about "Roots of Klezmer": Michel Borzykowski interviews Shane Solow

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Posted by Lost Trails on 21:26:31 20/11/05

Lost Trails recently released "Roots of Klezmer", a recording of Constantin Lupu performing Moldavian Jewish melodies. One of our first customers was the renowned klezmer musician, Michel Borzykowski. The following is a transcript of an email exchange between Mr. Borzykowski and Shane Solow, the man responsible for assembling the musicians and recording the album.

Michel Borzykowski: Hello! Thank you again for the CD that I got some time ago and that I listened with great interest and pleasure. The style of the music seems definitely to be located on the border between Jewish and Gypsy music, although often a bit more on the Gypsy side.

Shane Solow: Yes, there is Ukrainian, Jewish, Gypsy and Romanian music all combined in these melodies, but what we tried to do with varied success was to focus as exclusively on those tunes that exhibit the most Jewish influence. That was determined by me to some degree but more by Lupu himself. Some of the tunes for instance were learned by Lupu directly from one of the last Jewish musicians still active in the area some twenty years ago, and we asked him to play all of those melodies in particular. Since it is difficult to disentangle all these influences and determine where the Jewish element starts and the Gypsy, or other elements, come in since often these influences might dominate at any one time or another in the same song.

MB: I (and certainly many listeners) am absolutely eager to learn more about these musicians. Who are they?

SS: I describe them in some detail in the essay I wrote but I can add that Lupu learned first to play violin in the village where he was born from local musicians and members of his family. Then he enrolled in the Conservatory and learned "serious" violin technique. He turned away from that road however and finally returned to "village" music. I have also recorded many of the tunes he played performed in a very rough style by a village gypsy, and it is interesting to compare the various interpretations. Hopefully we will have that CD edited in a few months.

MB: When and where did they learn this music? Do they consider it as Jewish or co-territorial?

SS: These particular melodies are considered by them to exhibit "Jewish Influence" for reasons described above, either because they were handed down by Jewish musicians who they learned from directly or because they determined this from their own judgment.

MB: Do they play it in the same manner the old-time klezmorim played it?

SS: This is difficult to answer and to do so one would have to find recordings done by Jewish musicians from the region. Perhaps this is available is some archives but it would be difficult to find. During Communist times, while extensive field recordings were done all over Romania, the ethnomusicologists were encouraged not to focus or even write down the various ethnic groups of the parties they were recording. Still, there is certain to be extensive recordings of Jewish music in these archives if someone has the money and devotion to get this researched. The Aromanian community for instance convinced the Institute of Ethnography and Folklore in Bucharest to find recordings that were done in their community and a CD was created, so it would be great if the Jewish community did the same.

MB: Or do they interpret old Jewish themes in their own ("Gypsy"?) way?

SS: Lupu is not a Gypsy by the way. He is Romanian. I think he would say that he does not so much "interpret" Jewish themes as simply to play them as he learned them in the "correct" way.

MB: What relationship did they have with the Jews?

SS: I know that he had one or two Jewish musicians that he was close to at one time and from whom he learned many of the melodies. Another source was a Gypsy named Ion Roman who Lupu learned Jewish melodies from. Ion Roman learned them from Jews in his village before the war. This Ion Roman is still alive and I recorded him. He is a wonderful encyclopedia of melodies BUT he had not played in nearly ten years and no longer even owned a violin. I so wanted to record Jewish melodies that I found him a violin and brought him into a city to a recording studio at great personal expense. Although the melodies are wonderful his technique has suffered due to his age and lack of practice and there is a squeaky quality to some of the melodies. Still, I think it is important stuff! I could not find any actual Jewish musicians still alive despite over one month of research in this region, unfortunately.

MB: How do they feel to play it, knowing that the Jews of their country have been exterminated?

SS: They really do not feel that these "Jewish influenced" melodies are one bit more important than any other melody they like to play. And indeed the other stuff is also great, so I can't blame them. But I wanted to focus on the Jewish melodies and since I was paying they were happy to oblige.

If you have any more questions I would be happy to answer them if I can.

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