In New York, we are spoiled Jewishly. I’ll admit it. Every holiday brings a multitude of events; I plan to hit three or four different shuls on Simchas Torah, and to do that, I only need to travel 16 blocks. I’m on the coordinating committee of one great independent minyan, attend another, occasionally attend services at a haymish nearby synagogue, and could go to any additional number of tiny, medium, or gigantic minyanim, shuls, synagogues, or temples of Reconstructionist, Unaffiliated, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, or Secular Humanist varieties, or even shabbas meals at the Workmen’s Circle.
This is of course true of Jewish culture as well. I remember the days when Jewsapalooza was 12 nights long at the Knitting Factory. On any given weekend, you could spy any number of incredible Jewish acts/acts that happen to be Jewish doing their thing in clubs and venues across the city. Whether Rav Shmuel or Jenn Lindsay are hitting the Side Walk Café, or John Zorn and Marc Ribot are tearing down Tonic, the Klezmatics are playing Town Hall, or Jeff Perlman and Romashka are downtown; Vanessa Hidary (or this writer) spitting rhymes at the Nuyorican Poets Café, Y-Love is freestyling in multiple languages, or Chana Rothman is invading the Lion’s Den; whether Joshua Nelson is doing some Kosher gospel, So Called is blending Klezmer and Hip Hop, or Hasidic New Wave and Yakar Rhythms are rocking out, or Daphna Mor joining Raquy and the Cavemen for some serious sounds, Lewis Black headlining at Caroline’s, Neshama Carlebach bringing great niggunim to life, or Yossi Piamenta is opening for Leo Nocentelli at BB King’s… okay, you get the idea. Many of the artists listed, as well as tons of other amazing Jewish talent you know and you don’t know yet, either hang their hat here, or pay tribute several times a year. On a given weekend, it’s not hard to find Jewish artists doing their thing.
Starting from this premise, putting together (by my count of the website, which doesn’t the Balkan Beat Box/Sway Machinery show I will be reviewing shortly) a whopping 29 events and a two day conference in a week that included September 11th and Selichot seems incredibly ambitious at best, and came off as just too much. With enough talent jammed into a week that could’ve been spread out to give Marcheshvan its own month long festival, Oyhoo was a great collection of events in too small a time. The breadth and depth of talent was remarkable but the frantic schedule made it simply impossible to get to most of the week. And I feel like this HAD to effect turnout, knowing there were events I would’ve gone to if… I wasn’t already at another event, or hadn’t hit events yesterday. Basya Schecter, Jewschool contributor (and multilingual MC) Y-Love and several other performers played several times this week. Multiple shows for much smaller crowds due to competition and saturation can be tough on performers and attendees alike.
It’s great that Michael Dorf is putting together this collection of talent for an awesome Jewish festival, but I think Oyhoo would do much either as a festival with less events, or the same number of events over a longer period of time.
Now, onto Sunday. Fantastic lineup over at Jewzapalooza at Riverside Park. I sadly missed the Yiddishe-festival but arrived in time to catch Y-Love. My first time hearing the man, and was definitely feeling the flow. Unfortunately, his multi-lingual acrobatics are somewhat lost on me as I’m not so fluent in Aramaic, Arabic or Hebrew, but the way he weaved the languages together and made them sound right was tight. Crisp delivery over tasty beats, with DJ Handler bringing Slick Rick’s “A Children’s Story” (one of my all time favorites and a great beat) and Nas’s “Made You Look” beats, as well as some of his own treats for Y-love to lace up. Feeling it. Looking around the crowd, and notice I’m the only one standing near the stage and moving around at all. Later on, Y-Love gives me props for that because he could pick me out from the stage. Still, the folks that are sitting are nodding their heads, clapping and whatnot. Sagol 59 jumps up to make a two man cipher, and his flows are mostly Hebrew but I can hear this cat knows how to flow as well.
