Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hangin’ with the Homeboyz....

Each artist who passed through Studio A was asked to “sign” our musical guest book, by recording a pass on Am Yisrael Chai-The People of Israel live on! We combined an obscure old pioneer song with a newer, famous tune written by the legendary Shlomo Carlebach, and managed to hear a few tasty licks from just about everybody!

I just got back from 24 hours in LA, where I had the pleasure of mixing the P-FAC anthem “Am Yisrael Chai” with none other than the great Bob Clearmountain and the amazingly talented Keith Olsen, at Bob’s private retreat high in the hills (Thanks Beth, for making the introductions!).
These guys are responsible for mixing and producing some of the greatest recordings of all time, and it was a thrill to have them jump on in and get down with the entire P-FAC family. This was not an easy task, as the project contained over 90 tracks!
Most tunes we recorded consisted of five or six tracks, plus another six if drums were used. Twenty or thirty tracks is pushing it, forty is bordering on insanity, and when we hit sixty our computers were belching smoke.
But ninety....imagine a house where fifty teenagers lived together in one try to imagine straightening up after now have an idea of the task at hand. Bob and Keith did not bat an eyelash as they elevated our monumental undertaking to heights we never imagined. Props to Bob Horn and Brandon Duncan for an incredible display of Pro Tools wizardry. Most of all, to our own Dave Richards, for recording everyone so beautifully, and for his hard work, great ideas and cool vibe, and to DJM, who once again showed why dreamers come out on top. It’s not easy to record 90 tracks, but pioneers do what’s never been done...

The Prodigious Daughter

Basya Schechter and her cleverly named band Pharaoh’s Daughter have made a considerable impact on the world/acoustic scene. Her sweet voice, whether together with her full ensemble or in tandem with her guitar, is a pleasure to behold. The pioneer song “Hiney Achalilah Bachalili" ( I Will Play My Flute) is a perfect tune for Basya and company as they turn in a masterful performance that hints of George Martin and the fab four…..all in the name of raising funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  

“Hiney Achalilah,” formally known as “Shirat HeChalil” is one of many odes to the ubiquitous instrument, written by nearly all the important composers of Israel. The term refers variously to the orchestral flute and to the recorder popular among the shepherds who entertained themselves and their flocks as they played. In particular, it was the musical influence of the Bedouin and Oriental Jewish herdsmen that struck an especially inspiring chord among Western-raised composers. The end result was a body of early songs with a decidedly Eastern flavor. “Hiney Achalilah” is a great example of these songs, with its dreamy, almost non-metrical verse, and the driving, debka-like rhythm of its spirited chorus.
Mordechai Zeira (1905 – 1968) is regarded as one of the “fathers of Israeli song.” Prior to his arrival in Palestine (from Russia in 1924) most of the popular songs were set to folk melodies brought from Europe with the new immigrants. It was during the fourth aliyah (roughly 1924 – 1931) that “composed songs” came to be written, and Zeira was one of the most prolific. He was also something of a “troubadour,” popularizing his tunes by singing them as he walked the length and breadth of his new homeland.(MBE)


When we decided to start recording old pioneer songs I knew that right away we would have invite one of my favorite artists, Noah Solomon. This man simply exudes music, and is one of the most important figures in the Jewish music renaissance of the past twenty years. He was raised on Moshav Modi’in, the legendary settlement of Shlomo Carlebach, home of the Maccabees of Hanuka fame. Noah comes from a musical family; his father Ben Tzion was part of the pioneering folk rock Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and is an authority of the spiritual music of the Breslav chassidim. His brothers all play and sing as well. Noah is a triple threat, in addition to his signature vocal style he is a wonderful guitarist and mandolinist. He is the lead singer of the iconic ethno jam band Soul Farm, and a member of NYC's premier bluegrass band, Citigrass.

El Yivne Hagalil (God will rebuild the Galilee), a famous old pioneer song, was one of the first recordings we made in Studio A, and features Noah together with Andrew Frawley on drums, Gilad on percussion, and our own Dave Richard's on upright bass. Check out Noah’s otherworldly vocalise in the middle!

“El Yivneh HaGalil” is the quintessential Palestinian folk melody, so popular that at least three variations on its tune have been documented. The best known of these utilizes the distinctive interval of the augmented second that is well known in both the Eastern European repertoire (think “Hava Nagilah”) and Middle Eastern music, making its origins a real mystery whose resolution hardly matters. While the egalitarianism of the kibbutzim (and the challenge to traditional family life represented by the “children’s houses” they created) did not initially draw religiously observant settlers, there were certainly pioneers among the second aliyah settlers who were driven by the theological imperative to rebuild the homeland of their forefathers. The notion that “God will build the Galilee” gave spiritual as well as physical strength to the young people who stereotypically worked the fields all day and danced a horah around the campfire all night. As they sang “Blessed is He Who builds the Galilee” they helped make this tune a “crossover hit” popular among secular farmers and yeshiva students alike. “ (MBE)

Here is Noah talking about how your support, through sharing this song, will help further cutting edge efforts of the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center.

