Music of the Mind

A ‘Happy Soul’ in Argentina Blends Sounds of the World

By Adam J. Sacks

Published April 29, 2009, issue of May 08, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Hailing from the land of Tango in Buenos Aires, Simja Dujov writes music that resembles almost anything other than that classic genre. Known as “the Jewish Manu Chao,” he has a sound that is ironic and humorous rather than wistful and melancholy, rhythmic and driving as opposed to nonpercussive. Dujov’s music is uniquely of its time and place, avoiding the character of Tango, which longs for a Europe of the past. A fusion of Cumbia (a Colombian urban dance music) and reggaeton, with traces of hip hop and klezmer, Dujov’s heady brew could be possible only in South America. The artist is currently at work on his latest album, set for release in September, and his back story is almost as interesting as the music itself.

Fusion: Musician Simja Dujov draws from klezmer, ska, reggae, Cumbia and a variety of other styles.
Adam J. Sacks
Fusion: Musician Simja Dujov draws from klezmer, ska, reggae, Cumbia and a variety of other styles.

Dujov (his full name is pronounced Sim-cha Du-chov) was born Gabriel Dujovne in Córdoba, Argentina, the nation’s second-largest city, with almost 2 million inhabitants and about 15,000 Jews. Dujov, 26, is the grandson of one of many Ukrainian Jews who put down roots in the agricultural settlements of the country’s Entre Rios region as part of Baron Maurice de Hirsch’s renewal project that competed with Zionist immigration. Dujov took the stage name Simja Dujov because it means “happy soul” in Hebrew and Russian, respectively.

When he was 18, at the encouragement of his music professor, Dujov joined Córdoba’s Yiddish choir, Halevai, and that was the beginning of his career as a performer. Discovering Argentine klezmer legend Marcello MoguIlevsky, though, is what really inspired him. After hearing MoguIlevsky play live, Dujov wandered the streets, wondering, “How can they live without listening to this?”

In 2005, Dujov formed the Klezmer Strudel Band in Córdoba, the first klezmer ensemble in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires. The group earned a regular gig at the city’s Jewish community house and received press coverage and invitations throughout the region. Yet, Dujov quickly grew tired of the traditional klezmer scene. “Playing at weddings was not fun; they treat you as part of the help,” he said. “Klezmer in Argentina is musically more non-Jewish. I don’t feel represented or a part of it.” In fact, most of the 10 or so klezmer bands based in Buenos Aires are largely made up of non-Jews who function commercially for Jewish events. Dujov’s brother, Alejandro, an adviser to the American Jewish Committee, explained the phenomenon by adding: “It’s positive in that it’s Jewish music beyond the ghetto. On the other hand, it’s a sign that many Jews are not interested in klezmer.”

Dujov, whose klezmer band had performed in meticulously re-created prewar shtetl-like garments, aspired to expand his musical horizons. Not wanting to fall into a commercial or academic trap, Dujov connected with the YOK Project, a Jewish not-for-profit organization based in Buenos Aires that professes to reach “the non-institutionalized Jew outside of the Jewish bubble.” For a while, YOK championed Dujov’s work, and he played in a number of street fairs under the project’s auspices. But he said, “They were not transgressive enough for me. Jewish musical interaction in Latin America is minimal; the Jewish community chooses security over life.”

Dujov focused his attentions on writing music for theater productions and on his job as a radio DJ, while working to create a new sound. He recorded two albums based on Latin music: “Em Outras Palavras,” released in Brazil in 2006, and “Del Lado Equivocado,” released in Argentina last year. He turned to various Latin influences and rhythms that have gained popularity in Argentina in recent years.

Dujov originally gravitated toward Cumbia and reggaeton that were reinterpreted through European electronic formats. In his global blend of klezmer, ska and reggae, along with traces of Leonard Cohen and New York Gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, Dujov does not merely show points of contact — he actually mixes everything together, with seemingly effortless flair. Beyond the stage, Dujov lives his fusion. His dreadlocks attest to linkages between Rastafarianism and Zionism. He’s a conceptualist but not an instrumentalist, and his eight-member band includes electronic and acoustic instruments, such as the tuba and accordion.

Dujov will tour Europe this summer, and he expects to book shows this fall in New York City, once his forthcoming album is finished. He is currently in talks with the manager of Matisyahu and with JDub Records to secure American distribution for his music.

“I am always discovering who I am, and I feel comfortable serving as a bridge between styles and audiences,” Dujov said. Still perfecting his new sound, Dujov uses music as an extension of his therapy. “If you don’t do psychoanalysis here, you’re crazy,” he said. His self-designed motto, which is included in one of his most popular songs, “To Stay or To Go,” reads like spiritual advice for those living in the modern world:

a alegria no es un mandato (happiness is not a commandment)

a tristeza no es un castigo (sadness is not a punishment).


Simja Dujov’s “To Stay or To Go” can be heard below:


Adam J. Sacks is a writer living in New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.