Latin Chutzpah

'Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos' Comes to Life at Lincoln Center Festival

Ole! Sandra Velasquez, of the Latin folk group Pistolera, belts out her rendition of ‘Yossel, Yossel.’
Alex Suskind
Ole! Sandra Velasquez, of the Latin folk group Pistolera, belts out her rendition of ‘Yossel, Yossel.’

By Alex Suskind

Published August 24, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Tito Puente never had a bar mitzvah, but if he did, the celebration might have looked a little like the scene outside Lincoln Center on August 23, during the grand finale of the center’s summer Out of Doors festival.

Despite the rain, the final concert of the series attracted a mixed group, as Arturo O’Farrill and His Afro-Cuban Sextet took to the stage at Damrosch Park Bandshell to perform the 1961 album Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos, a collection of Yiddish songs reinterpreted through Latin music, in its entirety.

The album, which was originally recorded by Grammy-award-winning musician Ray Barretto, along with jazz greats Clark Terry and Doc Cheatham and salsa legend Charlie Palmieri, among others, was re-released August 11 by the Idelsohn Society, an organization committed to preserving and restoring forgotten American Jewish pop music.

With help from several renowned jazz and Latin musicians, the Cuban Sextet put on a spectacular re-creation of the original recording while adding its own unique flavor and style.

On “Beltz, Mein Shtetele Beltz,” composer and pianist O’Farrill set the mood, leading the way on an improvised version of the album’s opening track, while the diverse crowd, made up of multigenerational Jews and Hispanics, danced away to the horn-laden, up-tempo pachanga, a Latin music style made up of energetic, syncopated rhythms (the word pachanga literally means “lively party” in Spanish).

Aaron Johnson of the Antibalas Horns and Gary Valente of the Afro-Cuban Sextet upped the ante on “Die Greene Koseene,” as both musicians switched off with their own hair-raising trombone solos, while Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery provided crisp guitar playing and lead vocals.

For the 1922 Yiddish classic “Yossel, Yossel” –– covered by the Andrews Sisters as “Joseph! Joseph!” in 1938 –– Sandra Velasquez, lead singer of the Latin folk group Pistolera, stepped up and put her own spin on the tune she sang as “José, José.”

The highlight of the night occurred when 94-year-old piano legend Irving Fields came out to play a medley of Jewish classics, including a cha-cha version of everybody’s favorite, “Havah Nagilah.” Fields, who is perhaps best known for his 1959 album “Bagels and Bongos,” banged away on the piano as the crowd began dancing in the aisles, holding hands and singing along.

The sextet finished off the evening with the same energy it had exhibited throughout the night, as the group was joined onstage by salsa legend Larry Harlow (who played earlier on “Papirossen” and “Freilach a Nacht”), Jewish klezmer great Michael Alpert (who had contributed vocals and accordion playing throughout the performance) and Velasquez for the album’s closing number, “Bei Mir Bist du Shein.”

Although Puente is no longer with us, he would’ve been proud of the showmanship and energy of Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Cuban Sextet, and of the extensive number of guest musicians, that helped make the re-creation of “Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos” possible. Forty-eight years after its release, Jewish-Latin fusion finally got its aliyah!

Alex Suskind is a frequent contributor to the Forward.


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!
  • 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?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • 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.