To listen to audio on Rock Paper Scissors you'll need to Get the Flash Player

log in to access downloads
Sample Track 1:
"Frank London's "The Bottom of the Well"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 2:
"The Sway Machinery's "A Staff of Strength in the Hands of the Righteous"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 3:
"Mycale's "Elel"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 4:
"Balkan Beatbox's "Move It"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 5:
"Yair Dalal's "Ya Ribon Olam"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 6:
"Adrienne Cooper's "Borsht"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 7:
"Divahn's "Elnora"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 8:
"Flory Jagoda's "Una Noce Al Lunar"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Sample Track 9:
"Geoff Berner's "Half German Girlfriend"" from Ashkenaz Festival
Layer 2
Ashkenaz Festival (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) Extreme Yiddish Makeover: Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival Spotlights the Multicultural Morph and Jubilance of Pan-Jewish Culture

All roads lead to the Ashkenaz Festival, following the twists and turns of a boldly adaptive, constantly evolving culture. They are highways running from Klezmer hotspots like New York, Berkeley, and Berlin. They are medieval trade routes spanning from the Sephardic heartlands of Spain and Morocco to dusty desert trails of the Middle East. Some are faint, forgotten paths from unsung outposts like Florence, Sarajevo, Kishinev and Rio de Janeiro. Others run from imagined clubs where klezmorim jam with salseros, cantors croon with Afrobeat brass bands, and 80’s “hair” bands belt out Yiddish ditties accompanied by screeching guitars and synthesizers.

They come together at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (and several other venues) for dozens of free performances and events August 31-September 6, 2010 (full festival information at With more than 90 acts and 200 individual artists hailing from over a dozen countries, North America’s premier festival of Jewish music and culture is marking its 15th anniversary in an undertaking so ambitious that it has taken two years of planning to organize.

Originally created by and for Klezmer/Yiddish junkies, a perhaps surprising streak of rebelliousness is wired into Ashkenaz’s DNA. Recalling the “revivalist” impulse that gave birth to the festival, Artistic Director Eric Stein notes “the idea of resurrecting music and art rooted in east European Jewish traditions was actually pretty subversive in its day. The Festival founders were really counter-cultural insurgents, challenging the status quo of a fairly conservative Jewish community and angling for mainstream ‘world’ music respectability.”

Fifteen years and eight festivals later, subversion is now taking a new form at Ashkenaz with the expansion of the festival’s mandate beyond the horas, freylekhs and folksongs beloved by hardcore Yiddishists and Klez-heads. “Our festival now reflects a whole universe of cutting-edge contemporary Jewish music and art, whether it’s Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Mizrachi or cross-cultural.”

The Festival’s bold and constantly expanding vision resounds this year in the cutting-edge work of so many of its headline artists, including pan-Mediterranean funksters Balkan Beat Box (Sept 5), 14-piece Jewish/Romani (Gypsy) supergroup The Other Europeans (Sept 4), and the avant-garde opera of Frank London’s “Night in the Old Marketplace” (Sept 6), a theatrical Yiddish ghost story shaped as much by old world folklore as by Tom Waits-style musical satire. Juxtaposed with octogenarian headliners like Bosnian-Ladino legend Flory Jagoda (Sept 4) and 3rd-generation Philadelphia Klezmer drumming icon Elaine Hoffman-Watts (Sept 4), Ashkenaz audiences experience the past, present and future of Jewish music.

Musicians working in Jewish traditions have long been distinguished for their experimentalism, embracing a vibrant array of influences and eclectic sounds from across the globe. “It’s the same story the world over: wherever the Jewish diaspora reached, its musicians either borrowed from the host culture to develop new hybrids or assimilated so seamlessly that they became key figures in the transmission of local musical culture. Whether it’s a 19th century Polish village or the 21st century global village, that really is the true genius of Jewish musical creation.”

That genius shines in a surprisingly vibrant young and hip generation of Jewish musicians appearing at Ashkenaz this summer. Cantorial tradition inspires the high-intensity indie rock of The Sway Machinery (Sept 5), while Yiddish song takes on a totally bizarre twist with Yiddish Princess (Sept 4), inspired by ’80s power pop and arena rock. Biblical texts and multi-lingual poetry gain a new voice with Mycale (Sept 6), an all-female vocal quartet interpreting the “Radical Jewish” music of John Zorn.

Along with pop, rock, and jazz, Jewish musicians draw on elements beyond the Eastern European-centric roots that once dominated the klezmer revival and lent the Festival its name. Ashkenaz features more Sephardic and Mizrachi music this summer than ever before, with the all-female, Persian/middle-Eastern fusion of Divahn (Sept 5), the all-star Sephardic and Moroccan wanderings of Gerard Edery and the Caravan Ensemble (Sept 5), and Iraqi-born, Israel-based oud and violin virtuoso Yair Dalal (Sept 4-6), Ashkenaz’s 2010 Artist-in-residence.

Given the porous, cosmopolitan, and flexible nature of Jewish music, it’s no surprise that Ashkenaz performers seem to conjure all manner of real and imagined cross-cultural musical encounters. In “Nightsongs from a Neighboring Village (Sept 6), two Yiddish and Ukrainian musicians explore how the voices of Yiddish and Slavic folk bards once intertwined. More fantastical dialogues include Lenka Lichtenberg’s (Sept 4) fusion of Yiddish song with Indian classical music, while Odessa/Havana (Sept 5) slams mambo and matzo balls in a high-octane invocation of the wildly different spirits of two famous musical port cities.

Canada’s own young Jewish music creators feature prominently at Ashkenaz. “Canada is home to some of the most creative musicians in this scene today” says Stein, citing the global fusion of Jaffa Road (Sept 6), the Bulgarian gypsy funk of Kaba Horo (Sept 6), the hipster jazz of Zebrina (Sept 5), and the world premiere, festival commission of Les Batards du Bouche (Sept 5), four young Quebecois harmonica hotshots resurrecting the kitschy but musically-sophisticated sound of harmonica quartets to render an all-new repertoire of serious Jewish harmonica music. Stein himself gets into the act when he picks up his mandolin to front his newest ensemble Tio Chorinho (Sept 6), which will pay tribute to the great Jewish mandolin master of Brazil, Jacob do Bandolim.

Toronto, Canada’s capital of multicultural exuberance, has proven to be the perfect crossroads for the traditionally innovative Jewish sounds of Ashkenaz. “Every year, nearly half of the 50,000-60,000 attendees are not Jewish,” Stein notes. “It’s an opportunity to share Jewish culture and values with the broader community and it’s incredibly gratifying to see so large and multicultural an audience enthusiastically embrace Jewish cultural forms.”

Rounding out its music-heavy program with a spate of lectures, panel discussions, films, family activities and hands-on dance and music workshops, Ashkenaz provides a rich context in which to immerse in the brilliance of Jewish art forms and celebrate their adaptability to varying cultural contexts. But all loftier goals aside, the heart of the Festival is the joyful synergy of connecting multicultural audiences with diverse performers. “It’s really a one-of-a-kind event,” concludes Stein, before adding “and it’s one helluva great party!”