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The Schmooze

Jewish Music Comes to Tatarstan

We can now add Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan Republic in the Russian Federation, to the list of cities that host international Jewish music festivals. Early in June, the city was the site of Tatarstan’s first-ever Jewish music festival, which featured performances by artists from the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Austria and Cuba.

Tatarstan is located about 500 miles east of Moscow, and Kazan is considered one of Russia’s largest cities. Most of the 3.8 million people living in the republic are either ethnic Tatars or ethnic Russians, and over half of them are Sunni Muslims.

Organizer Boris Lvovich, who put the event together along with Edward Tumansky, explained the importance of a Jewish music festival in predominantly Muslim Tatarstan, to The Kazan Herald. “I am first of all a native Kazan resident. I’ve worked with so many Tatar musicians and performers I can even understand some Tatar, yet I think it is paramount to understand that for a Muslim Republic such as Tatarstan to hold a Jewish Music festival is very symbolic of the peace we enjoy here,” he said.

Audiences at both indoor and outdoor venues enjoyed a wide range of Jewish musical expression, much of it infused with international flavors. Pianist Leonid Ptashka taught a master piano class; Yekaterinburg-born American Broadway singer Robin Erkol gave a concert, and Cuban-Israeli Yana Mirabel and Esperansa Rodriguez performed Salsa and Flamenco.

Israeli music was the focus at a master dance class led by Israeli dancer and choreographer Dana Lifanova, as well as at a performance by Yelena Galkina, David Kobiashvili and Yulia Belyayeva. A new opera called “The Black Monk” by American-Jewish classical composer Gamma Skupinsky was premiered at an area theater.

As might be expected, klezmer music enjoyed a central role at the festival. Locals proudly listened to Kazan’s own Simcha Klezmer band (comprised of Jews and Tatars), as well as to two St.Petersburg-based groups. The first, Dobranoch, has a Balkan-infused sound, and the second, Opa!, is known for its klezmer-ska fusion. Other klezmer performers included Mamini Deti, Klezmood, and the Klezmasters ensemble from Moscow (profiled in the Forward last year).

The festival came to a close with a gala concert at Kazan’s Ğaliaskar Kamal Tatar Theatre, at which all the participating artists performed. It was attended by delegates from the Israeli embassy in Moscow and the Head of Tatarstan State Council.

“Most Jewish music festivals are simply renditions of Hava Nagila and Tumbalalaika,” bemoaned Lvovich. “And we of course intend to widen that spectrum.” Indeed, from the story in the Herald, it seemed as though the organizer and his team achieved the kind of festival they were after. They are reportedly hoping to turn it into an annual event, something Jewish musicians seeking a Tatar audience should keep in mind.

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