Klezmer Revival

The third album Lost Causes, keeps the music new and doesn’t sound exactly like their older albums, as happened with past heroes of Eastern European Punk tradition, Gogol Bordello. This new album is more introspective than its two predecessors and one notable difference is the emphasis on what can only be called an anthropologist’s wet dream- reviving an endangered sound and culture most thought dead, written and preserved in neat rows in some forgotten library, doomed to collect dust.

Daniel generally performs behind the garish mask of a bird with a large beak, while dressed like the rest of the band in a time warp straight from the smoky cabarets of a gay old pre-war Germany. Now, however, in a post-industrial playground for artists, Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird have found a home both musically and literally overseas (sorry kids, they moved their show). Dropping the flowery language, Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird sound like a more punk version of traditional klezmer and gypsy music. I don’t mean Itzhak Perlman meets Crass or anything along those lines, more like a little more oomph in the Tuba, a little more rock in the accordion (who’d have thought rock meets accordion right?). There has also been an increasing amount of electric instruments with a psuedo-surf sound in their recent albums, which have helped to create something a little more unique.

The song March of the Jobless Corps (Arbetslozer Marsh) for instance, it’s exemplary of their unique blend of old music with a modern edge.3 It begins with the forlorn signifier of klezmer- the clarinet, and quickly opens to the rest of the band, complete with accordion, upright bass, drums and trombone. The lyrics:

one, two, three, four/ join the marching jobless corps/ we don’t have to pay no rent/ sleeping in a camping tent/ dumpster diving don’t take money/ every bite is shared with twenty.

They are still relevant today, to those affected by mass unemployment, hidden employment and to people like myself, who enjoy dumpster diving and sharing (and sometimes sharing dumpstered food without telling people, like I do with my parents). This version is markedly different as it is faster than older renditions, hence the hyphenated klezmer-punk. It’s something appealing to younger generations and not solely to the Jewish community. This piece was written originally by Mordechai Gebirtig, that while not completely forgotten, has been reintroduced to the world, its revolutionary message and old sounds, born anew, still relevant for those of a Socialist persuasion.

If anything, it can be said of Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird that they’re creating a connection between the music of Jewish tradition (klezmer), the revolutionary Jewry of old (workers’ Bund, Jewish Socialists, etc.) and today’s generation, regardless of religious identity. So if you feel like rockin’ to the accordion, jigging to the clarinet, or reliving a time we can only imagine, then yes, listen to Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird.