Not Your Bubbie’s Jewish Music

"Jewish music." The words almost immediately call to mind one of these images:
1) a klezmer band with violins and clarinets at a Jewish wedding.
2) a tie-dyed song leader with a guitar sitting cross-legged under a tree.
3) a synagogue cantor, possibly accompanied by a choir, perhaps in robes.
. . . aaaand that's it.

What it doesn't call to mind, but should, is this
This is the Moshav Band. They are based in Israel, but they sing in English as much as they do in Hebrew. The word "moshav" means a type of community similar to a kibbutz. Their moshav was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, one of the pioneers of contemporary Jewish music.

If you like your rock more bluesy, there is Lazer Lloyd:
 "Lazer" is a nickname for "Eliezer," but it also makes for a cool blues-rock moniker.

A more subtle approach is used by Pharaoh’s Daughter
They are sort-of named after their lead singer, Batya Schechter; Batya is said to be the name of Pharaoh’s daughter, the one who drew Moses out of the Nile. While largely Sephardic, the ensemble's sound is also informed by Middle Eastern music and even Yiddish. This song is in the Ladino language, which is a Spanish-Hebrew hybrid.

This Israeli band, as you can see, is called Balkan Beat Box, and they merge the sounds of Eastern Europe with hip-hop and other modern forms.

Some more "out-there" examples . . .

This guy, who raps and samples but also plays accordion, goes by So-Called. There are only two of his videos on YouTube, and if you can believe it, this is the less-disturbing one, although it is still quite trippy.

And here is some Jewish surf rock, courtesy of Meshugga Beach Party. 

Speaking of surfing, these guys are from Australia, although they probably surf crowds more than waves. They are hardcore Jews, so they call themselves YIDcore. The lead singer -  the one with the multi-colored dreads - also has a law degree. The video imagines what Tevye's dreams of wealth might have been had he lived now. It is NSFW (i.e. "Not Safe For Work," or Rated R), but only in the same way the average rap or rock video might be.

David Gould  and others were releasing Jewish reggae records many years before Matisyahu hit the scene.

Hadag Nachash  is an Israeli hip-hop outfit that also pulls from local sounds and American funk. This song is a series of strung-together Israeli bumper stickers, mostly expressing the driver's political beliefs.

Pitom  performs Jewish heavy metal.

Frank London is a trumpeter with the Klezmatics who also does experimental Jewish-jazz works.

As their group's name explains, The Hip-Hop Hoodios are Judios who perform hip-hop. In English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino. Here is their polemic against plastic surgery, one of their few all-English tracks. (Dr. Demento does the intro.)

I could go on, and perhaps will in subsequent posts. But I hope I have convinced you that the Jewish music scene is vital, vibrant . . . and varied.

Jewish music has been merged with many, many other genres, from country to classical. Some is safe for children, and some I wouldn’t listen to in front of my mother, like this brit-milah song.

But most of it is very well-played and well-produced, especially now that digital production is widely available.

I am willing to play "Pandora," and suggest Jewish music you might like based on music you already like, and where to get it. Whatever it takes for you to add Jewish music to your playlist.

In my next post, I will point out some of the best places on the web for Jewish music. Until then, please send me samples of some of the boundary-pushing Jewish acts you have encountered.

Paul Wieder photo 2013

Paul Wieder is putting Jewish music on your playlist! Plus updates on Jewish music festivals, reviews of Jewish music websites and blogs, and insights from Jewish music producers and promoters. Let’s make Jewish music part of your well-balanced musical diet!

... Read More

Connect with us

Sign up for our weekly newsletter featuring issues and events in the Jewish world.