The famous klezmer revival of the 1970s, which inspired a generation of musicians to learn the music of their great-grandparents, has by now spread around the globe. Klezmer - non-liturgical Ashkenazi instrumental music with roots in pre-WWII Europe and New York - is now a respected genre of world music... except, some say, here in Israel.
And yet what some call the hippest club in Tel Aviv, Levantin 7, is now hosting a monthly klezmer evening - The Jewish Music Marathon - which begins on Tuesday, March 20.
"We wanted a permanent stage for Jewish music," says accordionist Assaf Talmudi of the band Oy Division, who also organized the event. "Eventually it will be a music festival, and starting in May we will also have [an evening] in Jerusalem."
Unlike the many klezmer bands which include influences like drum and bass, avant-garde jazz or even bluegrass, Oy Division focuses on a pure roots klezmer sound from old Europe. Together only six months, the group consists of Talmudi, his brother Eyal on clarinet (who also plays and tours with Balkan Beat Box), violinist Gershon Leizerson and acoustic bassist Avichy Tuchman.
The members of Oy Division are all professionals, and according to Talmudi, the project was started as sort of a hobby.
For this show they will be joined by vocalist Noam Inbar of the influential punk/folk ensemble Habiluim, who seems to have caught the Yiddish bug in a bad way. Another special guest for their show is musician/ethnomusicologist Zeev Feldman, one of the original architects of the 70s klezmer revival in the US who now lives half the year in Israel.
"Oy Division is the great hope for the klezmer scene in Israel," says violinist Daniel Hoffman, whose year-old Trio Carpion ensemble is also scheduled to perform on Tuesday. "Ashkenazi music is not thought of as ethnic music [here]; people think Arik Einstein is klezmer."
Trio Carpion consists of Hoffman, tuba player Gershon Waiserfihrer and vocalist/accordionist Avishai Fisz. Like Oy Division, their repertoire is made from pre-WWI and sometimes much older material. "We play mostly Yiddish and Romanian vocal music," explains Hoffman. "Although we put our mark on it, it's coming from the tradition and our respect for that."
These ensembles are klezmer purists, championing the sound of a bygone age from before the Holocaust and the birth of Israel - a sound that often grates on modern Israeli esthetic sensibilities.
North American klezmer musicians in the 70s were still able to learn from some of the legendary maestros, but in Israel there has been a gap. Of course there have been klezmer ensembles, but by and large they have played a modern style, heavily influenced by jazz and rock. Hasidic music and wedding-band tunes form a related but much different genre.
"The Yiddish language and culture were sacrificed to build Israel," says Talmudi, who along with Hoffman thinks that attitudes are slowly changing. "But it's too late... we already are without masters to learn from."
Rounding out the marathon is BTA Music, a saxophone-congas-bass trio that mixes jazz and klezmer with a heavy Latin and North African influence. In a way, this is the modern face of klezmer, as many new ensembles take this dance music from the shtetl and transform it into contemporary, creative expression that still somehow retains the mark of its origin.
Viva la klezmer!
The Jewish Music Marathon at Levantin 7 in Tel Aviv, on Tuesday March 20 at 8 p.m. Info: (03) 560-5084. NIS 35.