn against their home country killing innocents. We must stop them, first by taking away the citizenship from the family members of this terrorist - it's a family that grows terrorists. Why should they be allowed in Israel.

For a longer video click HERE.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where the Hell is YK?

See where I am by clicking here
In the spirit of the video I posted earlier this week (Where the Hell is Matt), I found a way to show my current location to my readers through Navizon, an add-on for the iPhone. I'm always looking for ways to improve the interaction between me and the readers and since I'm in Israel, the most exciting country in the world, you will be able to follow me in my tours around the country or just in my daily schedule.

I'm probably one of the first bloggers to do that (most people never heard of Navizon and those who did are apparently afraid of stalking..) and although I'm a little afraid about exposing myself this much in the web, I think it's worth a try.

Navizon locates me in Google Maps but the annoying thing is that Google doesn't have detailed maps of Israel (which is very odd since they have offices here in Haifa and Sergei Brin is actually Jewish..), not even city names, so you will need to use your brains to understand where I am. But if you click in Satellite View, in Google Maps, there's a chance you will recognize the area around me. Right now I'm in Rechavia for example, and it's not difficult to recognize it if you have been here before.

For some reason you must zoom out as much as you can in Google Maps (press the - button many times) in order to spot me.

See you in Google Maps!

Benny Friedman’s Kulanu Nelech Album Review

Benny Friedman’s latest album, Kulanu, is out on Spotify, and as a paying subscriber I enjoyed listening to this album quite a bit, to the e...