Keeping the hip-hop flowing forward, So Called comes up to the stage next with Susan Watts-Hoffman on trumpet and Allen Watsky on guitar and bass. So Called is on vocals, accordion, and drum machine to push along beats for the more hip hop oriented tunes. A really cool mix of the old and new here. Singing old school Klezmer tunes one moment, and then chopping them up for beat fodder to rhyme over, So Called hits an intergenerational note without feeling forced. He had solid beats going on the drum machine, and was great dropping riffs on the accordion while dropping rhymes. The Susan and Allen were also solid, adding layers to the great melodies So Called was putting down. We are unfortunately robbed a little bit of his set because of band member lateness, which was really disappointing as he and Y-Love were the two folks I was most excited to see (having heard great things but never seen them perform). But in festivals, if you’re running late by the start of hour three, you’re pretty much screwed, so the show had to go on. As the crowd still seemed to be a little more old school at this point, they connected a little more with the Klezmer tinged Hip Hop, but the crowd energy was still pretty low.
With attendees from the Save Darfur rally starting to drift in, Neshama Carlebach and her band stepped to the stage. The band was very much together and great vocals and harmonies from Neshama and the crew. This set picked up the crowd energy, between new arrivals and, well, many in the crowd knew what she was singing (some of us had sang some of those tunes as recently as Saturday or Friday night). She also brought some of her own melodies, but the crowd’s collective ears perked up with the familiarity. It made me wonder if there’s ever been a performer like that; someone who’s singing from tunes you sing so much and know so well you feel like they’re everyone’s tunes to sing. Of course, she’s got a great voice and puts her own creative spin on the niggunim, but at a base level, it was somewhat like having services in Riverside Park, except with amps. Thankfully, for folks who haven’t heard Reb Shlomo’s tunes, Neshama is spreading the word with her own beautiful versions as well as her own great melodies.
Okay, the Save Darfur rally has broke, the crowd has more than doubled since the beginning of the show, and the new arrivals have on stickers, blue berets, and signs. The teens, 20s and 30s make a strong show of force, and just in time for David Broza. I had the pleasure of hearing David Broza with Knucklehead and a friend of ours a few months back at Makor. Upon telling him, one friend of mine’s reaction was, “reeaaallly. Mmm, okay. Have fun.” Now, at this first show, I must have been the only person there who never heard him before, because the place was packed with folks eager to hear him. His musicianship and energy were impossible to ignore then, and as the crowds swelled, he seemed to build off the new energy with his furious guitar strumming and drumming. And it seemed like half the place was singing along with Yiyeh Tov. Great vocal expression and range from him.
Ah, the voice, the recorder… it must be time for Pharoah’s Daughter. The crowd is continuing to build, with more Save Darfur rally folks arriving. While they don’t have quite the rawness that David Broza brings to the stage, Pharaoh’s Daughter definitely keeps the crowd moving. This is actually my first time hearing them all together live as well, having heard Basya without the full band a couple of times, and having heard Daphna Mor do some awesome recorder and percussion work with Raqui and the Cavemen a few months back. But the tunes are great, the band is tight, Basya and Daphna even break out a few dance moves during a solid rhythm section breakdown. Knucklehead arrives well in time to hear her now favorite Havdalah melody, Hamavdil. And they blast through their set. As in, they’re so tight moving from song to song that before long, their time is somehow up.
What sold me on Yossi Piamenta was seeing him open up for Leo Nocentelli, guitarist of The Meters, one of the pillars of funk music. Mostly, I had thought to myself, “who knew Leo Nocentelli had this kind of Jewish following!” Piamenta’s band put on a great set, and then, in a show of respect, Leo called him out for a jam, and Yossi rocked. Anyone that can say they jammed and held their own with Leo Nocentelli is pretty damn talented. And The Heavenly Jams band kept the fire burning with some serious rock. I’m not so into the nicknames that identify an artist with an ethnicity and another famous person, but I can again see why they call him the “Hassidic Hendrix”. Let’s come up with a better one, people because Yossi is his own thing.
But at this point, my friends, fatigue set in. I missed the main event, and would love for someone to do a set review of Hadag Nahash’s stuff. I had some friends I wanted to see before the weekend was over, and spent most of my free time seeing great Jewish music. There was simply no way to do it all. Maybe next year’s Oyhoo will be condensed in events or longer on time so the people of New York can really get a feel for the many dimensions of Jewish music, art, and culture great Jewish artists are putting out there. After all, as So Called said, “these are the good old days.” (nanana naaaaa nana naaa naaa naaaaaa).