What is klezmer


Alter Goyzman klezmerband, Chudnov, Volhyn ca 1905

By Pete Sokolow

Klezmer music was originally an eastern European folk genre, heavily influenced by other existing native folk genres endemic to that area, i.e. Roumanian, Russian, Polish, Ukranian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, with a strong dose of Gypsy.

What makes this music particulary individual is that it was filtered through Jewish ears and consciousness. The tradition of the khazn (cantor) and the nigun was practically inborn for the Jewish musician, a personage growing up in an ethnically segregated, religion-centered society. It must also be remembered that we are dealing, in essence, with utilitarian, dance-oriented music.

Urbanity and sophistication did, indeed, begin to appear in klezmer music by the late 19th early to mid-20th centuries, aided in no small measure by the development of the phonograph record, but equally by urbanization, as large numbers of "shtetl" Jews, including many klezmorim, moved to the cities, both in Europe and America. The resulting contact with concert music, European theater and salon music, and American ragtime/jazz and popular songs, gave polish and some smoothness to the old folkstyle, and formed, for better or worse, a kind of second and third-generation klezmer music for a more modern era.

Label Perfect

Klezmer in Sweden

By David Thyrén, musicologist

Klezmer reached Sweden towards the end of the 1970's. The first to play klezmer in the country was Vargavinter, a folk and world music-oriented ensemble. Vargavinter was a part of a musical constellation called “Ett minne för livet”, which was associated with the Swedish Progressive Rock movement. A couple of klezmer tunes were incorporated in Vargavinter's repertoire, and were regularly performed in concerts between 1979–1984.

In 1980, J. O. Wallins Chapel was established by students at Birkagårdens folk high-school. The musical direction was somehow diverse and they played klezmer as well as other genres. When the formal training was completed, the Chapel naturally broke up. Later on a few of the members started the klezmer band Sabbath Hela Veckan.

Kosher Lips is the name of Sweden's first more refined klezmer band. They have played on and off since 1981.

The first to record klezmer in Sweden was Norrlåtar. They were a folk and world music-oriented band who came from the north. Norrlåtar is considered to be a part of the Swedish Progressive Rock movement. On their album Ugrisk längtan (1985), one of the songs is a klezmer cover with the title “Bobrikoff”.

Klezmorim, an American klezmer band, performed live in Sweden at the Falu folk music open-air festival in 1986. The event was a success and helped spread the concept of klezmer in Sweden.

In 1985–86, a Swedish klezmer band called Freilach Express started to play. Their album East Goes West is described by themselves as “jazz-inspired-by- klezmer”. Freilach Express dissolved in 1993–94. In 1992, Aaron Isaac Jazz Band rose from the rhythm section of Freilach Express. Aaron Isaac Jazz Band still exists but does not play regularly too much these days.

The first klezmer band to gain major popularity in Sweden was Sabbath Hela Veckan. They were established in Stockholm in 1989. Sabbath Hela Veckan has also successfully toured abroad. In addition to their ordinary concert schedule, they have also worked within the field of theatre, among others with Stockholm Stadsteater.

Another very popular Swedish klezmer band is called Den Flygande Bokrullen. Just as Sabbath Hela Veckan, they have really helped popularize klezmer in Sweden and abroad. Den Flygande Bokrullen started to play in Uppsala in 1991 and is still working. They play klezmer, partially mixed with folk music from South and East Europe. Den Flygande Bokrullen has released three CD's and one EP.

In the 1990's klezmer became more and more popular and several new klezmer bands started to play. Amongst others Kandels Kapell, Karlsons Klezmer, Tummel, Vilda Nätter and Vurma. Simultaneously, an infrastructure has been established with stages such as Stallet. Record shops like MultiKulti offer a wide selection of klezmer records and popular festivals such as Re:Orient and Urkult provide plenty of opportunity for klezmer musicians to reach a wider audience. In just a few decades, klezmer has been instituted as a natural musical element in the pluralistic society of modern Sweden.

The text above is a short version of an essay
in preparation, due to be published in Judisk Krönika fall 2008.

The musician

Translation pending