Di Naye Kapelye,
A Mazeldiker Yid
(Oriente, 2001)

I once thought I needed lyrics to know a song. If I couldn't sing the words, how could I remember the tune? I've never been a hummer or whistler -- I want to sing the words. Di Naye Kapelye's A Mazeldiker Yid has converted me. Half of the songs have no words and, not speaking Yiddish, I don't understand the ones there are. But the songs themselves, the tunes and rhythm, are deep in my brain, and when they want out, I can sing them.

There are a wide range of songs to carry away from this CD. A Mazeldiker Yid opens with "Drey Dreydle," the only song here with a chorus comprehensible to a mere English speaker. The tune rollicks along with the hypnotic swing of a snake charmer's flute, so captivating that the end comes as a shock. But the music picks up again with "Meron Tune," a song that rocks as much as klezmer can. The three Hasidic tunes from Maramures calm things down prior to Betty Tzarevkan Cohen's "Spoken Introduction." Her reminiscence on the beginnings of the Lemesh band lead into "Platch Evrei," a song performed by the Lemesh band and the Belf orchestra. Di Naye Kapelye presents it as "Frankenstein's Bar Mitzvah" on the advice of none other than Frank Zappa's ghost.

The title song, "A Mazeldiker Yid," is a creation of Nathan Nazaroff, who recorded the original as "a riot of foot stomping, bird whistles, mistuned mandolin, broken accordion, (and) hard luck lyrics." There are no broken accordions in this version, but the song still seems to pile tune on tune until the whole merry tilting stack surely must topple. For something completely different from all the dancing tunes, there are the soft, bell-like notes of the cimbalom in "Jewish Hora," and the slow, aching "The Bosnian Nign" sung a cappella by Cili Svarts and then played, wordlessly, by musicians who match her voice with an instrumental echo.

If I'm referring to the liner notes rather often, there's good reason. The notes add even greater depth to these already expressive songs. The translations are useful, especially for the songs where lyrics and tune seem to be heading in opposite directions, as in "L'chaim Jo Testeverek," with its party lyrics and dragging, moaning melody.

But there are other stories in here, of forgotten musicians and cultural legends. The artists' musings on life and history are presented alongside recipes for matzoh ball soup and tips on how to drink palinka. The liner notes also reveal how precarious the life of a folk song may be. Reading the tales of discovery in the liner notes, it's striking how many of the tunes were almost lost for good. Thanks to A Mazeldiker Yid, these rare creatures have a chance to seed themselves in new minds, in ears of listeners who may never understand the words, but will never forget the songs.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 30 March 2002

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