downtownexpress.com

Volume 19 • Issue 15 | August 25 - 31, 2006

Lewis Black is among the 60 performers who will appear in Oyhoo, the third annual New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival. He and Judy Gold will kibbitz about their work at Battery Park City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage on September 13.

A new gathering of the tribes

By Rachel Breitman

Do you Oyhoo? You do if you plan to attend the third annual New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival.

“Actually, the name means nothing,” admits Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, who helms the annual celebration. “This was a play on Yahoo, but with a Jewish twist.”  Dorf had used the Oyhoo website for years to publicize Jewish music, but this year, he decided to add it to the festival’s name. 

Begun in 2004 to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Jews in America, this year’s incarnation of the week-long gala, from September 9 through the 17th, brings together over 60 different music and comedy groups combining the Upper West Side’s idealism with Downtown’s edgy, international rhythm.

“I rallied the 92nd Street Y, Makor, Mo Pitkins, Joe’s Pub, The mishpuka of the Jewish presenters,” recalls Dorf.

This year, he also added a two-day conference at Battery Park City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. Billed as a “Sundance” for the Jewish cultural and entertainment industry, it with bring together artists, producers, managers, religious leaders, record labels, and literary and film organizations. Discussions include an analysis of Jewish iconography in pop culture called “Da Vinci Code Kosher Style,” and a conversation between stand-up comedienne Judy Gold and Lewis Black of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” who will dish about Jewish humor.

The $600,000 festival, funded through foundation grants, media donations and corporate sponsorships, culminates in Jewzapalooza, an all-day free concert in Riverside Park, and Jewzapalooza East, at the 92nd Street Y.

Some artists, like Pharoah’s Daughter vocalist Basya Schechter, will perform several times throughout the week, appearing at a night of Jewish music and poetry at the Bowery Poetry club, the Sydney Krum (“Sundance”) conference, the First Annual Yiddish Sing-along Concert at Rodeph Shalom, and at Jewzapalooza. The Borough Park-born crooner will present songs from her yet-unnamed Sixth record to be released this fall, which she describes as a cross between West African rhythms and 1970’s psychedelica. Schechter, who plays in synagogues and pubs alike, has watched New York’s Jewish music scene grow exponentially.

“How much art Judaism is holding at this point is just exploding,” she says. “The movement snowballs and snowballs.”

Chana Rothman’s hip-hop/folk fusion will be showcased at both the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Jewish Music Showcase and Jewzapalooza East. The Toronto native’s quartet weaves Hebrew cadences with spoken word. “I like music that is folk-influenced but has an edge and a beat,” says Rothman, whose sound has been influenced by travels through Europe, Israel, and Nepal. She describes her style as, “a mix of rhythmic percussion and feisty guitar, blending Jewish music with African and Afro-Caribbean.”

The eclectic intercontinental beats continue with the West Coast band, Klezmer Juice. Clarinetist Gustavo Bulgach infuses his Jewish folk songs with tones from Argentinian heritage. He will perform in a Shabbat service outside the new World Trade Center 7 and in Jewzapalooza East, accompanied by fellow Buenos Aires-born keyboardist Didi Gutman from the Brazilian Girls.

Dark comedy will also play a central role this year, with a night of stand-up at the 92nd Street Y honoring Lenny Bruce and free speech. Dorf felt the national mood of distrust and enforced patriotism keeps Bruce’s risqué routines timely.

“Cops don’t bust into the East Village and crack down on people doing offensive characters now,” laments Russian-born featured comedian Eugene Mirman, who wrote a lengthy research paper in college about Lenny Bruce. “I haven’t been censored, but you can only hope,” he quips.

Between a Jewish quiz show night, a beauty pageant, and burlesque revue by the Kosher ChiXXX, the festival’s off-beat performances blend brainy with bawdy.

At “Hebrew School Dropouts” self-proclaimed naughty boys and bad girls of Jewish comedy will set Mo Pitkins ablaze with off-color gags. Susannah Pearlman’s constantly changing female revue, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, goes co-ed, adding Todd Levin, Seth Herzog, and Joel Moss.

For Canadian-born stand-up artist Ophira Eisenberg, the festival offered her a chance to dissect her culture with like-minded peers, including the perennial target: her Jewish mother.

“My mother is a little bit different because she is 77, born in Holland and spent 10 years living in Israel,” says Eisenberg. “I will say to her ‘Mom, don’t be so worried about me, I could die young.’ She’ll say, ‘you won’t be that lucky,’” jokes Eisenberg, who has appeared in Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend,” and VH-1’s “All Access” among other televised stand-up shows.

But in discussing the collections of Jewish talent, she grows serious. “This kind of gathering is definitely something that is on the rise, for this younger demographic of Jews. It brought me closer to my Jewish heritage than ever before.”

For more information on the festival, visit www.oyhoo.com.



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