Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The 13th Annual Washington Jewish Music Festival

Although the opening show was last week for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, many more shows start in rapid fire succession beginning this Thursday, May 10th with Hadag Nahash performing at the Fillmore. I will be covering a couple of the shows and will have interviews posted with Roberto Rodriguez (May 14th) and DeLeon (May 17th) here soon. But for now, here is some details about what looks to be a fascinating series of concerts, courtesy of the Chief Executive Officer of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, Carole Zawatsky.

David Hintz -  From reading about the Festival, is it fair to say that this is the biggest festival yet?

Carole Zawatsky - This is indeed the biggest one we've had. This is the 13th year of the Washington DC Jewish Music Festival. Thirteen is a significant age in Jewish life. It is the age which a young girl or boy becomes a member of a community, becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, and in the life span of this music festival, it is the coming of age of the music and it is the largest on we've had and is a celebration of all the festivals that have come before.

DH - I was curious to find out if this was a common type of festival in a number of a cities, but is it correct that this event takes place in only a few cities?

CZ - That is correct. There are a couple major metropolitan areas that have Jewish music festivals and there are many cities that have Jewish music in their calendar of events. It is only a few cities that have a really robust festival and to that end, this festival, unlike... really the only other one similar would be the San Francisco Jewish Music Festival that looks at Jewish music in a really broad way... that allows you as the participant to truly understand that Jewish music is as diverse as music in any sphere you may listen to... that hip hop and reggae is Jewish music. Jewish music is not only sacred and liturgical music or as I've come to say, it's not your parents' Jewish music. I think this festival is an opportunity for people to truly understand the breadth of the creation of Jewish music. The opening concert Hadag Nahash (May 10th) is a phenomenal band. One of their most popular songs which translates to 'the sticker song' is a reference to bumper stickers and social justice issues. And you look at that and say that this is not different than social justice issues in hip hop anywhere else.

DH - You had your May 3rd show at the Strathmore?

CZ - We have worked with them on many occasions and it has always been a wonderful partnership.

DH - Yes, it is a great facility, definitely...

CZ - And I'm thrilled that we're working with the Fillmore.

DH - Oh yeah. That's right and that is the first time?

CZ - Yes...

DH - (laughs) But of course, they haven't been around that long.

CZ - It's really fabulous to have this relationship with a new venue. And again, for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, this is music that cuts across all cultural barriers (and breaks) any notion of music for a particular group.

DH - I understand that last year you had a band that I saw 20 years ago or so, the Klezmatics, who famously taken klezmer music and pushed it into jazz and rock boundaries and it seems this year more than ever, there is an integration of other cultures. Is that something that always been a part of the festival or is it something that is expanding?

CZ - It has always been a part of it, but you are absolutely correct. It has expanded and when we have Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban All-stars, to me that is a tremendous people understand that the music of Cuba and Roberto Rodriguez is every bit as Jewish as sacred and liturgical music. Jews have lived all over the world throughout history and have always both created culture and have been impacted by the culture that they are surrounded by. And the music is a reflection of that in the same way that every other art form reflects that. So this year we do have thirteen different musical events for the thirteenth festival and Lili Kalish Gersch who is the Director of Music, Literary, and Dance here at the Jewish Community Center did an outstanding job programming a really broad range of musical events.

DH - That is definitely evident and I will be taking in a couple of the events including Roberto Rodriguez who I just interviewed. He was a very impressive guy and I am very much looking forward to that.

CZ - Great! I do want people to understand that this is a celebration of thirteen years. I love the idea of having this kind of exuberance, delight and surprise. And when I was thinking about what do you want the Washington Jewish Music Festival to reflect, it is really that... surprise, delight and exuberance.

DH - And those are good themes, especially for people like me who go to so many shows and want to avoid the simple and conformist sorts of acts.

CZ - You mentioned the Klezmatics and Alicia Svigals who was one of the original members of the Klezmatics is doing a new score and playing for a silent film on the closing night at the festival.

DH - Oh, yes. I have seen something like that at the Denver Film Festival. That is always an interesting thing to see.

CZ - Right, so you take this very traditional art form--a silent film, then a sentimental art form--Klezmer, the notion or reinventing  and re-imagining and pushing art forms forward. And this Festival is a wonderful model of that.

DH - I hope it goes great this year.

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