Cha-cha: From Oy Vey to Olé

By Alex Suskind

Published July 29, 2009, issue of August 07, 2009.
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The scene is early 1950s New York: Many European Jews were living on the Lower East Side, spending most of their time raising families, creating businesses and dancing to Latin music.

Wait, what?

That’s right; Jews were some of the earliest supporters of the Latin music craze that swept the country in the late ’40s and ’50s. And to celebrate this mix of cultures, the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, an organization dedicated to unearthing lost American Jewish pop music, will reissue “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos,” a 1961 album that reinterprets classic Yiddish pieces through Latin dance music.

The re-mastered “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos” turns such tunes as Herman Yablokoff’s “Papirossen” into an up-tempo mambo, and the bar/bat mitzvah favorite “Hava Nagila” into a groovy cha-cha.

The album was recorded by Grammy-award-winning Latin and jazz legend Ray Barretto, “Giant of the Keyboards” Charlie Palmieri and trumpeters Clark Terry and Doc Cheatum, among others. For “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos,” these renowned musicians played under the band name Juan Calle and his Latin Lantzmen.

The August 11 re-release of the album will be followed by a free concert at Lincoln Center on August 23, where the Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Sextet, along with other jazz and Latin musicians, will play “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos” in its entirety.

Bring your dancing shoes and mambo moves.


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