By PAUL WIEDER
“Stir it up,” sang Bob Marley; the impetus to stir different sounds together affects all music. Ray Charles, as we are reminded in his recent movie, blended gospel and R&B. Bands like the Moody Blues and ELO merged rock and orchestral music. Klezmer is no exception, and it has already been combined with jazz, bluegrass, and reggae.
Two newer acts mingle klezmer with, respectively, techno and rock… and the Kfar Jewish Arts Center is bringing them to the Wild Hare as part of Chicago’s annual World Music Festival on Sept. 18.
Balkan Beat Box is an Israeli duo: Tamir Muskat, a rock drummer, and Ori Kaplan, a klezmer clarinetist. Their band’s music pulls from Israeli, Arabic, Roma (or “Gypsy”), Eastern European, and even Spanish sources. So on Balkan Beat Box’s upcoming debut release, there are lots of reedy horns, tangy strings, insistent and complicated percussion, and vocals both rapped and wailing.
They then overlay this expansive version of klezmer on a techno base. Techo is the rhythm-heavy, dance-party version of electronica, sort of the Internet Age response to disco. The result is a cross between 3 Mustaphas 3 and Moby, a big, happy, messy clangor–the carnival sound of an afterparty in a Ben-Yehuda Street nightclub, when only the musicians and their friends are left.
Meanwhile, Golem combines klezmer and rock. But it is a different kind of klezmer; BBB’s klezmer is that of the open market and cabaret, while Golem’s is a more familiar Yiddish strain, that of the wedding hall and Second Avenue stage. And while BBB adds Middle Eastern and electronic instruments, Golem stays with more traditional klezmer instrumentation.
What makes Golem a rock-and-roll band involves two other elements. One is their material; they find Yiddish songs that are less cheery, and less G-rated, than usual. And then they play their violins and accordions with a righteous fury that would make Keith Moon proud.
While it has the harsh passion of punk, Golem’s music has little of punk’s underlying idealism. Golem is, in fact, a garage band that happens to play klezmer. It revels in its stygian misery like Robert Johnson; it treasures its forlorn angst like Morrissey. If Courtney Love wants to appreciate Jewishness in her own language, she should walk right out of the Kabbalah Center and head to a Golem show.
Music was meant to be played. And as far as these bands are concerned, it was made to be played with. They engage klezmer, challenging it to evolve and grow… and thus pay it as much a tribute as those who keep it under glass.
Balkan Beat Box and Golem are being presented by Kfar Jewish Arts Center as part of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs’ 2005 Chicago World Music Festival. The concert is at the Wild Hare, 3530 N. Clark, on Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. Admission is $12. For tickets and more information, contact kfarcenter.org.