Lenka Lichtenberg
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Lenka Lichtenberg

Prague, Hlavní Mesto Praha, Czech Republic | INDIE | AFM

Prague, Hlavní Mesto Praha, Czech Republic | INDIE | AFM
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....ethereal, sometimes hypnotic... Arabic, Jewish and Celtic arrangements. LL has a world compass, an enviable rep and savvy marketing instincts that match her exceptional talents. Obviously this has a niche audience, but a niche that stretches from here to eternity. Buy. David Farrell

David Farrell
- New Canadian Music



"Lenka Lichtenberg presented a truly Canadian blend of music combining all sorts of styles. I got goose bumps when I listened to an Auschwitz lullaby performed in Roma, Yiddish, Russian and English. (In other songs, ...) ...the combination of typical klezmer clarinet played with a backing of Middle Eastern percussion and electric cello took listeners on an incredible musical journey." February 20, 2012 - Gazeta Canada


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 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 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.

Indeed, it is Lichtenberg’s expressive and crystalline voice that carries the soulful lyrics and melodies above her compositions and arrangements for the Middle Eastern instrumentation on “Fray.” In a surprising and pleasing juxtaposition to Yiddish poems by Simcha Simchovitch, Mordekhai Gebirtig, Haike Beruriah Wiegand and Yosef Papernikoff, one hears the flute, oud and qanun. She has percussion going on, as well, including the dumbek, the Indian tabla and the Brazilian pandero — which she added for “more of a kick.”

Although she believes that Yiddish folk standards will always have a place and are excellent for connecting with older audiences, Lichtenberg — herself the mother of teenagers — is forward thinking about where Yiddish culture can go next. For her, it is about “helping to foster the future of Yiddish.” She believes that “if I present it in the right way, I will interest people who wouldn’t otherwise relate.”

Lichtenberg is taking Yiddish music to new places not only through her solo career, but also in her work arranging and performing vocals for Sisters of Sheynville, an all-women Toronto-based klezmer and Yiddish swing band. The group, which also includes Isabel Fryszberg, Fern Lindzon, ?Kinneret Sagee, Rachel Melas and ?Lorie Wolf, was named Vocal Group of the Year at the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Additionally, she is immersed in “Songs for the Breathing Walls,” a project of great personal importance to her both in terms of her family history and her love of cantorial music. While performing concerts in synagogues in the Czech Republic in 2009, she felt unusually touched by the buildings, especially the more abandoned, derelict ones. “The walls were silent at first, but they opened up when I started singing,” she recounted.

As a result, Lichtenberg chose 14 out of the approximately 250 synagogues in the Czech Republic and Moravia, and recorded herself singing a selection from the Hebrew liturgy (traditional, new and original compositions) in each. She found that “each synagogue has its own character, ambiance, spirit – and, of course, history and acoustics.” She found that she sang differently in each synagogue, likening the experience to “a conversation between me and the place.” She collaborated with a number of international musicians on the project, including Israeli oudist and violinist Yair Dalal, who accompanied her on a Holocaust violin for “Stremlen faygel oyf di tzvaygn” (“Birds Are Singing on the Branches”), a nightmarish lullaby composed in the Vilna Ghetto by Leah Rudnitsky.

Lichtenberg is planning to launch the “Songs for the Breathing Walls” CD in Prague on Kristallnacht this coming November.

Although Yiddish song is at Lichtenberg’s core, it is clear with the Middle East-influenced “Fray” and her Hebrew prayer project that her transformative experience in Israel is still very much in her heart and showing her the way on her unexpected journey.



- The Forward


The Wholenote Magazine : Disc of the month

…deliciously melancholy…boasts an A-List of guest artists…«Pashtes [Simplicity] is a delight. Prague-born vocalist Lenka Lichtenberg has a lovely, confectionary, gamin-like quality. Her soprano voice sails above and around the notes with perfect control, weaving a luminous mystical web. She is in the midst of an amazingly diverse career, including singing as a member of the wildly successful Sisters of Sheynville and also performing as a cantor at various functions. Brian Katz has a sumptuous guitar sound, full of facile runs and lush harmonics. Many of the plaintive melodies on Pashtes have an undercurrent of pulsing Latin rhythms that seem to work symbiotically with the poetry of the iconic Polish-born Yiddish poet, Simcha Simchovitch. …Katz and Lichtenberg have surrounded themselves with local musicians of the highest order. Altough forged firmly in tradition, this recording has a very contemporary feel that will leave you uplifted and spiritually refreshed – just like a great piece of strudel and a « glass tea ». Lesley Mitchell-Clarke, Toronto

