What a wonderful atmosphere in the cosy wood panelled interior of the GoVinum wine bar in Bad Godesberg with this evening’s stars Stefanie Hölze and Daniel Marsch, who together as the Klezmer Duo Tangoyim brought Ulf Breuer’s latest half year of “live acoustic music on the last Tuesday of the month” to a very fitting close at the end of the spring season in 2012 before the long summer break.
John Harrison reports.
“Tangoyim” at GoVinum’s “live acoustic music on the last Tuesday of the month” concerts.
Daniel who certainly does not lack the courage of his own conviction, primed up the piano accordion, appropriately branded: “World Champion” / ”Weltmeister” in German, and soon Stefanie’s lilting violin melodies are transporting us through two Hungarian dances, known as “Verbunks” which were originally military recruitment dances, as the crowd slowly begins contagious foot tapping, which continues throughout the evening.
After the instrumentals Daniel opens up the singing on “Gasnzinger” a Yiddish tango which relates the eternal devastatingly hard times of a street or alley singer, on the hardest stage in the world, and winds up with a mischievous musical ending. A third, invisible member of the band, with impeccable timing, Kismet, seemed to be sitting in on special effects throughout the whole evening.
Next up is one of my personal favourites “Ajde Jano” a traditional folk song from Macedonia. Stephanie sings its haunting melody, which is one of those songs which everyone has heard somewhere, sometime, but few would be able to tell you when or where was the exact first and indeed the last time they heard it. Stephanie sings us through the lyrics where the bridegroom who has a seriously strong dancing addiction entreats his wife Jana to dance the “Kolo”, not as a mere Friday night distraction, but as a way of life, even if it means selling the horse and the house in order to achieve their dream, of doing nothing else but dancing. Just dancing. Powerful thoughts and lyrics indeed! It is played on the deeper sounding viola rather than the violin, as if to stress its deeper tones.
Two Russian dance instrumentals follow known as “Chorovods” which were originally circle dances with choral overlays. Then time for another song, and this time a love song “ Akh, nem mikh liber” (“Take me my love”) accompanied by the accordion and violin. Steffi swaps her fiddles and bows for the clarinet and shows us that she has equal dexterity with a wind instrument, as she is accompanied by Daniel’s accordion on an instrumental dance tune. “Di zaposhkelekh” follows, another delightful Jewish love song where the couple love one another so much that when they are apart they feel akin to “a door without a latch”, or is it more as Daniel surmises akin to “a latch without a door”? The singer is willing to forgo all of life’s supposed luxuries, including even wearing shoes, in exchange for the mere simple pleasure of being together, in love. “The golden peacock” follows, as Steffi reaches for the viola, a haunting lullaby to sing a child to sleep, before we awake on the other side of the Atlantic for the last song of the first set.
The USA in general and New York City in particular, played a very important rôle as a repository, a safe haven, for Klezmer music. The many waves of both enforced and voluntary Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe in the last century meant that this particular Yiddish music genre escaped as well, “im Gepäck”, as it were, inside the scant luggage which accompanied most of these emigrants, but moreover inside their heads and in their hands and voices. For many decades this music was dormant and not really popular, outside of the self enclosed Ashkenazi communities, but more importantly though, it was kept alive there to see the light of better days ahead. “Di grine Kuzine“/ “The greenhorn female cousin” describes the arrival of a new immigrant in New York who discovers very quickly that life is often not as rosy on the other side of the fence, or the ocean, as it is sometimes perceived to be. The years of hard toil she experiences allows the narrator in the song to read in her eyes “ To hell with Columbus’ paradise!”. The cousin found shelter and lodgings and employment in New York but she still had to pay her “dues” to the new world. There were no free rides and free lunches for poor Ashkenazi immigrants in New York City.
Never was a break more welcome, if only in order to catch our collective breaths and reflect upon all the wonderful music we had just heard and also catch up with the diverse people in the room who had all been listening in awe to such wonderful music and stories too.
What is it exactly about this music? It is like melancholy with wings, intertwined, with poverty, with sheer poetry, but where religion becomes, excess imagination, both joy and hope, in adversity, simply all things, in one, seamlessly interwoven. A German friend once told me that society could strip a person of all their worldly possessions and personal freedom but there was one most important thing that it could not get its hands on, “dein Mut nehmen” to take away one’s own personal courage, but “Mut” in German, and presumably in Yiddish too, is a three letter monosyllabic word which encompasses so much more than one can adequately translate with just one sole English word: grit, braveness, mettle, guts, pluckiness, valour, will, even audacity are all evoked with this one three letter word “mut”. It was the one thing left to poor people who had lost most everything else, and it manifests itself in Klezmer music, as if this short simple word “mut” is its very soul and spirit and entire raison d’être. The core of what is to be a “naked ape” in a harsh environment. Dr. Martin Luther King once famously and correctly said that it was unfair to expect a man to pull himself up by his own bootstraps if he didn’t even own any boots. When, however like the lovers, in the song “Di zaposhkelekh” they have foregone footwear of their own accord in the pursuit of true love and happiness together, then it would seem that in Klezmer music, especially after a visit to one of the ebullient rabbis for a few tips, even this absurdity of self induced uplift by the strength of one’s own virtual bootstraps in non existent boots, suddenly falls distinctly within the realms of physical possibility. Blind Faith, as religious leaders of all doctrines ceaselessly remind us can work wonders, move mountains and inspire miracles.
“Tangoyim” do Klezmer exactly how it should be done, with distinction, joy and dexterity, with flawless jovial timing, and intricate changes yet constantly with a twinkle in their eyes and a meadow full of wild flowers in their hearts.
The second half restarts the evening with Daniel on the Accordion and Steffi on the violin, with a wonderful rendition of the instrumental “Jiddische Mame”, which starts off slower than a funeral march, but soon picks up enough tempo to get all our toes tapping once again, before we encounter some of the most surrealist hasidic Rabiss you could ever imagine! “Der Philosof” / “The Philosopher” describes super Rabbis who need neither steamships to cross oceans nor airships to cross skies. Such wonderful thoughts of super humans even before the days of MARVEL comic super heroes. These rabbis are wide eyed and dancing and endowed with cosmic powers, as if from another planet! Steffi’s staccato string plucking style further enhances the “mind over matter” surrealism of the song.
Two wedding dances “Boyberiker khasene Hora” and “Goldene Khasene” are played as instrumentals before we are treated to the most admirable Jiddish New Year’s tradition, of emptying one’s pockets of last years burden by simply throwing a small bundle into the river with “ Fun Tashlikh” featuring Steffi on the clarinet once more, were a further joy to behold. Perhaps this song was the original inspiration of an English song, popular amongst servicemen in WW I, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile”?
Yet more rabbi excesses were contained in the song “Der rebbe Elimelekh” who loved nothing more than to celebrate the Sabbath in the most raucous and confusing way possible, with fiddles, cymbals and drums, and reminds one of a Yiddish version of the “Old King Cole Was A Merry Old Soul” nursery rhyme.
For me the highlight of the evening was a more modern instrumental Klezmer song from New York, written by Andy Statman, a contemporary Yiddish songwriter who lives there, and a brilliant new addition to Tangoyim’s wondrous repertoire. “Flat Bush Waltz” musically describes a part of Brooklyn in New York City. Here you hear Andy Statman perform it himself with mandolin legend David Grisman making a guest appearance along side him:
A wonderful Klezmer melody which respects tradition whilst also being inspirationally creative. A sign of the growing awareness and popularity of Klezmer music in modern times, with the New World not only merely saving the Klezmer music of the Old World, but now going a step further and actively contributing to its rejuvenation. A gypsy song from Rumania that returned from France with French lyrics sung by Daniel is “Johnny – Marche des Manouches” constantly speeding up and slowing down it allows both Daniel and Steffi to shine and demonstrate their musical skills and wonderful interlocking complementary melodies.
Although Steffi and Daniel were both suffering from severe colds that would have floored lesser mortals, being the seasoned professionals that they are, and doubtless themselves motivated by the power of their own music, one barely noticed it in the first set, but as the evening wore on, their voices began to slowly wear out under the strain and so as an encore, we, the audience, were all not only allowed, but were actively implored to sing, about how, as Daniel pointed out, Jewish peasants had equally inferior rights as white Russian peasants post 1917 revolution! Before the revolution only Jews were not allowed to own property, but after the revolution nobody was! Communism is such a great leveller. So we all sang the chorus on “Dzahnkoye”, which was done with a vigour and passion and with a volume far belying our numbers!
So it was a wonderful evening with Tangoyim, and an inspired musical journey throughout twentieth century Europe and North America. It is not just their skill as musicians, veritable as it certainly is, which makes the evening so enjoyable, it is rather also the love and passion with which they infuse this music, allowing it to raise phoenix-like from the ashes of time and live again, simply effervescing with foot tapping life on one of its better halcyon days. This is the sort of music which is empowering and somehow appropriate in all conditions and at all times. Even when times are “drop dead” hard, Klezmer music somehow manages to conjure, as if from nowhere, that spark of unexpected vibrant hope, just around the corner, which starts kicking in as soon as your feet start tapping. That’s some feat indeed, transforming, not base metals into gold like the forlorn quest of the ancient alchemists, but rather successfully transforming indescribable human despair into boundless tangible hope, merely through the power of music!
Hats off to that!
Do visit their website to find out more about them:
http://www.tangoyim.de/musik.php where there are loads of videos and audio tracks to
familiarise yourself with their music. Do buy their CDs and if you get the chance DO go and see them live, they’re well worth it.
A glass of Glenlivet rounded off the evening very well indeed before the walk home, with the self sung refrain of “Dzahnkoye” still ringing in our ears. After a short while discussing music, my companion, who had once lived in Brazil, suggested that if we quickened our gait we would just be in time to still listen to the start of a radio broadcast on WDR3 featuring “Shoro” a Brazilian music genre based on Portuguese Fado fused with South American and Jazz elements.
That’s the trouble with world music, there’s a whole world full of it!