Noah is also prominently featured on the P-FAC anthem, Am Yisrael Chai.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Land Drenched in Sun....

Part of the thrill of being involved in the P-FAC project has been discovering songs that have slipped completely from the collective memory of the listening public. I found this one, "Omrim Yeshne Eretz", in an old collection of pioneer songs and was instantly struck by it's beauty, and subtle sophistication. It was a perfect match for one of my favorite singers (and favoroite people, as well...), the talented Seth Glass. Seth has been writing and performing his music around NYC for many, many years, and his late 90's release, " A Question of Faith", remains in my listening rotation. His voice was the perfect choice to introduce this song to today's audiences. Seth is joined on this track by old friends David Morgan, Dave Richards, Aaron Alexander, and yours truly. Also making an appearance is the fabulous quartet, String Nucleus.

"Omrim Yeshna Eretz was a poem written by Saul Tchernichovsky (1875-1943) in 1923. The text was set to music that same year by Joel Engel (1868-1927) in a version for voice and piano that reflected the composer’s interest in producing Jewish art music for the concert stage. Engel’s early work in ethnomusicology had provided the impetus for the creation in 1908 of the Society for Jewish Folk Music (Gesellschaft fur Yiddishe Folksmusik), and while the group produced some very sophisticated material, much of it was based on, or at least inspired by existing Jewish folk materials. The combination of Tchernichovsky’s optimistic text and Engel’s accessible melody made this song very popular, leading it, ironically, to be considered among the “folk songs” of the settler era. Indeed, a 1965 orchestral work by Noam Sherrif called “Israel Suite” included this melody among several others that the composer expected to be universally recognizable." (MBE)

They say: There is a land,
a land drenched with sun.
Wherefore is that land?
Where is that sun?

They say: There is a land,
its pillars are seven,
seven planets,
spiringing up on every hill.

A land where it shall come to pass
what every man had hoped for,
Everyone who enters,
meets up with with Akiva.

Peace to you, Akiva!
Peace to you, Rabbi!
Where are the holy ones?
Where are the Maccabees?

Answers him Akiva,
answers him the Rabbi:
All of Israel is holy,
you are the Maccabees!

They say: There is a land,
a land drenched with sun.
Wherefore is that land?
Where is that sun?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Can You Top This?

Like whirling dervishes, the New York Voices spun into town last week to record a stunning version of one of Israel's most celebrated Hannuka songs, "Sivivon, Sov, Sov,Sov" (Dreidle-spin like crazy!). In a new arrangement by the Voices' own Darmon Meader, the melody takes on a quiet, nostalgic feeling, and the English lyrics make the song accessible to all. The Voices' harmonies are stunning, as usual...
"Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov has become one of the best known Hanukkah songs in Israel and in the Diaspora, despite its having two sets of lyrics. Levin Kipnis (1894-1990) was responsible for the original text, which he set to an anonymous folk melody. The poet had made aliyah from his native Ukraine in 1913, and immediately achieved some success as a writer of children’s literature, to which he turned upon realizing that no one in the yishuv was writing original material for the youngest Hebrew speakers. Kipnis studied at the Bezalel Art Academy soon after arriving in Palestine, but in 1922 he traveled to Berlin to take additional classes in art and craftsmanship. Several of his first books of children’s songs were published there, in Hebrew; Sevivon appears in the collection titled “Machrozet” (The String), published by “Omanut” in Frankfurt am Main in 1923. The spinning tops made in eretz yisrael bear letters that stand for the words “Nes gadol hayah po,” a great miracle happened here. In the Diaspora, the phrase -- and the tops - is retooled to say “Nes gadol hayah sham,” a great miracle happened there. Adaptations to accommodate the different rhyme schemes were made as the song became popular outside the Jewish homeland, but this is only one of many songs for which the poet achieved renown. In 1978 Levin Kipnis was awarded the coveted Israel Prize for ''devoting his life to the development of children's literature in Hebrew.'' (MBE)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hands Down, A Touchy Subject

Kohane of Newark, in partnership with indie icon J.D. Foster has completed a wonderful new setting for the enticing old song, " Yad Anugah". Ofra Haza was fond of this piece, but our rendition, with an incredibly rich new arrangement, and new English translation is bound to heat things up a bit.

"Yad Anuga has an interesting history. Its text comes from a poem, “Et Kol Liba Masra Lo” (She Gave Him All Her Heart) by the peripatetic Zionist writer Zalman Shneur (1887-1959), which first appeared in a London periodical called HaMe’orer (The Awakener) in 1906. The poem became known throughout the Jewish communities of Europe, and it was apparently in Vilna, during the first decade of the 20th century, that it was first sung -- to an entirely different melody. Meanwhile, the poem made its way to Palestine where, like so many other texts, it “acquired” its present tune, attributed to the Bedouin folk tradition. When the “new” version made its way back to Europe it replaced the “original” melody, and became well known as a “song of the pioneers.” It has appeared in print with the present tune since the 1920’s." (MBE)

Kohane of Newark introduces listeners to the aural landscape and lyric mythology of an American-Jewish middle class experience in a way that David Byrne might appreciate. This is highly subversive stuff…

Don't Just Take My Word For It...

