Tag Archives: Olesya Zdorovetska

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
 

November/December 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Tell Tale Tusk in Rotherhithe (29th November); Sefiroth in Poplar (3rd December)

22 Nov

One of the best things about running the gig notification side of ‘Misfit City’ is uncovering unknown venues – ones which were previously unknown to me, at least. The ongoing embittering saga of London’s shuttering venues (gobbled up by flats or zoning, squeezed out by skyrocketing rents or bullying neighbours) is at least offset by news of new ones, be they dedicated performance buildings or reclaimed/improvised spaces. From what I hear, half of Peckham seems to be sprouting pop-up performance opportunities: but on this occasion, I’m taking a look at a couple of spaces nearer the river.

I can’t think why I’ve not heard of Sands Films Studios before – as institution and location, they’ve been in place for forty-two years, nearly as long as me. Based in an 18th century granary in the same corner of Rotherhithe as The Mayflower pub, they’ve made most of their money from costumery (sumptuous hand-embroidery for Merchant Ivory, ‘Wolf Hall’, ‘Doctor Who’, the film version of the Lloyd Webber ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and many more) but over the years have expanded into sound and film staging, some of it contained in a small, sofa-filled, enchanted-looking theatre space like a pocket Georgian dream. Judging the latter to be “an inspiringly intimate place to hear fabulous music”, promoters Tunedin.London have swooped on it. Since this September alone, it’s hosted Chilean flamenco from Natalia Garcia Huidobro, polyglot West African songs from Jean Paul Samputu, Galician music from Uxía, and trans-Manche Celtic songcraft from both Siobhan Wilson and Mary Ann Kennedy, with upcoming baroque and rebetiko concerts to come.

My not knowing about Poplar Union is more understandable. it really is brand new – a dedicated arts and community centre for this neglected London neighbourhood above the Isle of Dogs, adding light and colour to a tower block beside the Limehouse Cut, its name a wry nod to the area’s former Victorian workhouse. Much of what goes on there is community workshops, but they’re also getting up to speed as an interesting gig venue, having hosted a double showcase for polyfusional song outfits 1816 and Land of If, with a vibrant sets of new jazz concerts lined up for next year.

Here’s what they’re doing next…

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Tuned In London present:
Tell Tale Tusk Quartet
Sands Films Studios, 82 St Marychurch Street, Rotherhithe, SE16 4HZ, London, England
Wednesday 29th November 2017, 7.45pm
– information here and here

Tell Tale Tusk, 2017Hailed as “clever, witty and deep” by Resonance FM – and based around singing clarinettists/guitarists Fiona Fey and Laura Inskip, singing percussionist Reyhan Yusuf and fiddle player Anna Lowenstein – folk band Tell Tale Tusk Quartet have “grown and developed together over the years, emerging first as an a capella trio, before collecting a fiddle player and setting hands upon new instruments to explore and expand their palette. Their highly collaborative process informs the diverse styles and varied sounds that can be heard within their music. Spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies weave around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new. Tell Tale Tusk’s take on folk is boundlessly creative: as well as being inventive interpreters of music from around the British Isles, the ensemble are prolific writers, adding their distinctive and astute voices to modern day folksong.”

This end-of-November gig celebrates the recent launch of ‘Through The Morning’, the band’s crowdfunded debut EP as a quartet, featuring “an anthropomorphized journey through the changing seasons, a pensive ode to the Moon and a bawdy tale of a (not so) lascivious sailor… just some of the characters that come vividly to life through Tell Tale Tusk’s dynamic storytelling.” In keeping with Rotherhithe’s ongoing celebrations of the three-hundred-and-ninety-seventh anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, expect a few sea shanties too. Meanwhile, see below for the quartet’s arrangement of an old English folk song performed earlier in the year at Sofar Sounds, plus a rip through Ungrateful Wench from one of the occasions when the band goes out as a rhythm-section-bolstered sextet.



 
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Sefiroth
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 3rd December 2017, 6.30pm
information

Via projects such as Otriad, Blue-Eyed Hawk, Future Currents and Yurodny and through collaborations with orchestras such as the London Sinfonietta, the work of multi-disciplinary guitarist Alex Roth covers jazz, improv, contemporary classical, alternative folk and electronic music; and crosses over into dance and theatre events such as the Katarzyna Witek dance project aired earlier this month.

Sephiroth, 2017One of the projects closest to his heart is chamber-folk ensemble Sefiroth, founded with his brothers (saxophonist and flautist Nick, drummer Simon) to “explore and reimagine traditional Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) repertoire… Sung in Ladino, these ancient songs weave timeless stories of love, loss and yearning for home, evoking the lands in which the Sephardic diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, contemporary harmony, improvisation and trance-inducing rhythms.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything new from Sephiroth, although various combinations of the band, drawn from a pool of mostly Anglo-Sephardic musicians – percussionist Francesco Turrisi, trumpeter Alex Bonney, cellist Shirley Smart and bassist Ruth Goller, with the vocals handled by Olesya Zdorovetska and violinist Alice Zawadzki – have regularly interacted with each other since the ensemble’s last full concert circa 2013. It now seems as if they’re all collectively refreshed and up for more. This Poplar Union show promises to be the first in a new set of dates for the band.

Meanwhile, see below for some excerpts from Sefiroth’s previous multimedia show, ‘Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia (The Trees Weep For Rain)’, which you can also pick up as a Bandcamp EP.



 

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