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Sample Track 1:
"Devil" from Boxes, Bagels & Elephants
Sample Track 2:
"Elephant Mentsh" from Boxes, Bagels & Elephants
Layer 2
Kabbalah, 2012 US Tour Yiddish Dada of the Mediterranean:
Kabbalah’s Irrepressible Post-Klezmer Beats and Multicultural Mayhem

Debut U.S. Tour in May and June, 2012

The siren in the red dress, brandishing a bow and a bullhorn, whispers sweet nothings in your ear while an MC raps in a sadly neglected, vividly colorful language. The vintage-toned melodies, trip-hop vibes, and hard-hitting trance-inducing African rhythms swirl through the Marseilles night.

It’s Kabbalah, purveyors of Yiddish Dada and the irrepressible denizens of Southern France’s multicultural, musically adventuresome hub. They kick out the old-school European jams and conjure a world where Yiddish culture is fresh, hip, and full-on quirky.

On Boxes, Bagels & Elephants the five-piece group brings a theatrical flair and hip, carnivalesque edge to original songs in Yiddish (and English and French and Russian). Surf-rock guitars and North African answers to mandolins, vibes and samples, fables of integrating elephants and devilish warnings collide for a defiantly unique, unstoppable good time.

Kabbalah is touring the U.S. for the first time, dashing through New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz in May/June, 2012.

{full story below}

An elegant, classically trained violinist who wields a mean bullhorn. A bassist who can swing soukou or makossa while singing klezmer. A jazz guitarist who often breaks out the North African mandole. A free-styling, typewriter-banging, hard-bopping sax player. A cool cat in shades with his drumsticks on the pulse of Marseilles.

The members of Kabbalah’s Dada-esque motley crew have more in common than meets the eye. They all started out in the Marseilles jazz scene, playing around and sitting in. They all have hyphenated backgrounds: Polish-Algerian, Cameroonian-Caribbean, German-Jewish. They were all migrants to the Mediterranean port, swinging in from St. Petersburg, Dortmund, and Martinique.

“We were all jazz musicians, but not only that, and we met on the jazz scene,” explains sax player and spoken word artist Uli Wolters, a German-born hip-hop fan turned Marseilles multi-instrumentalist. “Everyone has different influences—hip hop, rock, traditional music from Africa—so we naturally integrated all this into the music. It was hard to find exactly what worked, not to go too far astray in all those crazy directions. It took a while for us to get to something we all loved.”

“The group started out under the influence of jazz and klezmer at first,” comments Kabbalah instigator, Polish-Algerian guitarist Steph Galeski. “Then, as we began write our own songs, our repertoire went in a more contemporary direction. But these first influences remain important because they were there when the group first came together. It’s what united us at first, even if now we’re taking more musical liberties.”

These sonic liberties resulted in dubbed-out cabaret numbers (“7 Worlds”), North African-inflected fables of integration and intolerance (“Elephant Mentsh”), sepia-toned klezmer riffs with wry samples and a burst of English free-styling (“Devil”), old-school rap meets swooping strings and complicated endearments (“Mein Sugar Pie”). And perhaps one of the sexier songs ever penned in Yiddish, complete with a wink at trip hop (“Love Shnorer”).

Yet there’s a single, unexpected thread that ties together the diversity and diverging ideas: Yiddish, a language some of the musicians heard from their grandparents that seemed simple on the surface—but proved surprisingly tough to approach.

Kabbalah knows, however: The language is no gimmick. It’s central to understanding and playing the music. “If you’re inspired by Eastern European music, you have to take the language along with the music,” Galeski reflects.

“We didn’t want to simply arrange and sing old lyrics because, sadly, everything stopped at one, single point in Europe, for well-known historical reasons,” adds Wolters. “We wanted to write about what’s going on now, today.”

“That makes sense,” Galeski adds, “because Yiddish was the language of the quotidian, of everyday life in Jewish Europe.”

The band’s use of Yiddish is not simply about cultural context, historical experiments, or reviving an almost lost linguistic and sonic world. The band pushes to find new connections, new resonances that show just how lively, fresh, and broadly appealing the long lineage of Jewish European culture can be. From weathering festival stages in the middle of Breton barnyards (a true story) to launching passionate sing-a-longs in Poland, Kabbalah knows how to get the party started, no matter who’s in the audience.

“We’re not just trying to reach the community. Half the band isn’t Jewish. We want to appeal to people who aren’t purists, who may not even know Yiddish when they hear it, who ask, ‘Hey, what language is that?’” Wolters notes. “It’s about the music itself; we just happen to write songs in Yiddish.”