Latin klezmer singer Yehuda Glantz personifies the spirited, laid-back ambience of Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood, strumming “Let It Be” on the charango and sitting in his cozy, enchanting recording studio on Eilat Street, a step away from the chaotic Mahaneh Yehuda market. His curly black-and-gray payot frame a broad smile as he sits under the glimmering wind chimes in the courtyard outside his home and studio.

Glantz, 53, who started out playing the accordion in secret at the age of five in Buenos Aires, today plays 14 instruments and is releasing his 11th album, Chai Ve’kayam. His secret music life began when his older sister started taking accordion lessons and Glantz would go with her to class and then go home and practice what the teacher taught, lying on his bed (the instrument was too big for him to hold upright).

“I was a little stubborn, and I took the accordion when no one was at home,” he says, adding that though he tried to practice every day, it was hard to get the house all to himself. Upon discovering his son’s talent, Glantz’s father decided to send him to the music conservatory, where at age nine he learned to play the guitar in the flamenco and classical styles. Over the years he learned to play other instruments, such as the piano, violin, cajon and drums, which he says helped him create true world fusion music.

Glantz’s eclectic sound, honed over nearly 40 years of traveling, reflects his South American upbringing and connection to Hassidut, which he discovered after making aliya at 21 to study on a scholarship at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. It was while studying there that he met his wife, Hadassah, a classical guitarist. They have 10 children and five grandchildren.

GLANTZ RECALLS his introduction to the joyful philosophy of Hassidut as a student.

He had become acquainted with a young percussionist from Gibraltar. “We would go for coffee, and he would bring stories of Rebbe Nachman [of Brezlav],” he says, and they would play music together.

From his childhood and travels, passion for Jewish spirituality and life in Jerusalem, Glantz’s linguistic and stylistic range was born. He sings in Hebrew, Spanish and English, sometimes composing his own lyrics and melodies and other times putting his Latin soul twist on traditional Jewish liturgical or klezmer lyrics. For example, “An’im Zemirot” features spicy drumming and “Adon Olam” is played on the pan flute.

On Chai Ve’kayam, Glantz composed all 13 songs, most of them in Hebrew. In one very catchy exception, “Jerusalem My Life,” Glantz sings the verses in Spanish, but the chorus is in all three languages: “Yerushalayim shalom/Jerusalem my life/Jerusalem in my heart/Jerusalem el luz/Jerusalem mi corazon/Jerusalem my love/Jerusalem of peace/Jerusalem su luz/Jerusalem mi corazon.

“I wrote the song about Jerusalem, about the energy of Jerusalem,” Glantz says. “In Jerusalem there is the strongest energy.”

The album, which took him a decade filled with touring Jewish communities and music festivals around the world to complete, showcases a more mature sound, he says.

“When you cook something on a small fire, it takes more time, but in the end you have a good taste with it,” he says. “It took me time to grow up with this music.”

Glantz started his own record label, the Jerusalem Music Network. He collaborated with some 17 musicians on the new album, including Avi Adrian (piano), Ofer Benita (drums and percussion) and Shai Hamani (electric bass), who will, along with the 14 others, join him at the album’s launch concert at Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine on February 22.

Glantz’s son Moshe, who handles much of his father’s business, says Chai Ve’kayam is a product of musicians dropping in and out of the studio to record.

On the one hand, it’s a collaboration. On the other, Glantz says that creating the album was a reflective process for him and gave him the opportunity to consider carefully the messages close to his heart that he wants to share with the world, namely peace among all people and turning sadness into joy.

“If I have something to say, I say it with music,” he says. “This sound touches so deeply inside somebody… I use the conception of music to affect my soul and the souls of others.”

This universal message has come in handy when Glantz has encountered anti-Israel sentiments at festivals in certain parts of the world, such as Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. “I have a message,” he says. “I love peace.”

He adds that festival organizers usually can get behind this message, even if they find Israel problematic.

While his music leaves listeners uplifted, Glantz says that back down on earth he tries to keep the marketing and business aspects of the industry far from his creativity. Music is not a business at all, he says. In fact, music is the opposite of business, as it expresses a spiritual experience.

“When I compose a song, I don’t think about how many records I will sell,” he says.

“I try to write things that have meaning, something that can talk to me and to this generation,” to individuals from any religious or cultural background.

This desire to bring people together through music inspired Glantz in 2008 to found Nahlaot’s biannual Regalim Festival of art and music held over Succot and Passover. He says he noticed the neighborhood residents changing to include more students and musicians, he saw community members being less inclined to know their neighbors, and he wanted to create a nonvirtual social network for everyone. Sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality, the three-day festival draws hundreds of people, and includes musical performances, storytelling, neighborhood tours and children’s activities.

The festival, he says, is a gift to the city that he loves. “Music is a present that Hashem gave me to give to others.”

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