- Lesley Mitchell-Clarke


Simcha Simchovitch, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland who immigrated to Canada in 1949 and now lives in Toronto, is an important Yiddish-language poet and prose writer with 16 books to his credit. On Pashtes, Czech-born singer Lenka Lichtenberg, herself a child of Holocaust survivors who also now lives in Toronto, offers nine of her musical settings of Simchovitch’s poems and presents them in arrangements created by guitarist and pianist Brian Katz. As well, there is a beautiful solo guitar instrumental by Katz that was inspired by another of Simchovitch’s poems.

One certainly does not need to understand Yiddish to appreciate these songs. The emotion and depth of the lyrics, and the musical creativity of the settings and arrangements, are communicated through Lichtenberg and Katz’s fine performances. The non-Yiddish speakers will want to listen with the CD booklet in hand as the original lyrics are printed in Yiddish, and in Simchovitch’s own translations of his work. And even in the transformation from one language to another, none of the poetry seems to be lost.

Among my favourite songs are « Tsum Kval (To the Source) », a beautiful, sad elegy to past generations of Yiddish poets, and « Morris Rosenfeld, » a tribute to the great Yiddish poet and songwriter whose minor-key folkish melody echoes Rosenfeld’s own « Mayn Rue Platz. » Another is « Zing (Sing) », a bright celebratory song with a Brazilian arrangement. The album’s finale is its crowning achievement. « A Lid Vet Farblayben (A Song Will Remain), » is a defiant song of survival, obviously inspired by the Holocaust, with an almost anarchic free jazz arrangement that communicates the devastation of that terrible time in modern history. - MR


- MR


Lenka Lichtenberg "Fray"
Own label, 2010

The singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg surprised me with her beautiful Yiddish-jazz album called Pashtes from 2006 on which she recorded a beautiful collection of songs together with Brian Katz. On her new album Lenka Lichtenberg takes an even more adventurous road and mixes Yiddish music with oriental, Indian and Mediterranean styles amongst others. Backed by a wonderful group of musicians on instruments such as tabla, guitar, drum, ney, clarinet, violin and so much more, Lichtenberg impressed with an intense journey through the ancient cultures. Sometimes introvert and acoustic, on other moments with a nice rock touch...a good combination between passion, emotion and relaxation, between modern and traditional and between all these well chosen elements of the different traditions she got inspired by. An hour of intriguing music in which Lichtenberg expresses her own style of singing, composing and performing.
© Eelco Schilder

- FolkWorld, Europe's home of music.



Lenka Lichtenberg

Lenka Lichtenberg's music, which blends Yiddish-based roots sounds with modern world beat influences, is best experienced on her latest disc, Fray. Although it's the singer's fourth album, she and her band are, surprisingly, making their Quebec debut only next week -in Quebec City Feb. 1 and here at La Sala Rossa the next night. Here are some of her iPod favourites.....

- Montreal Gazette, Bernard Perusse


It takes a few moments of listening to get past the pleasure and feel amazed at what you're hearing. It's Lenka Lichtenberg's crystalline voice singing to a Middle Eastern beat in Mizrachi style. But the words are in Yiddish. The splicing of two Jewish spheres into a world music fusion sound is astounding and makes you feel as though you have stepped onto a new planet. - Montreal CJ News


Fray

Lenka Lichtenberg

Independent SR265 (www.lenkalichtenberg.com)



With “Fray” (Free), her fourth solo CD, the Czech born Toronto-based singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg has embraced Toronto’s World Music aesthetic. Singing expressive Yiddish and English lyrics with an intimate soprano over well-wrought arrangements that bridge Eastern European, Middle-Eastern, Egyptian, South Asian, North and South American styles, Lenka takes us on a lilting musical journey replete with global echoes.



The songs on “Fray” gently blend musical boundaries, accomplished with the aid of a selection of Toronto’s world and jazz musician who’s who. Contributions shine from the quanun master George Sawa, Ravi Naimpally on tabla and dumbek, percussionist Alan Hetherington, bassist extraordinaire George Koller, woodwind expert Ernie Tollar and John Gzowski on guitars and oud. Those listeners who expect to hear standard Klezmer instruments such as piano, violin, clarinet and cornet on such an album are also rewarded.



