Haran home and tell your friends!

I first learned about Pharaoh’s Daughter from a high school friend of mine, who had a huge crush on Basya Schechter. Something in the presence of beautiful, soulful figures would set her off to fall foolishly, hopelessly in crush.

So she was totally obsessed with bringing friends to Pharaoh’s Daughter shows, just so we’d understand and realize that she was not crazy. And proved her point she did, when we went to catch a show that PD was doing by some JCCish type place.

And they were amazing.

I get to hang out with a lot of musicians. Some master virtuosity, become really skilled at particular instruments. Some master soul, have something they want to give over, and just play their hearts out. Basya/ PD did both, and do both, marrying a masterful and throughly organized concert to a sublime and soul-caressing voice.

I’d heard a little about Pharaoh’s Daughter before, from different indie music magazines I was reading, and before going to see/hear them. And I wondered: why did my gentile friend connect to this music so strongly? Because, you know, the language barrier; the songs being sung in a variety of obscure judaic tongues, Yiddish and Ladino, Aramaic and Africanized Hebrew.

But religious people and tweenyboppers sing songs all the time, earnestly as can be, without understanding nessesarily much of what they “really” mean. So, when I first started listening to what I identified as a devotional music, not just klemerishe wedding tantses and the like, but Shalos Shudis Niggunim, new ones indifferentiable from ancient ones , in a secular context, I had to wonder: what are they thinking about? What do words like “Shabbos” or “Moshiach Ben Duvid” mean to such a person. Where’s Basya Shechter coming from here?

So, recently, in light of a new album, Haran, that Pharaoh’s Daughter is finally putting out this coming Monday, I finally called and asked her.

What does Shabbos mean to you?

“My happiest memories from when I was kid were singing around the table, singing shabbos songs with my family. We’d be banging on the tables, hitting our spoons against the plates…

My father was very into harmony, into getting us all harmonized. He was a professional singer, doing these kind of Barbershop quartet pieces mostly. He loved getting us together to make music around the Shabbos table. That was my introduction to music, and to ecstatic joy, basically.

I mean, shabbos is like an oasis of peace in a whole chaotic world, I love it so much. I don’t always get to keep it so perfectly… but I appreciate it so much.”

Shabbos comes up a lot on this album, one that refines a lot of the elements from her first huge, world changing break out: “Out From The Reeds”, an album that brought once forgotten tunes like “Shnirle Perle” and “Hamavdil” back into existence and changed the standard for shabbos table music forever, along with introduced amazing new tunes to old words.

This new album one ups the psyche-delicious ante, with the sweetest and most classic 60′s style rock organ coming in to introduce the arab niggun that sets the album off, and then, from then on it’s a masterful resurrection of versions of classic shabbos zmiros songs, or should i say, pre-classic shabbos zmiros songs, haunting versions of secret tunes hidden away from common familiarity by time and context, gently blown open and supported with the most sublime “world music” sounds I may have ever heard, along with brilliant and hypnotic new tunes, sewn to the shadows of old Jewish poetries from all around the exile.

“I love the idea of the Diaspora, the way a culture can spread and grow and change and seed, in all these different places, and take so much along with it, and keep coming back around and still be familiar from so far away. Do you know what I mean?”

Thanks to you I do.

It’s an awesome album, sure to change your life as it has mine, if not just your shabbos. It awakens and arouses the soul without irritating or even de-calming, without losing it’s sweet, sweet groove, even as Hebrew turns into Aramaic into Ladino.

“For a long time, i’d be doing something, like majoring in dance in college, and just in the background, playing guitar all the time. Or then deciding “no!” i wanna major in something else”, and all the while playing guitar all the time. So finally, a friend said, “why don’t you just start doing the music professionally.” And I got really into it. INTO IT into it”, she said, musically rolling her eyes and her whole self with her arm and fist triumphantly pounded into her other open hand.