We are proud to introduce our newest team member: musicologist,historian and champion of Israel's music, Dr. Marsha Bryan Edelman. 
Marsha Edelman
Singer, choral conductor, full professor of Jewish music (and education) at Gratz College in Melrose Park, PA., Marsha is director of the only non-Seminary-based program conferring an MA in Jewish Music. She is the administrator of the Zamir Choral Foundation, and author of a variety of articles and liner notes. Her latest book is Discovering Jewish Music, [JPS, 2003 ISBN: 082760727X]. She also works with Matthew Lazar to coordinate the annual North American Jewish Choral Festival.

Marsha will be writing background pieces for all of our pioneer songs, and will be featured on this blog as well, with an "MBE" credit at the end of her contributions. I can't think of too many people who know as much about the music of Israel, surely she is bound to enlighten and entertain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The apple does not fall far....

Tapuach, Tapuach Zahav!

The song "Tapuach Zahav" -an Orange (lit. golden apple) is from a genre of early agriculturally themed songs. The song, with a melody by Menachem Rabinowitz (Ravina), and text by Shmuel Bass, uses the orange as a metaphor for the fruit of the labor of the chalutzim. The melody reminded me of the late, great Shlomo Carlebach's beautiful songs in triple meter, so I asked his daughter Neshama Carlebach to sing it. She recorded a delightfully sensuous version with her band, featuring our own Dave Richards on bass.....  

Tova is Tova Maod!

What fun! Take a beautiful Bialik poem, an old oriental melody, a South American styled jazz quartet, and Broadway and TV legend Tova Feldshuh, and you've got our new version of "Ben N'har Prat"!
The melody is ancient, and the words were composed by Chaim Bialik (1873-1934), Israel's first national poet.
The song, of unrequited love, mentions a golden bird called a 'duchifat', or Hoopoe bird ( the national bird of Israel):

Tova was backed up by the great Paul Meyers on nylon stringed guitar, the ubiquitous Steve Laspina on bass, Brazilian wonderkind Nanny Assis on hand percussion, and yours truly on tenor saxophone.
Any reference to the classic Getz/Gilberto recordings is purely intentional.....

The song was made famous by the iconclastic Yemenite vocalist Bracha Zephira in the early thirties, and has been infrequently recorded since. Tova really brings the words to life. Watch for a clip, coming soon.
Here's a translation:

Between the river Euphrates and the river Tigris,
On the mountain stands a palm,
And on the palm, amidst its leaves,
Perches a golden hoopoe.

Bird of gold, fly and circle.
Go out and find me a husband,
And when you find him,
Tie him and bring him to me.

But if you do not have a purple cord,
Say hello to my fiancé.
What will you tell him? Tell him
My soul goes out to my darling.

Morning, Evening, and Twilight,
I raise my eyes to the skies above,
Oh clouds, pure, and everlasting,
Why you,still, and not my beloved?

Between the river Euphrates and the river Tigris,
On the mountain stands a palm,
And on the palm, amidst its leaves,
Perches a golden hoopoe.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ve'ulai (Oh Kinneret Sheli)-Everything's Coming Up Broza

Today we had the pleasure of having one of Israel's most beloved singer/songwriters, David Broza, record his version of a truly classic pioneer song, dedicating the performance to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Broza’s mother, Sharona Aron, was one of Israel’s first folksingers, and the first to also play guitar. She hosted American folk legends like Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Harry Belafonte at their home when David was a kid.
"I learned Ve'ulai from my mother", David explained.

                                                                SHARONA ARON

"I had never recorded it, so I jumped on the chance to contribute the track to Pioneers for a Cure".
Ve'ulai was written by one of modern Israel's first poets,  Rachel Bluwstein Sela, better known as "Rahel" 

The music was written by Yehuda Shertok Sharet

Veulai lo hayu hadvarim meolam
Veulai lo hishkamti im shachar lagan
Le'avdo beze'at apay...
Shel Kinneret sheli, hoy Kinneret sheli
Heyayit o chalamti chalom

I never rose at dawn to plant the fields with my
And perhaps these things never happened
Never did I purify myself in your azure waters
Perhaps it was a dream, my Kinneret.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Welcome to Milim HaMadrich-the producer's corner

I started working with the production team at Joodayoh Arts on the Pioneers for a Cure project last summer. I was excited to be on a mission to learn about the songs of the pioneers, and give them new life while raising consciousness and funds in an effort to give life and hope to the many millions of  cancer patients worldwide, to hasten a cure for cancer in our lifetime.

 I found a treasure chest of information, and unearthed many,many songs- some now classics, some lesser known, and some on the brink of extinction. In the posts to follow I will share with you what I have learned about the songs we chose to record. 

It is truly unprecedented,  the  creation of a nationalistic folk music by design. Like the return to an ancestral homeland after centuries in exile, the cultivation of the Negev desert, and the monumental achievements in science, technology and healthcare, the early music of Israel is worthy of celebration. Enjoy....