Notwithstanding the delightful blend of word music arrangements here, Lenka Lichtenberg’s work is foremost a product of her passion and dedication to international Yiddish culture and to the development of what is sometimes called New Jewish Music. Her practice of cantorial singing within the Jewish liturgy “fills me with light and total happiness” she has said. It clearly illuminates “Fray” with a luminous energy, making the cumulative experience of listening to this album a joy.



[Editor’s note: Although for environmental reasons there is no program booklet included with the CD Ms Lichtenberg assures us all lyrics and translations will be available on her website lenkalichtenberg.com.]


Concert Note: Lenka Lichtenberg and special guests including Maryem Tollar will launch “Fray” at the Ashkenaz Festival on September 4 at 6:00 at the Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront.
- the Wholenote Magazine


Open The Gate
I don't get many records from Czech born, Canadian based, Yiddish singers. Although this is a largely English languge release, which makes life a whole lot easier for me. I'll let the French songs slip by as a quirk of Canada!

I'm not going to pretend I've had more than a passing exposure to Jewish music, but the limited amount at least ensured that the delightful rhythmic structures felt oddly familiar.

Lenka has a bright and clear soprano voice which, when coupled with engaging melodies and a flair for words, makes for a splendid release.



Copyright ©2006 S A Hamilton - Zeitgeist, PO Box 13499, Edinburgh EH6 8YL, United Kingdom

- S.A.Hamilton


…”a lively amalgam of musical styles from Middle Eastern and klezmer to jazz. Lichtenberg’s songs are wonderfully entertaining showcases for her talent, which impressively crosses many different genres. She pulls each off beautifully, carefully adapting her voice…Lichtenberg reinvents traditional tunes and invents new ones…” (Deep Inside review)
Lisa Cooperman, The National Post
- The National Post


Lenka Lichtenberg & Brian Katz: Pashtes/Simplicity (Sunflower)
Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg became acquainted with Sam "Simcha" Simchovitch after singing at a book fair in 2003. Now singer and poet come together on this album, a song cycle in which Simcha's words are paired with music and arrangements by Lichtenberg and musical partner Brian Katz. Irrepressibly Jewish, the music (and words, if you understand them or read the tri-lingual album notes) speaks through an eloquent dynamic. It swings through emotional highs and lows -- often in the same song (as on the title track). There's a sparse jazz sensibility to the album, and Brazilian rhythms here and there, perhaps bending the listener's idea of what constitutes "Jewish music." Lichtenberg's powerful voice takes us on a tour of a mystical land of joys and sorrows. The journey ends with a recognition of the power and durability of music and voices on "A Song Will Remain":

"A song will remain, a chant of woe out of fire and sword; from generation to generation carried like a holy watchword."

- Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Judaic Fusion
by Stanley Fefferman — January 2007
This album is subtitled “Music to the Poetry of Simcha Simchovitch”. “Music to the poetry of...” implies that the music respects the poetry. Poetry and music together make song. These songs of Simcha Simchovitch are dedicated to the “downtrodden and humiliated”, to “days to come…/when the sun of freedom will shine for all/and all will joyously create and sing.”

The vision of this poet is bent double: his glance often falls into the gutter of despair, where a glint of sunlight reflected in the filthy water uplifts him. This shift is the focus of the poetry that Lenka Lichtenberg and Brian Katz write music to.

Lichtenberg writes most of the music and sings. Katz writes the arrangements, a few songs, and leads the ensemble with his guitar. Both musicians have been working together for the past few years as a concert duo relying on Lichtenberg’s commitment to the Yiddish songbook and Katz’s mastery of guitar styles from classical to jazz and world music.

What is interesting about this particular collaboration is that the music, despite being sung in Yiddish, does not sound particularly Jewish (a.k.a Klezmer). They have managed to generate a new sound based on sonorities of Latin, Arabic, and jazz, to name just a few.

The title tune starts out klezmer with a weepy violin that hoicks up its ‘tsitsis’ into a weddlinglike ‘freilach’. Very Jewish, like the fifth cut “Tsum Kval", which again relies on Kathleen Kajoika’s elegiac fiddling (here on viola). But that’s it. Otherwise you get, as in the fourth tune, what sounds like Anne-Sophie Van Otter singing Elvis Costello in Yiddish.

