Klezmer Goes Clubbing
Yiddish music begins to make the club scene
in former Soviet Union.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
video of a klezmer show
altered Stanislav Raiko's
"I just saw this one single
show and realized that this was my
music and I wanted to play it,"
recalled the Ukrainian-born violinist.
Raiko said he then began listening
to old recordings of Eastern European
Jewish folk music to help him master
the genre. In the late 1990s, Raiko, a
classically trained musician, started a
group called the Kharkov Klezmer
"It takes a real team to make this
music — something I couldn't find in
a classical orchestra," he said while sit-
ting in the semi-darkness of a Moscow
club minutes before going on
stage to play.
On stage later, Raiko
announced a popular tune,
"Noch a Glezl Wein," which
he said "has been always
played at Jewish weddings in
Ukraine, Moldova, the States,
or wherever Jews are."
Earlier this year, Raiko was
among four dozen musicians
and singers from across the
former Soviet Union who
took part in the seventh
annual KlezFest in St.
The event, a brainchild of the St.
Petersburg Jewish Community Center,
included professional workshops,
Yiddish classes and jam sessions culmi-
nating in concerts in St. Petersburg,
Moscow and Kishinev, Moldova.
Most music professionals in the field
credit the KlezFest for the revival of
klezmer in the former Soviet Union.
Each year, the festival brings in a
professional from the West to teach
music skills — although some of the
local musicians now have a decade of
experience of playing Yiddish folk
The Russian KlezFest has been so
successful that a group of enthusiasts
recently started a similar annual event
in Kiev, Ukraine.
"We are glad to greet you in this
club filled with smoke," Yefim
Cherniy, an Yiddish singer, who him-
self has just put a cigarette away, greet-
ed the artist-student crowd that packed
the basement of the O.G.I. club. The
downtown Moscow club is known as
one of the prime spots in the Russian
capital's club scene for avant-garde,
jazz, folk and acoustic rock music.
The club previously hosted a second
concert in three weeks by Jewish musi-
cians playing Yiddish folk music. A
club manager said both shows sold as
many tickets as a local rock artist with
a solid following.
Many in the audience at the club
came to see Psoy Korolenko, a popular
member of the Moscow underground
scene, whose own songs often weave in
elements of Yiddish folklore. The
singer has recently become interested
in klezmer and this year took part in
his second KlezFest.
That night, the sturdy
bearded performer who
sported a baseball hat with
the word "Brooklyn" on it
sang a Chasidic song with
unusual rhythmic interpreta-
Another concert highlight
was a performance by Arkady
Gendler, an 81-year-old
survivor. The Yiddish song
enthusiast, who teaches
Yiddish at a Ukrainian
Jewish school, recorded a
compact disc that was released by a
Matvey Gordon, another vocalist,
was introduced to the audience as the
"patriarch of youth Klezmer music."
The 16-year-old high school student
from St. Petersburg said he learned his
first Yiddish song at age 5 while
attending Hebrew school.
Yevgeny Hazdan, a composer and
KlezFest artistic director, says local
Jewish communities benefit first from
the ldezmer revival, but that the
klezmer movement has a broader goal.
"We are trying to make this music
— from traditional Yiddish songs to
Chasidic folklore — a part of Russia's
world music scene.
"Between ourselves, we joke that
there are two Jewish things about St.
Petersburg that most people know: the
Choral Synagogue and KlezFest."
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