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June/July 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Jewdas’ summer shindig with Geoff Berner, Fran & Flora and Rokhl Merlot at Balabam (20th June); Sefiroth at JW3 (4th July)

17 Jun

A couple of vibrantly Jewish gigs coming up in London…

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I mostly know about Jewdas thanks to them apparently being among Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite Jewish organisations, and hence having been dragged in the wretched palaver over where and how much anti-semitism might be marring British politics. A determined “radical Jewish voice for the alternative diaspora”, they could probably have done without the blowback; or perhaps they take it as a badge of pride; but they’ll wear and weather it regardless.

In Britain and elsewhere, the internet’s rotting under the feculent, polluted weight of this particular debate, and I’m not going to wrangle the point here (I’ll leave that to the single-issue soapboxers who love it so much) but it would plainly be nonsense to suggest either that Jewdas might not be deeply rooted in Jewish culture, or that they’re not deeply proud of it. If you want to know more of what they’re about (and don’t mind Jonathan Sacks being twitted a bit) you can read about that here: alternatively, you could consider their summer party show at Balabam this week. It’s Jewish to the core – bright and lively, opinionated and warm; pugnacious in intellect and politics and personal engagement; sometimes superbly vulgar; and loaded with music that weaves itself into a shawl of pain, laughter, chatter and living.

They’re hoping to offer “the best in radical Yiddish music” (trigger warning for the humph-y: they tend to favour Yiddish over Hebrew) and it’s certainly going to be left-wing, and anarchic. Headliner Geoff Berner is a Jewish-Canadian punk-klezmernik; a singer, songwriter, accordionist and sometime novelist who prides himself on “dragging klezmer kicking and screaming back to the bars where it belongs. For the past fifteen years or so, he’s travelled the world, garnering a sizable, passionate following of odd, bookish people who like to drink. Clever and literate, Berner’s songs can make you want to weep, laugh, grind your teeth, or kick out a window – often all at the same time. His writing can be overtly political, overtly left wing, leaning towards anarchy, but free of easy slogans or cliches.“ I couldn’t talk him up any better than that, so here he is in action in concert and on video:




 

I’m better acquainted with one of the other acts on the bill – Fran & Flora – the once-seen, immediately-loved cello-and-violin duo of Francesca Ter-Berg and Flora Curzon, who’ve been bringing string duets from eastern European folk and improvisatory traditions to events like Marchland for a few years now, and who’ve now documented it on record with their debut album ‘Unfurl’. Presumably they’re providing the more serious and sober core to the evening, though I doubt that it’ll dominate if someone called Rokhl Merlot is also providing “Yiddish cabaret on an out-of-tune piano”. I suspect there’s a pseudonym involved and that it’s probably going to be riotously funny. As for DJs, there’s a “tuchas-shaking selection of klezmer, Jewish jazz, kosher blues and circumcised soul” from the Kosher Nostra DJs, who are presumably turning nasty gags about “Jewish mafias” on their heads before spitting them back. (Either that, or it’s a nod to the ghost of Bugsy Siegel.) I can’t track down anything on Mr or Ms. Merlot, but here’s a dose of the other two.

 
My own favourite Jewish joke? You didn’t ask for it, but it’s from within the community; and it’s about how if you leave a Jewish guy alone in a room for long enough, he’ll start arguing with himself. That’s how it ought to be, and I’m guessing that it’s something Jewdas are more than happy to embrace.

Postscript – I’ve just found out that Jewdas’ response to some wretched fascist pledging to take Stamford Hill (a strongly Jewish area of north-east London, and the place where my own mother worked in Jewish youth organisations on her first arrival in this country, fifty-odd years ago, as a concerned and wandering New Jersey Gentile) and to liberate it from “Jewification” was to stage a ‘Jewification’ party; and to then invite everyone, including Muslims and “everyone who has ever been threatened for being different, everyone who has ever been othered and made to feel like an outsider…. We did not let them pass before (at Cable Street), and we will stop them again – this time with furious dancing.” Now that’s just treasurable.

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If this all sounds a little raucous, there’s also an upcoming chance to catch the (frankly magical) contemporary British Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth out at JW3 at the start of July.

Built up from some of the best young British jazz and folk musicians from the Sephardic Jewish community (the rundown being the Roth brothers – Alex, Simon and Nick – plus Alice Zawadzki, Olesya Zdorovetska, Ruth Goller, Shirley Smart, Alex Bonney and Francesco Turrisi) the band rearranges and revives Jewish songs and melodies from fifteenth-century Iberia where Moorish, Balkan, North African and Mediterranean ideas merged with the music brought out of Israel. The repertoire’s a mingling of ancient love songs, children’s rhymes, dances, songstories and yearning airs; bringing to mind warm winds, scintillating desert nights, homesickness, melodies hummed and murmured in kitchens and tented marketplaces… the entire musical texture of a community.

Sefiroth play all of this beautifully. Over the last few years, I’ve spent several evenings sitting spellbound at their feet as they spun these tunes out of brass, percussion, shofars, Alice and Olesya’s vocals (capturing ache, nurture, memory and desire), Alex’s slips, swells and ebbs of gorgeously understated electric guitar, and barely-perceptible laptop sound mutations. You could, too.



 
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Dates:

Jewdas presents:
Geoff Berner + Fran & Flora + Rokhl Merlot + The Kosher Nostra DJs
Balabam, 58-60 High Road, Tottenham, London, N15 6JU, England
Saturday 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Sefiroth
JW3, 341-351 Finchley Road, West Hampstead, London, NW3 6ET, England
Thursday 4th July 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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