Shtetl Superstars
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Shtetl Superstars

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
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Could this be the soundtrack to that much talked-about cultural phenomenon, the New Kosher Cool? Compiled by Oi-Va-Voi’s Lemez Lovas and Yurly Gurzhy, the man behind Berlin’s Russendisko club night, this 19-track snapshot of contemporary global Jewish music is likely to come as something of a shock to those expecting musical purity or old time sounds.Yes, you will find traditional Klezmer here, you will even find passages from the Torah. But they are mixed up with punk, hip-hop, ska, surf guitar and drum n bass. In other words, this is Jewish culture doing what it does best — taking from and contributing to whichever part of the world it finds itself in. This is the music of the new generation who came after the 1970s klezmer revivalists (the last notable wave of Jewish music), young people unafraid of reaching back to their roots, but confident enough to draw on what is around them. Opening with Gurzhy’s reggae rockin’ remix of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band’s “Immigrant Song” (one of seven exclusive tracks here), the album moves from UK to USA, Israel to Russia, and all over Europe. Even those well versed in this music will unearth some worthwhile discoveries, such as US Yiddish ska merchant King Django and Holland’s Alec Kopyt. New converts can look forward to discovering such fine tunes as Balkan Beat Box’s “Adir Alam” (a funky dance-floor-filler built around a couple of chanted lines of prayer) and Canadian klezmer noir accordionist Geoff Berner’s typically smart “Lucky Goddamn Jew”. - Jewish Chronicle, UK


An album of global, funky Jewish sounds has its sights set on the future while keeping an eye on the past
What's in a name? A lot if you are called the Shtetl Superstars. For the unacquainted, a shtetl was a small village of predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These fortresses of Ashkenazi culture flourished until the Second World War when they were all but wiped out. Within these communities, religion was the pivotal driving force of everyday life. Hebrew and Yiddish was spoken almost exclusively, and the inhabitants proudly clung to their culture.
The most romantic notion of 19th- and early 20th-century shtetl culture was captured in Fiddler on the Roof. However, life was somewhat darker in Russia, where the Tsars restricted settlements of Jews to 25 provinces, and to live outside these areas required special permission from the authorities. They were also subject to sudden resettlements, where whole communities would be moved at the whim of the local governor.
So, there's a lot of history that goes with the name, but in this instance it refers to a round-up of what compilers Lemez Lovas and Yuriy Gurzhy consider the best new music inspired by Jewish culture and made by Jewish musicians. Sleekly packaged and financed by the radically hip Munich label Trikont, the compilation is subtitled Funky Jewish Sounds from Around the World, and this just about sums it up: Jewish hip-hop rubs shoulders with "Ska Mitzvah", Yiddish funk, East Bloc rock, "drunk, dirty, political and passionate" klezmer, and "Hora beats".
"We didn't want to concentrate on one musical aspect, which makes it quite unique," Gurzhy says. "Sometimes you get these sampler CDs and the information in the booklet is more interesting than the music. I hope this is a happy combination of both."
Gurzhy has a track-record in producing fascinating and inspired compilations. Alongside his DJ partner Wladimir Kaminer, he created the Russendisko collective, which kick-started Berlin nightlife's passion with Russian and Eastern Bloc music. A series of highly original compilations followed, introducing the rest of Europe to the likes of Leningrad, Markscheider Kunst, Amsterdam Klezmer Band, Zdob Si Zdub and Distemper, not to mention Gurzhy's own band RotFront, who produced a reworking of the Kraftwerk classic "The Robots".
Gurzhy and Kaminer met in the predominantly Russian populated district of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. Kaminer was born in Moscow and Gurzhy's family had moved to Germany in 1995 from the Ukraine. The latter is actually of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Greek descent, with Jewish blood on his mother's side. He picked up his love of Jewish music from his Jewish grandfather. "He was a great music fan and record collector, who had all kinds of stuff from easy listening to weird Soviet music," he says. "And he also was a big Jewish music fan, so I grew up in the Ukraine listening to this stuff. But I didn't really know what he meant by Jewish music."
That question began bugging him after his grandfather passed away, and he began looking through his tapes and records. "I met this guy from the Caucuses who handed me a tape saying that it was Jewish music, but in fact it was Leonard Cohen," he says. "I guess it's all about context, but Bob Dylan is also Jewish and no one calls what he does Jewish music.
"But it's the same thing with Russendisko. The music I'm spinning is ska, reggae, cumbia, punk, klezmer, etc. It's not exactly Russian music, but people believe that it's Russian music, and it is somehow. It's music that's made for the moment, and this made me think in more depth about the direction of Jewish music. I started thinking about what kind of music Jews were doing in the beginning of the 20th century, or back in the era of Yiddish swing in the Fifties with the likes of the Barry Sisters, when they were trying to combine the big band sound with Yiddish theatre."
However, the initial idea for a modern Jewish compilation seems to have sprung from the mind of Oi Va Voi's Lovas, whom Gurzhy met when the former organised a gig for his band in London. At the time, Lovas was thinking of working on his own compilation Future Bar Mitzvah Classics. "I was really interested in the whole concept, which was very similar to shtetl. I kept the idea in the back of my mind and eventually approached Trikont." - Independent (UK), Phil Meadley


