No Schmaltz, Plenty of Soul

By Rebecca Spence

Published December 23, 2008, issue of January 02, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Los Angeles — In celebration of Hanukkah, two groups under the Jewish music label JDub Records, The Sway Machinery and DeLeon, rocked a sparse but enthused crowd at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on December 20.

The Sway Machinery, a five-piece band that includes members of such indie rock stalwarts as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire, moved the crowd with its contemporary take on cantorial music. Backed up by a dazzling horn section and drummer Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the band’s lead singer, Jeremiah Lockwood — the guitarist for another JDub group, Balkan Beat Box — incanted, so to speak. As he riffed on Jewish prayers in a deep, Yiddish-sounding voice, a 20-something concertgoer could be heard saying to a friend, “I have no idea what he’s saying, but I like it.”

Dressed in a three-piece suit and a fedora hat, Lockwood harkened back to an earlier era. Appropriately so, given that his grandfather was Jacob Konigsberg, one of the Jewish world’s most famous cantors of yore. Lockwood seemed to channel the spirit of his grandfather at times: At one point, he grabbed the microphone and spewed a meandering, somewhat incomprehensible soliloquy about God and angels. The riff began, “When I first came to this country….”

Also evident in The Sway Machinery’s style is the influence of blues legend Carolina Slim, Lockwood’s mentor. The result of the band’s myriad influences is a kind of blues meets afro-pop meets a synagogue service on Manhattan’s Lower East Side circa 1930.

Trumpet player Jordan McLean — a member of the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat and funk-influenced band Antibalas — said of his involvement with The Sway Machinery, “I’m just getting in touch with a quarter of my heritage.”

And so, too, were the audience members; they numbered about 80 and ranged from a woman in a tight T-shirt that read “Old Shul,” to a few young men in yarmulkes, to a dreadlocked man with a silver chai necklace.

Next up at the event, which was organized by JDub in association with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and with sponsorship from L.A.’s Jewish Community Foundation, was DeLeon — a more rock-heavy act, based on Sephardic folk music from 15th-century Spain to 20th-century Israel. With a shock of black curly hair and a snug-fitting vest, DeLeon front man Daniel Saks looked every bit the Spanish crooner. The crowd bounced around as he sang ancient Sephardic melodies in a mix of Hebrew, English and Ladino, the language of the Spanish Jews.

Named for 12th-century kabbalistic philosopher Moses de Leon and Saks’s great-grandfather Giorgio DeLeon, the Brooklyn-based band sounds like indie rock with a Latin twist.

Asked what he thought of the bands, 35-year-old Michael Kadish, a former Obama campaign staffer, said, “No schmaltz, but plenty of soul.”

To listen to “La Serena” by DeLeon, click here.


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!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?

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.