Around The World In 14 Songs
Jewish Music Around The World by Willy Schwarz was released in 2003 on the RadioBremen label and is distributed in the US by Hatikvah Music. This is a very remarkable album on many counts. Its fourteen songs are a musical journey around the world, covering almost every major Jewish tradition throughout the diaspora and all sung by one singer, quite a remarkable feat in itself. But not only that, Willy Schwarz moreover plays every single instrument on this album apart from double bass, which is ably taken care of by Dirk Lueking. No less than twenty-four instruments, from the mundane such as piano and accordion to the exotic and downright esoteric such as the Central Asian/Persian/Afghan dutar and the North Indian vichitra veena or been (a relatively rarely heard instrument, along with its cousin the rudra been), and Schwarz acquits himself admirably on all of them, almost re-writing the book on multi-instrumentalism. All the interpretations are furthermore credible and bear the stamp of at the very least reasonable
authenticity. And as if all that wasn't enough, all fourteen songs were recorded in the course of a mere three days.
Perhaps best known as a one-time keyboardist/sideman for Tom Waits, Willy Schwarz is an intriguing musician with a long and extremely varied and impressive career. Born to German and Italian Jewish parents in the United States, Schwarz showed early musical inclinations, playing piano by age seven and lute by his early teens and then learned at least another dozen instruments. He started traveling all over the world, learning and absorbing the music and instruments of many different cultures, and by the 1980s Schwarz toured internationally with the early world music trio, Electricity. Willy Schwarz's credentials are impressive and include working with Shlomo Carlebach, Theodore Bikel, Ravi Shankar, David Amram, Robert Bly, Alan Ginsberg and Leon Russell, a number of radio projects and numerous compositions for the stage as well as a number of albums, of which Jewish Music Around The World is the latest.
Willy Schwarz opens his Jewish Music Around The World travelogue with Lekha Dodi, a Sabbath eve song from the Bukharan tradition of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, probably the most influential of Jewish diaspora traditions in that it was responsible for introducing the classical Middle Eastern maqam musical system to this region, along with a number of instruments. Lomir Zich Iberbeten switches to halfway around the planet and Yiddish North America with an excellent rendition of this well-known song by legendary Chazan (Cantor) Yossele Rosenblatt. Back eastwards for the Syrian Hine Ma Tov, a religious song traditionally sung at Sabbath feasts. Here, it is accompanied on ud, although traditionally it would have been accompanied by a full classical Arabic ensemble of ud, qanun, violin, ney and percussion. An excursion into the African diaspora visits the Beta Israel of Ethiopia with Na Habeya, a song celebrating the New Year. Moses Ray-Too-Ra-Lay-Ay, aka Mr. Moses Ri-Tooral-I-Ay visits Ireland for a Jewish-themed Irish song rather than a Jewish song per se. The lyrics deviate marginally from those of the well-known Clancy Bros. and Tommy Makem version (available on CD on The Best of The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, issued by Columbia/Legacy in the US during 2002). If the liner notes of Jewish Music Around The World are to be believed, the song is set prior to Irish independence when spoken and written Gaelic were outlawed by the British, the hapless policeman of the story mistaking a peddler's Hebrew-scripted sign for Gaelic. However, as the song also prominently references Robert Briscoe, Dublin's first Jewish Lord Mayor in the 1950s and 60s, this is clearly an error. This slight textual discrepancy aside, this is an excellent interpretation without even a hint of an American accent. The Sabbath morning liturgy How good are thy tents, Oh Jacob, Ma Tovu, is set in the dastgah Dashti of classical Iranian music and comes from the north-western Azeri region of Iran. Featuring the exquisite santur, this is a superb rendition. The Ashkenazi tradition of the Italian northeast is represented by the 18th century Tzur Mishelo, sung after the Sabbath meal. Oda Leili by contrast comes from the Yemeni Jewish tradition, a song by the 17th century poet, composer and mystic Shalom Shabazi, accompanied on a metal can, one of the substitutes for musical instruments traditionally employed to circumvent strict Muslim bans on the use of the latter. Schwarz makes his olive can sound like a million bucks! A German language cabaret song from Terezin (Theresienstadt concentration camp), Als Ob, represents the German Jewish tradition, with lyrics by inmate Leo Strauss (son of composer Oskar Strauss) and music by Willy Schwarz, who kept to the style of a group of gypsy musicians, The Ghetto Swingers, featured in a propaganda film produced by the Nazis at Terezin in 1944. The setting is superb and shows a natural affinity with the genre. The Sephardi Jewish tradition is represented by the Ladino song Poco Le Das, here in a Bosnian setting. Mi Pi El comes from the Romaniot tradition of Greece, the oldest of the Greek Jewish communities, and is sung at Simchat Torah and has a Greek refrain added to the Hebrew text of "There is none mightier..." Accompanied on a Cretan lyra, a three-stringed fiddle of Turkish origin, this rendition possesses a quite irresistible charm with its simple, sincere, down-to-earth spirituality. Sung in Ukrainian, Yiddish and Hebrew on merry occasions such as Purim or Simchat Torah, Treba Znati Yak Hulyati is a song that was possibly adopted and adapted from the Ukrainian host community. Rang takes us back to Central Asia, Tajikistan specifically, and a simple but hauntingly beautiful folk tune. The journey through Jewish musical traditions across the world ends in India with Panda Parathan, a song from the Cochin Jews sung in local Malayalam, perhaps a little oddly accompanied by the vichitra veena which firmly belongs to the North Indian or Hindustani tradition.
Willy Schwarz's Jewish Music Around The World is a fascinating exploration of a great variety of Jewish musical idioms from around the globe, and as such it provides a superb taster of various traditions. Doubtlessly, there will be those who would argue the representativeness of the sample, but any such collection will always be open to this and it is ultimately futile. Why not, instead, just accept and enjoy this wonderful music for itself. For the general audience, Schwarz provides a one-stop sampler of the incredible diversity and richness of Jewish musical traditions and idioms. For a Jewish audience, Jewish Music Around The World additionally provides an excellent opportunity for Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrakhim to take a first step to discover one another's music, and even different idioms within their own respective traditions, if they haven't done so before. Willy Schwarz has done something quite extraordinary and wonderful in creating this simply gorgeous album. Jewish Music Around The World is essential in any Jewish music as well as general world music collection.
© 2004 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.
Willy Schwarz - vocals, accordion, piano, saz, sarangi, fife, tasa, ud, darabukka, masenko, santur, doira,
duduk, daf, olive-can, tanbur, zarb, lyra, balalaika, ney, dutar, tanpura, vichitra veena, manjira, mrdanga
Dirk Lueking - contrabass