New Internationalist

Shtetl Superstars

July 2007

There is so much more to Jewish music than klezmer

Working on the premise that the idea of any single type of ‘Jewish’ music is a modern impossibility, Yuriy Gurzhy and Lemez Lovas, the two musicians and DJs behind Shtetl Superstars, have clearly had much fun with this compilation. Don’t get me wrong: these are two nice boys who love their klezmer (Lovas plays with the British band Oi Va Voi, while the Ukrainian Gurzhy runs Berlin’s famous Russendisko, a club that reverberates with klezmer tunes). But, with all due respect to musicians as various as Moishe’s Bagel, Yid Vicious and the Klezmatics, there is so much more to Jewish music than klezmer alone.

To prove the point, Shtetl Superstars enlists bands from all over Europe, as well as North America and Israel. After the delirious Yiddish ragga of Gurzhy’s version of Amsterdam Klezmer Band’s ‘Immigrant Song’ to the post-punk of Balkan Beat Box’s ‘Adir Adam’ (think Lene Lovich with a surf guitar), the argument’s won.

There are plenty of klezmer twists in the 19 tracks of Shtetl Superstars, it’s just that they are infused with North African Ladino (Oi Va Voi), reggae (King Django’s Roots and Culture) and in, the oddest sample, glam rock (Boogie Balagan). There are surprises. ‘This and That’, from former Special, Terry Hall, in league with Fun-Da-Mental’s Mushtaq, delivers a jolly Arabic-ska knees-up.

But whatever nuances the collected superstars bring to their sounds, this is all very much dance music, and it’s only on the last track, ‘2nd Train Meditation’ from Lemez Lovas, that things turn from the frenetic to the sombre. Through clarinet, far-away piano and locomotive percussion, a male voice meanders. We can’t hear what he’s singing, we don’t know where he’s going — but as Steve Reich pointed out some years ago with ‘Different Trains’, the allusion is uncomfortable.

Louise Gray

This column was published in the July 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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