Make no mistake — this epithet is definitely alluding to the training, purity and colour control in Lichtenberg’s vocalizations. Her style is cabaret recitative, melismatic, authentic as a ‘knaidle’, and bubbles with emotion. The melodies she writes are kind of uniform throughout.

Brian Katz’s contribution are highlighted in “Garden Party” where Lichtenberg sings his melody — a sophisticated Latin cum Euro-jazz creation, and in “Calcutta”, a solo instrumental based on single notes and a drone in an East Indian Mode.

Ernie Toller on winds brings a breath of middle-eastern inspiration as well as new music weirdness, especially in the closing tune, “A Lid”. Alan Hetherington imports the full richness of Brazilian percussion, supported by jazz bassist George Koller. With sonic flavours of French horn (Joan Watson), cello (Jill Vitols), accordion (Sasha Luminsky), more drums (Daniel Barnes), and more winds (Kathryn Moses) — well, maybe you never heard anything quite like this album Pashtes before.

It is beautifully produced. All the lyrics are given in Hebrew script, also transliterated into roman script if you cannot quite follow Lichtenberg’s dialectish pronunciation that swallows consonants here and there. Translations into English are by the poet himself.


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Stanley Fefferman is a writer/photographer on the Toronto music scene and elsewhere. His work appears online at www.showtimemagazine.ca and here at The LMR.
- Stanley Fefferman


The New York Jewish Week December, 2006
…There is an emerging group of Toronto-based Jewish jazz divas - Theresa Tova is another – and Lichtenberg is moving towards the head of the class quickly, if her new CD is any indication. …Lichtenberg focuses her attention on a single Yiddish poet, here Simcha Simchovitch whose words she has set quite ably. Accompanied by guitarist Katz and a terrific rhythm section, she creates a wonderfully variagated collection that ranges from avant-garde jazz to Brazilian funk, all the while showcasing Simchovitch's poetry to great effect. Rating **** 1/2 stars. George Robinson, New York

- George Robinson


….Another example of the vitality of transmission is the collaboration between Toronto-based, Prague-born singer Lenka Lichtenberg and Polish-born poet (and To­ronto resident) Simcha Simchovitch. On Lichtenberg’s new CD, Pashtes (Simplicities), she sets Simchovitch’s acclaimed Yiddish poetry to music. While Lichtenberg learned Yiddish only as an adult, the confidence she brings to her work comes only to someone completely at ease in the language. The effervescent music she’s written for Simchovitch’s poems lifts them in a way that is still sensitive to their brooding undercurrent, while ex­pressing her own vision of a greater theme. Her setting of the title track says it all, with the bright accordion and fiddle swooping along with Lichtenberg’s voice. “Come simplicity, true beauty, we’ll fraternize anew/ thus my word shall become clear and to itself true.”
- Rokhl Kafrissen


Discography

- "Embrace", April 2013
- "Songs for the Breathing Walls", June, November, 2012
- Lenka Lichtenberg & Roula Said: Bridges. "Live at Lula Lounge". March, 2012
- "Fray" (free) : acoustic world roots. September, 2010.
- "Pashtes: simplicity". (2006): all-Yiddish, all-original. Critically acclaimed, see www.lenkalichtenberg.com for many reviews.
- "Open The Gate" (2003): all original songs in English and French. World beat.
- Deep Inside (1999): half traditional Yiddish material, half original songs in English. Luscious arrangements by Ken Whiteley.
- as a child star: several Top 10 hits with Jiri Suchy in native former Czechoslovakia;
- Lenka and Sisters of Sheynville: Sheynville Express (2007: Yiddish swing-klez.
- Lenka - producer: "Lomir Zingen": a collection of children's Yiddish songs (2008)

Photos

Bio

" "Passionate and prolific, Lenka Lichtenberg is a force of nature within Canadas world music scene. ..a truly inspired form of world music." Nicholas Jennings, "Penguin Eggs".

"Uniquely Canadian world music, born from the rich Toronto soundscapes of Eastern Europe, Middle East, India and Brazil."

Lenka Lichtenberg is a Toronto-based, Prague-born composer, vocalist (Yiddish, English, Czech, French, Russian, Hebrew), arranger, producer, bandleader with 6 solo CD releases and several collaborations on her resume. 

Lenka is in the midst of a diverse international concert career, traveling across continents as a solo artist, with a trio, or her six piece ensemble Fray.


Band Members