Discography

Lemez is a musician, producer and lyricist who has been at the forefront of the global Jewish music scene for over ten years. From school days making hip-hop dub mixes on two tape decks, DJ-ing at parties and playing trumpet in classical wind and jazz-funk bands, his musical world was flipped upside down by a trip to a folk music festival in rural Hungary and back at university he started Oi Va Voi together with violinist Sophie Solomon - at first playing modern versions of gypsy and Hungarian tunes until someone asked: "You're Jewish, can you play that tune off Fiddler On The Roof?". There must be more to Jewish music than that, he thought, and that question started a lifelong process that has doesn't look like ending any time soon.

With Lemez on songwriting duties, Oi Va Voi soon signed to Outcaste Records - home to other UK / World visionary, Nitin Sawhney, launched the career of a little known singer called KT Tunstall, getting rapturous reviews and winning accolades. His political love song "Refugee" was an international radio hit, but after eight years of touring the formula was getting stale.

Together with his friend Yuriy Gurzhy - the DJ who runs Berlin nightclub phenomenon Russendisko as well as party band Rotfront (Essay) - they set about going back to their DJ roots to understand what Jewish music today was all about. It was about a lot more than klezmer - that much was clear. The resulting album Shtetl Superstars (released on Trikont) was the first to really document the urban Jewish music diaspora and as such struck a signficant chord. Following its success, it became clear that forming a new band was the only way for them to really get to grips with the subject, both musically and lyrically.

Shtetl Superstars // A Day In The Life //
(forthcoming 2011)

Various Artists // Shtetl Superstars //
Trikont, Germany (2006)

By the same artists:

Oi Va Voi - Digital Folklore (self released, 2002)
Oi Va Voi - Laughter Through Tears (Outcaste, 2003)
Oi Va Voi - Oi Va Voi (V2, 2007)

Rotfront - Emigrantski Ragamuffin (Essay 2009)

Photos

Bio


Written over a three year period by Lemez (Oi Va Voi) with Israeli producer Yaniv Fridel and Yuriy Gurzhy (Rotfront), the debut album ‘A Day In The Life’ tells the story of one uber-immigrant’s journey from his humble village (shtetl) towards his dream of fabulous wealth and opportunity in the mythical West.

The music has the beautiful Eastern European melodies and pop choruses that made Oi Va Voi so well known, plus the heavy dancefloor ska beat that have made Rotfront one of the most in-demand live bands around.

But the real star of the show are the songs themselves, which show Lemez to be one of the most insightful, funny songwriters on the world music scene.

On his way our hero does what he has to in order to make is dream a reality – sells brides over the internet (Modern Matchmaker); poses as a high society flaneur; gets himself into deep trouble with a young lady of the night (Um Bye Bye); meets the faceless love of his life on a boat, gets married to a random girl on a bus (Schengen Visa Wedding), gets humiliated for his bad accent (Funny Inglish) and is shocked back into remembering his forgotten roots when he least expects it (Butterfly Hora).

The smash live shows are performed by an allstar UK/Ukrainian/German/Italian/Israeli band, including Brixton dub maestro Andrea Terrano (Twinkle, Mad Professor), in-demand soul vocalist Maiya James (Mark De Clive Lowe, Phil Asher, Kyoto Jazz Massive) and blues punk bassist Paul Tkachenko (Hey Negrita).

The album features special guests slots from friends and top performers on the world music scene, including:

- Ben Mandelson (Les Triaboliques, 3 Mustaphas 3)
- Uri Kinrot (Boom Pam, Balkan Beat Box)
- Karolina (Habanot Neshama, Kutiman)
- Alik Kopyt (Amsterdam Klezmer Band)
- Noam Inbar (HaBiluim)
- Asaf Talmudi (Oy Division)

Dance, laugh and waving those burning documents in the air – Shtetl Superstars is a satirical dancefloor rocket.