Nissim Baruch Black’s religious path has been winding. He was raised a non-practicing Sunni Muslim, converted to Christianity at age 14, embraced Messianic Christianity as an adult — and ultimately converted to Orthodox Judaism between 2010 and 2012. Seattle-born, he immigrated to Israel last year.
Black is also an accomplished rapper — and this week appeared in a star-studded music video titled “WeR1,” alongside other Israeli and Jewish singers.
Black’s musical path has run alongside his spiritual journey. Before coming into Judaism, Black had already begun making hip-hop inroads. Seattle Times called him “Seattle hip-hop’s first son, the mini-wrecking ball with a golden voice.” His first album was dedicated to telling the life of the streets (one early song was titled “You Need a Thug”).
But over time, his message became increasingly spiritual — and specifically Jewish. His third album, after his formal conversion, was called Ali’Yah. One song opened with the triumphant blowing of a shofar.
Now he’s collaborated with big-name Jewish and Israeli stars like Lipa Schmeltzer (their goofy, somewhat embarrassing song is called “Bar Mitzvah Time”), Gad Elbaz, Refael Mirila and others. He raps in both English in Hebrew.
Black’s latest appearance comes in a star-studded Israeli single called “WeR1,” filmed between Israel, England and the United States. The song is a project of Kesher Yehudi, a Jewish organization which “strengthens the connection between secular Jews” and the Orthodox.
Black is taking his place among other global Jewish stars.
Here is his cringe-worthy collaboration with Lipa, surely a hit at bar mitzvahs accross the world:
And another, an earlier collaboration with Gad Elbaz, performing the religious song “Hashem Melech”:
Lena Dunham was right to situate Kanye West’s latest video — which features Taylor Swift’s likeness laying naked on a bed — in rape culture.
I, not you, control who sees you naked, West seems to be telling Swift in “Famous.”
Dunham lashed out at West on Monday in an emotional post on her Facebook page.
“Now I have to see the prone, unconscious, waxy bodies of famous women, twisted like they’ve been drugged and chucked aside at a rager? It gives me such a sickening sense of dis-ease,” the Jewish actress wrote, after putting the incident in the context of Judge Aaron Persky’s slap-on-the-wrist sentence for Stanford athlete Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and rape accusations against Bill Cosby.
Dunham took the first step in comparing West’s video for the song “Famous” to rape culture, but I think more than being part of rape culture, West is actually perpetuating it.
It doesn’t matter that his video reportedly reportedly features a wax replica of the singer, because anyone seeing the photo would think it is her.
I, not you, control who sees you naked, West seems to be telling Swift in the video.
Swift isn’t the only naked celebrity in West’s video (“Famous” also featured Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Donald Trump among others), but her case is unique because a trip down memory lane reveals that this is not the first time West has targeted the blonde singer with sexist remarks.
West made headlines in February, when he rapped about hoping to have sex with Swift: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, I made that b—h famous.”
Not only does West refer to Swift in a derogatory and vulgar way but he also implies that his rude interrupting of her acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards made her famous, seemingly forgetting that she had been given the award prior to his mansplaining.
West seems to believe he has ownership over Swift’s sexuality and success. And this is precisely the kind of rhetoric that makes up rape culture — teaching men that if they desire a woman, they can have her, whether through distributing naked photos of her against her will or through actually touching her.
Anyone who spoke out against Persky’s light sentencing of Turner should not be quiet now. This is part of the same culture that lets men say or do what they want to women and then get off easy.
Contact Josefin Dolsten at email@example.com or on Twitter, @JosefinDolsten
It’s as if the rain knew to stop precisely at 6 o’clock. After one of the wettest days of the month, the sky turned from gray to blue, the clouds parted for the last hour of Tuesday sun, and Yiddish Soul took the stage at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield. The concert, a showcase of cantorial and Hasidic music, kicked off the third night of Kulturfest, the largest Yiddish cultural festival in the Big Apple since the 1930s.
