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Adam on Arts and Culture: October

The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, Netta Yerushalmy and Yemen Blues.

In my July column, I bemoaned the demise of several important Jewish cultural organizations on the national landscape over the past year.  In response, a prominent community member pointed out the ongoing support of Jewish Federations, including Chicago’s, for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The NJFC, which served as fiscal sponsor for several important projects across the nation, including Chicago’s KFAR Jewish Arts Center, was the central organization through which local communities supported Jewish artistic, academic, cinematic and cultural projects of merit throughout the decades. As if on cue and to echo the question of whither (or withered) support for Jewish arts and culture, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture announced in September that it too will close within the year. I’d say we need a Kaddish minyan, but too many of the would-be mourners—other members of the arts and culture movement—are, sadly, already among the departed.”Let’s hope for better news from the Jewish cultural landscape this year.  More locally, there’s at least good news on the performance front.

Chicago’s Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre (SPDW) and Peter Carpenter Performance Project (PCPP) will present a shared concert of works by Peter Carpenter, Joanna Rosenthal (Artistic Director), and New York-based choreographer Netta Yerushalmy that grapple with that questions of what forces move a body.  The performances will focus on political, psychic, and aesthetic impulses that inform our movements and relationships in two new works by Rosenthal and Yerushalmy.  Raised in Israel’s Galilee region, Yerushalmy trained at the Misgav Dance Workshop, the school of the Kibbutz Dance Company in Ga’aton, and Bat-Dor studios in Tel-Aviv. She has held fellowships from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, New York Foundation of the Arts, and Six Points Fellowship and has been artist in residence at ICI Berlin, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, and Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Oct. 10 - 12 at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago. 

This month closes with an interesting collaboration between two Israeli acts, David Broza and Yemen Blues.  I’ve wrote extensively about the iconic Broza in advance of his performance here last year, and audiences should by now be familiar with his 35-year career. The Israeli performer’s songs are infused with flamenco and other Mediterranean influences and remain a draw to generations far younger than he.  What’s fascinating about this show is the collaboration with rising Israeli star Ravid Kalahani and his ensemble Yemen Blues. 

Yemen Blues was conceived vocalist and instrumentalist Kahalani, who envisioned creating an ensemble to perform arrangements traditional Yemenite melodies combined with contemporary elements of blues, jazz, and funk. Assembling top musicians from New York, Israel, and Uruguay, Kahalani mixes music of Yemen and West Africa using percussion, oud, horns, and strings. 

Though Kalahani himself never lived in Yemen, his life has been suffused by the culture of Israel’s large Yemenite community and their colorful musical heritage and linguistic tradition. Temani, the Yemenite dialect of Hebrew, has several pronunciations that distinguish it from standard Modern Israeli Hebrew.  Nearly all the country’s Jews have now left their native Yemen under the threat of ever increasing violence, and so their communities, rituals and prayers have been transplanted to Israel, where they contribute to the melting pot atmosphere.

In some ways, Yemen Blues helps to capture the unique musical traditions of this ethnic group while exploring the possibilities of pairing and collaborating with different cultures.  Western and even American sounds of blues and funk can be heard woven beneath lyrics in Arabic, while at other times driving African beats meld with jazzier horn solos and the wild sounds of the Saharan Gnawa.  Kalahani seems to have taken cues from friends and collaborators Idan Raichel, with whom he has often performed and who draws heavily on Ethio and other ethnic traditions in Israel, as well as bassist Omer Avital whose own jazz ensemble focuses on Mizrahi and North African Jewish musical traditions. 

Yemen Bleus draws heavily on the prayers and pslam Kalahani’s father would chant in their home, which he found creeping into his head during jazz sessions.  He brought the idea of a fusion to Avital, who encouraged him, and they were soon joined by others including Latin percussionist Rony Iwryn, bassist Hagar Ben Ari (the Dap-Kings) and  Itamar Borochov.

Ravid’s lyrics are sung in Arabic, Moroccan, and Hebrew. The rhythm of his singing offers a glimpse into the deep history of Yemenite music in Israel but the passion of the performance has appeal that is universal.  8pm, Wednesday Oct. 30 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago.

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