Mamish a Rebbe, doing something both new and authentic, beyond what even the most impressive trans KlezmerI tend not to assimilate new songs so fast, but Pharaoh’s Daughter’s Kah Ribon is already a staple of my Shabbos day. Here, give it a listen:

And come check out the release party at the brand spanking new Highline Ballroom, this monday night. A copy of the album comes free with admission, as if the music wasn’t awesome enough.

14 Responses to “Haran home and tell your friends!”

  1. thank you so much for this. you opened my ears to an artist i’ve been meaning to check out for a while and the interview was fascinating. that kah ribon is addictive.

    what got me the most about this piece is that you asked the question that has been bothering me for a long time (what shabbos means to an artist like this). this question, in a broader sense, has been bothering me: about the seeming mutually exclusive relationship btwn true art (my assumption is that that entails abandon and being unlimited) and religious observance. is it possible to really “get” Shabbos only by relishing the benefits without accepting all the responsibilities? is it possible to be an observant (and therefore restricted) person and yet produce true art? (please don’t bring up “asher lev.” been there, done that.) either way, shkoyach.


    julie · May 10th, 2007 at 10:22 am
  2. How about the true art of charging $25 for your CD release party… just sayin’…


    CR · May 10th, 2007 at 1:58 pm
  3. pssht to the post and the comment

    “is it possible to be an observant (and therefore restricted) person and yet produce true art?”

    Which restriction? Halachot on art?

    I don’t think that really bothers too many people. I never found my observance restricting me. Only once when I asked my semi-rabbi teacher if he’d approve of me going to a live drawing class when it was a man posing.
    He said no (with a lot of blushing)…to me drawing a man wasn’t exactly the epitome of my artist expression.

    But this is going on a tangent..

    Who’s to say though that observance can’t liberate some? What is yetziat mitzrayim we’re supposed to recall everyday?

    I kinda agree though…there’s so much talent and creativity (and soul!!) outside the “orthodox” world. I don’t necessarily think you have to be free of observance to be able to gain your creativity. But if your Torah isn’t actually feeding your soul and if you’re not growing then it can only be bad for you right?

    “is it possible to really “get” Shabbos only by relishing the benefits without accepting all the responsibilities?”

    Only if the responsibilities are really killing Shabbos.


    j · May 10th, 2007 at 3:45 pm
  4. Don’t listen… Kol Isha!


    david · May 10th, 2007 at 3:48 pm
  5. “is it possible to be an observant (and therefore restricted) person and yet produce true art?”

    The whole equation is filled with difficulties- its mind boggling!


    j · May 10th, 2007 at 3:48 pm
  6. Someone isn’t getting it, are they? I understand completely. The notion of being an actual full and true human being is somehow incompatible with the notion of being an Oved haShem, or an Eved haShem. Since art is an expression of humanity, it can never truly be religious – there’s too much person in it to let God in. There can be a dialog with God, that’s fine, but not sacrifice, or submission, or humility, or servitude. Which are – like it or not – essential if not central parts of any religion, including ours.


    Amit · May 10th, 2007 at 4:28 pm
  7. Ok I read your (Julie) blog on this, so I understand what you’re saying more. (or at least I think I do)

    Yeh the greatest artists I know of sacrifice all for their art (I’ve seen my friend hang upside down for a whole play for the sake of art!). And it is necessary to have this element of insanity.

    But you know what I also say Ha’Hefech! The greatest struggles known to man are most probably caused by religion. If you really take it seriously, if it really affects you then that struggle should be what great art is made from!

    What if the sacrifice is not “to art” but rather the art actually being Al’ Kidush HaShem. Does it necessarily entail sacrificing your expression completely?
    Isn’t that saying what is actually coming from our self-expression isn’t completely holy, isn’t b’selem elokim- but what if it was?


    j · May 10th, 2007 at 5:18 pm
  8. meanwhile, in ability to express artistically is the main complaint I hear from religious women, the main reason most of the singer/songstresses I know get alienated from a religion that they otherwise feel pretty good about.

    And, it should be noted, there tends to be an inverse relationship between religiousity and artistic will, I wonder why? Could it be the the creative impulse is de-emphasised in the face of devotional activities? is that ok?