Hundreds of concertgoers gathered in the park’s SummerStage venue to hear Hasidic popstars Lipa Schmeltzer and Avraham Fried, and cantors Netanel Hershtik, Joseph Malovany of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and Yanky Lemmer of Lincoln Square Synagogue. The cantors were joined by a full band – including trumpeter Frank London, a Grammy-winning artist and titan of the Klezmer revival – and by Zusha, a popular neo-Hasidic indie band from Brooklyn.
“We’re here in New York, singing in Yiddish for all the segments of our community, right to left, up and down, as I like to say,” said the emcee, Nachum Segal, who also hosts the Jewish radio show JM in the AM, broadcast on 91.1-FM from six to nine every morning. Some women wore long skirts and formal dresses, while others wore short-shorts and oversized sunglasses. Some men showed up in gym clothes and baseball caps, while others came in yarmulkes and top hats, tzitzit dangling below their belts.
Avraham Fried sang about the future – what it’ll be like when the Messiah comes and when the third Temple is built. Molevany, who sparked a great Jewish musical revival in Russia at the fall of the Soviet Union, wore a white tuxedo jacket and a bowtie. Lemmer also sang about the coming of the messiah – when Solomon will teach us wisdom, David will play the harp, Moses will teach us secrets of the Torah, and Aaron will bless us.
Lipa Schmeltzer, a frum, Borough Park artist with mainstream appeal, came out rapping in jeans and a button down. “When I say oy, you say vey. Oy? Vey! Oy? Vey!” he yelled, pointing at his listeners and banging a tambourine against his chest.
“Keep your eyes and ears and hearts open,” said one member of Zusha. The Yiddish band is perhaps best known for its nigguns, repetitive tunes with no words. The melodies loop over and over again to transport listeners to a spiritual place, and as they get louder and louder, they become increasingly uplifting. The music feels at once soulful and exotic.
“I first heard Zusha when I was at Limmud New York, and I fell in love,” said concertgoer Josh Krug, 27, a student of Education and Jewish Studies at NYU and resident of Crown Heights. “I like the spirituality, the feel of it, the creativity, the mixing of different influences in the music.”
Krug explained that there were no female performers because of kol isha, a tradition that prohibits a woman from singing alone in front of men, in order to maintain her modesty.
By the end of the concert, energy was so high that the musicians were doing cartwheels onstage. And in the back of the crowd, some were reciting maariv, the evening prayer, by the exit gates.
Krug understood very little Yiddish – he’s fluent only in Hebrew – but he said the concert was powerful nonetheless. “These cantors have been singing this stuff for generations,” he said, “and it’s an amazing, beautiful tradition.”
Ornette Coleman, one of the greatest musical innovators of the 20th century and the man who coined the term “free jazz,” died this morning in Manhattan of cardiac arrest. He was 85.
A saxophonist, composer and bandleader, Coleman, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2007 for his album, “Sound Grammar,” began playing jazz in the bebop era in the 1940s and ‘50s. His playing even then was noted for straying from the chord structures and harmonies upon which his fellow players based their music.
By the mid-late 1950s, Coleman’s groups were playing free jazz, a music based upon his own vocabulary, called “harmolodics.” While some heard this style of group improvisation as a chaotic free-for-all, in fact it was based on clear rules that Coleman had developed for his players. Coleman was influenced by a panoply of different styles, including blues, R&B, folk, and spirituals, and melody was always essential to him. It’s just that he heard melody in a different way from the prevailing pop and jazz conventions of the time.
In a revealing interview with Ben Ratliff of the New York Times in 2006, Coleman – a spiritual man - gave an indication of where some of his unconventional melodic ideas came from. It turned out that when he was young, a friend once played Coleman a recording by Josef Rosenblatt, the Ukrainian-born cantor who moved to New York in 1911 and became one of the city’s most popular entertainers.
Ratliff quotes Coleman: “He put on Josef Rosenblatt, and I started crying like a baby. The record he had was crying, singing and praying, all in the same breath. I said, wait a minute. You can’t find those notes. Those are not ‘notes.’ They don’t exist.”
That’s pretty much how many people would describe Coleman’s music. And the notes he was hearing that “don’t exist” were the cantor’s bent, achy, “blue notes” called krekhts, kneytshn and tshoks – the very accents that define cantorial music.
Ratliff and Coleman listened together to Rosenblatt’s recording of “Tikanto Shabbos,” a song from Sabbath services. Coleman said, “I think he’s singing pure spiritual. He’s making the sound of what he’s experiencing as a human being, turning it into the quality of his voice, and what he’s singing to is what he’s singing about. We hear it as ‘how he’s singing.’ But he’s singing about something. I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad.”
In this episode, Coleman totally got what classic cantorial music is about – how, when performed by a truly great cantor, it combines a text and a melody with pure spirit, channeling devotion and soul. It’s no wonder Coleman responded so strongly to it, and that it influenced his own music.
And in a full turn of events, in the early 1990s, Jewish avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn, a devotee of Coleman’s style and approach, formed his own Masada Quartet modeled on Coleman’s late 1950s ensembles. Since then, Zorn has written hundreds of works which are often rendered in Coleman-style free-jazz arrangements.
A few weeks ago, we introduced you to eight Israeli bands worth listening to right now. However, in our listening escapades, we also found a number of bands from the region with multicultural members that are using music to help aid in communication, share peace-building techniques, and entertain and inspire across geographic and political lines. Members of these groups, many of which have both Israeli and Palestinian members, have chosen collaboration over destruction, art over war in order to address the complicated current events plaguing the Middle East right now.
Here are four bands from the Holy Land building peace through music. Check them out:
1. Diwan Saz
This multicultural group of musicians fluctuates in size from seven to 10 members who come from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Bedouin backgrounds. The band, based in north-central Yodefat, Israel, performs the ancient music of these diverse cultures and sings in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Turkish, and Persian in order to promote “peaceful dialogue through music,” as they say. Diwan Saz performed at South by Southwest this year and finished a tour throughout a North American in March. Currently, the group is crowd-funding a new album.
Watch “Fidayda” here:
Learn more here.
The primary goal for non-profit organization Heartbeat: Amplifying Youth Voices is to unite Israeli and Palestinian youth (aged 14-24 years old) through music. Founded by Maryland-native Aaron Shneyer in 2007 as part of a mtvU Fulbright, the program has reached more than 100 young musicians of both backgrounds through retreats, workshops, camps, field trips, and local and international performances. Heartbeat students learn music theory, improvisation techniques, and songwriting skills, combining them all to write original music. The Heartbeat touring ensemble takes these tunes on the road, representing a band of both Israelis and Palestinians who sing, perform, and discuss current events in peaceful co-existence. The band just returned from its fourth U.S. tour.
Watch their tour video here:
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder also recently announced that all proceeds from his cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” will be donated to Heartbeat. Download “Imagine” here.
Learn more here.
3. Bint el Funk
Self-described as “Yemen Funk,” this Jerusalem-based musical collective is led by Yemenite-Jewish singer Shiran Karny. The band, anchored by a heavy section of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, performs both original songs and reimagined traditional tunes in Yemenite, Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They bring up-tempo, danceable tunes to both festivals and local clubs across Israel in an effort to blend musical genres and cultural origins. And just last week, Bint el Funk played a TEDxJerusalem event.
Watch “MUJIK” here:
Learn more here.
4. System Ali
This hip-hop group got its start in a bomb shelter in Jaffa in 2006. With rappers, singers, and instrumentalists who include Arabic Muslims, Jewish Israelis, Russians, and a female Palestinian (who has a burgeoning solo career of her own), the multilingual ensemble address issues of political relevance in Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and English and often draws comparisons to the Wu-Tang Clan and Gogol Bordello.
Watch “War” here:
Learn more here.
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