Lucid Culture


CD Review: Brave Old World – Songs of the Lodz Ghetto

With a total of eighteen tracks, this is something akin to a musical version of the documentary film Shoah. Recorded live in Bordeaux in 2004, Songs of the Lodz Ghetto is rustic klezmer group Brave Old World’s stark, absolutely haunting tribute to the Jewish musicians slaughtered in the Holocaust whose work documented their last desperate days. Featuring several songs with lyrics by Lodz ghetto composer Yankele Herszkowicz set to music by the band, the cd does double duty as notable artistic achievement and historical document. Brave Old World frontman/multi-instrumentalist Michael Alpert sings in Yiddish. In addition, the cd contains several field recordings of Lodz Holocaust survivor Yaakov Rotenberg singing songs from the ghetto, captured on tape by historian Gila Flam in the mid-80s. Although the tone is stoic and frequently leavened with macabre humor, much of it is absolutely heartbreaking: the generally somber, sometimes funereal, sometimes frantic feel of the music transcends any linguistic boundaries.


A recording of Rotenberg opens the cd, singing a caustically sarcastic tribute to Lodz Judenrat chief Chaim Rumkovski, followed by cascades of piano into a bouncy dance. The traditional party anthem A Real Fine Mazltov goes by quickly, its place taken by the mournful accordion, clarinet and strings of an Alpert original, Not Just Joy. Black humor takes center stage in the ghetto folksong Because I’m a Jew, a bleak chronicle of the many ways to die, followed by the riveting It’s Shackles and Chains, a traditional melody in the Middle Eastern hijaz scale with a fiery, bitter Yankele Herszkowicz lyric. Whenever he pops up here, Herszkowicz comes off like a Joe Strummer or a Woody Guthrie, indelibly a refusenik with a vicious sense of humor. He would no doubt approve of this recording. As would Isaiah Shpigl, who survived both Lodz and Auschwitz and whose understated tango ballad Close Your Eyes – an exile’s story – is also represented here. The group plays dark and stately, letting just a bit of light in when the sarcastic humor kicks in, or when they get satirical, as with the military march on There Goes a Yeke (a German Jew). The cd finally closes with a long, somber nocturne credited to Asrael Mandelbaum. As worthwhile a work of art as it is an irreplaceable and particularly timely piece of history. Beautifully packaged by Winter & Winter in a hardcover gatefold case with a lyric book including English translations.  


December 29, 2008 - Posted by | Culture, Music, Reviews

1 Comment »

  1. It is important that we remember the senseless and brutal killing of innocent Jews, just as we acknowledge the senseless and brutal killing of innocent Palestinians in the Gaza invasion.

    Comment by delarue | December 29, 2008 | Reply

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