    Someone once asked Shlomo Carlebach why, after all the chassidish torah was so awesome, why the homes of the chassidim were so drab, the color and spirit absent? He said something to the effect of “what can you do? The Shchina is in a galus here, ich vaist.”


    yoseph leib · May 10th, 2007 at 9:28 pm
  9. related conv. sevenfatcow.wordpress.com/2007/04/27/i-always-saw-judaism-as-an-attempt-an-idea/#comment-17160

    “In Hegel it’s the other way around – art becomes religion…

    …or to paraphrase Goethe: “(those who don’t have science at least they have art, and) those who don’t have art, at least they have religion.””


    yoseph leib · May 10th, 2007 at 9:36 pm
  10. I mean, Basya’s story sounds like a relatively positive experience of the religious framework allowing and even encouraging and creating a framework for, musical and artistic development. But that’s more to her father’s credit, and her alienation from borough park and the ortho-world is a testament to what a communties limitations threaten.

    like, in this story
    sevenfatcow.wordpress.com/2007/04/24/kol-isha-confrontation/
    it’s more of an uphill fight.

    I don’t think religion inherently resists artistic expression, and I don’t think Judaism has always– although visual arts sure suffer from the fear of depicting certain forbidden things as hinted in the Chumash itself. But the nature of a piety that does not go out of it’s way to promote the holiness of particular mediums of expression is to supress those forms of expression.

    I got into singing though being allowed to lead davenings in shul when I was little, I can’t imagine when I would have been allowed to find my voice if I hadn’t had that, if I was a girl and hushed whenever I sang too loud, Chas v’ shalom, as has happened very often in some communities.


    yoseph leib · May 10th, 2007 at 9:45 pm
  11. i’ll try to write a response MOtzaei Shabbos. i have a lot to say but no time. but you have given me much food for thought. SHabbat Shalom.


    julie · May 11th, 2007 at 9:03 am
  12. just for the record, much as i love all of basya schechter’s work, and her diasporist approach to jewish culture, there’s a certain danger in overexaggeration here.

    “out of the reeds” is a great record. but it’s damn sure not

    >> an album that brought once forgotten tunes like “Shnirle Perle” and “Hamavdil” back into existence

    why?

    because it builds (very deliberately, in fact) and expands on several decades of cultural work bringing many of these traditional songs into an active life in the jewish ‘mainstream’. and writing this history out of the story is a very good way to make it harder to understand what’s fabulous about Pharoah’s Daughter, and impossible to understand its cultural context.

    “shnirele perele”, for instance, never went out of use in observant ashkenazi communities. more immediately, though, it entered the repertoire of young jewish musicians through the Klezmatics in the early 1990s. schechter’s wonderful ‘ud-driven version is in many ways a reply to their very heymish one: she’ll see their diasporism and add another layer.

    as to the question of art & observance, i think it’s fascinating watching artists who connect to jewishness in ways that (in part) have to do with observance interpret material (like “shnirele perele”) originating in a religious tradition which entered the current context through secular artists’ efforts…


    rozele · May 11th, 2007 at 10:35 am
  13. david… i’m gonna assume you’re not completely brainwashed cause you’re here, and hey, jewschool used to be cool, so maybe you’re leftover from that time, you’re joking, pretty funny to be so redundantly boring in your approach to modern jewish expression in the world, that would be like some dorky religious jew saying don’t listen to dylan, he’s not observant… i’m not even gonna say l’havdil.


    emilia · May 11th, 2007 at 3:59 pm
  14. Nice to hear from people who have familiarity with PD; it’s my first exposure, so I listened some on www.pandora.com. On a tangent, I can imagine that an ortho-observant shabbat approach might be a bit (or more) discouraging to anyone who wanted to express themselves in art outside the community, let alone for a woman. “My Name is Asher Lev” seems to explore that well.

    Oh yes — in keeping with the quote from Rav Soloveitchik at the bottom of of blogstream, I wish people would dispense with the ad hominem attacks.


    Richard Gay · August 11th, 2007 at 11:04 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik