Singing between the lines

Performing in Israel this week, the Shofar trio from Poland satirize the ‘political correctness’ of the Hebrew language.

Shofar trio (photo credit: courtesy)
Shofar trio
(photo credit: courtesy)
Take the sounds of the shtetl, add a generous helping of free-flowing jazz, mix with a snarling poet with a heavy Russian accent, and season with a rock-based bass playercum- vocalist and you get some inkling of what to expect at this evening’s Politically Correct – Hebrew as a Language of Money and Power concert at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem (8:30 p.m.) and Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv tomorrow (9 p.m.).
The proponents of the said musical-poetic fare are the Shofar trio from Poland – underground Russian-born Israeli poet Roman Baembaev, accordionist Boris Martzinovsky and bass player-vocalist Yehu Yaron. It is an intriguing mix patently designed to convey a strong message.
Much of that, it appears, has a strong linguistic premise.
“We use this sacred language on a daily basis, but we use it for all sorts of purposes,” Yaron declares.
“We use it to talk about war, and crime and corruption.”
But it’s not just the subject matter that fuels the musicians’ and poet’s own take on the state of the language, but also the squeaky clean contexts we make for ourselves.
“There’s all this politically correct stuff, which has warped our use of language,” continues Yaron.
“Sometimes it is difficult to know what the words really mean.”
Baembaev addresses that issue in uncertain terms.
“You could call Roman a hard-kicking Hebrew poet who takes no prisoners,” says Yaron.
“He is one of the most innovative poets we have. He is very theatrical and highly expressive.”
There will also be a strong Jewish thread running through the whole show.
“Roman is very strongly connected to Jewish heritage and culture, and also addresses modern day culture and the emphasis on money and power.”
Part of the program also targets what Yaron terms “disrespect for the language.”
“You have all these basic mistakes made in day to day speech, like the incorrect use of feminine forms for masculine forms of numbers and so on. And this is a language that has an intrinsic sacred splendor to it.
Hebrew is heading for a new place, which is not necessarily a better one.”
YARON ALSO says that this week’s concerts are aimed at a general worldwide social malaise.
“All this political correctness, in fact, obscures the fact that we are less loving and less pleasant than we once were. The outer expression of this is the use of language.”
Yaron says he does his best to present the more aesthetic side of our language to the public.
“Hebrew is a very rich and beautiful language with all sorts of influences of other languages, like Yiddish, Arabic and Russian.
There are also contemporary cultural influences which have changed the use of Hebrew, from [Nobel Prize recipient Israeli writer Shai] Agnon, to at the other extreme [satirical TV show] Eretz Nehedert and [1970s seminal rock-pop band [Kaveret] and iconic comic trio Hagashash Hahiver.
You take all this blend and use it on a day to day basis.”
On the more musical side, the Shofar trio – of guitarist Raphael Roginski, saxophonist and bass clarinet player Mikolaj Trzaska and drummer Macio Moretti – offers a mix of influences from avant garde jazz to hassidic music, with some rock elements in there too.
The trio was founded in 2006 by Roginski with the expressed aim of finding a common denominator between traditional Jewish music and contemporary creative jazz. The band’s debut offering was released in 2007, through Gdansk-based independent label Kilogram Records.
Most of the material on the album was based on a collection of old Hassidic tunes from Ukraine and Russia, compiled by early 20th century Soviet musicologist Moshe Beregovsky who was responsible for taking the study of Jewish folk music out of its original parochial confines and moving it into the mainstream of modern ethnomusicology.
In the last five years Shofar has played concerts all over Europe, sometimes in an extended ensemble format with the likes of Polish jazz double bass player Olo Walicki, Swiss classical-avant garde crossover cellist Clementine Gasser, American percussionist- improviser Michael Zerang or Australian-born Berlin-based double bass player Clayton Thomas. Shofar's sophomore album is due out later this year.
The Politically Correct – Hebrew as a Language of Money and Power concerts will incorporate all the influences and artistic inclinations of all the parties involved, with Shofar playing an instrumental part, followed by Baembaev, Martzinovsky and Yaron’s slot, before they all join forces for a musical-narrational combination.
“There will also be a lot of improvisation and creativity on the stage,” says Yaron.
“The way Roman declaims his poetry incorporates a built-in compositional element.
It will all flow together naturally” For tickets and more info about ‘Politically Correct – Hebrew as a Language of Money and Power’ show: (02) 621-5300 or and (03) 560-5084