I'm at the University of Warwick in England, getting ready for a presentation on the stories behind the RebbeSoul songs and other world music. This is for the Limmud conference here which attracts 2500 participants from all over the world, learning about various elements of Judaica. Some of the best people in their fields are here and I was even able to attend some of the sessions, all of which were superb. Shlomit gave one today and dazzled and charmed everyone with her singing and dancing as well as with her storytelling about Yemenite life. It went so well, we sold out of all our CDs!
My session tomorrow is called "Stories Behind The Songs." I don't think there is a single song that does not have some interesting story or background behind it. Often though, we just don't pay attention or simply take for granted that they are little miracles. There are so many things that go unnoticed. While in the UK now, it rains every day. Here I am, from Israel, where we pray for even a little rain. The change in my environment allows me to see this little miracle where people who live here may be so accustomed to it that it's not noticed. So with our own creations and music is no exception.
So now, I'm reviewing the songs I have done over the years and wonder which "little wonders" will be of interest to people.
- There's a beautiful melody that came from a Pesach (Passover) seder from Calcutta. It even works on guitar and sounds best when a group of people are singing it together, as in a seder meal. There are still Jews in India but although never persecuted there, at least, as far as I know, most have moved either to the UK or to Israel. I also wonder how many Jews from Calcutta still remember or are aware of this song of theirs.
- On a Friday night in LA, I attended a Shabbat dinner at a Lubavitch home and all the men began singing this song, Tzamah L'Cha Nafshi, pounding out a steady beat on the big, wooden table. I imagined this same scene at the tables of my ancestors from Eastern Europe. Men, sitting around the dinner table, speaking words of Torah and singing and banging on the table late into the night. The melody was infectious and I went back to record the rabbi, singing it, to make sure I got it right. I've always made sure to do my homework on traditional material so if I do make a change, it's an artistic choice and not one of error or simply lazy research. I recorded Tzamah L'Cha Nafshi, for my Fringe of Blue album, and even asked the rabbi to sing part of it. That sound bite wound up as the opening track for the album. I remember, I was living in an apartment in LA and did much of my recording there. My bedroom closet shared no walls with anyone and was the most soundproof spot in my place. So there was the rabbi, Chaim Dalfin, singing it wonderfully, yes, you guessed it, in my closet. I loved his vocal - so honest and with that intense, Ashkenazi musical personality, so fitting for the song. Tzamah L'Cha Nafshi is from Tehillim, the Psalms and in English, roughly translates as "my soul thirsts for You." For Fringe Of Blue, I recorded it instrumentally but as we started playing it live, it became apparent that the singing made it even better. I did a vocal version on Change The World With A Sound and the song eventually became the opener for our concerts, bring people to their feet from the very first note. Neeyah and Lena K sang on it, along with me on the recording and really brought it to life.
- Shlomo Carlebach's V'Shamru. It might be interesting to present the version with the singing and all and then play it the way it is on the From Another World album, which is entirely the music of Reb Shlomo but done instrumentally. This is the track that opens up the album and was fun for me to play more of a bluey, the way I used to play before I embarked on RebbeSoul with the more ethnic style. It was a return to my musical roots, which are American while still playing with my Jewish roots. I wrote a blog in February of 2012 on the meaning of the song. I even wrote a blog about the recording of the song which is here: http://brucespeaks-rebbesoul.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/recording-vshamru.html. That was an interesting experience which occurred shortly after I made aliyah to Israel.
- On my very first album, the first song to enjoy radio airplay was Sister Sarah. It was also my first attempt at writing lyrics. I had played with enough talented songwriters to know what a good song lyric was supposed to be like but wasn't sure if I could really do it. I decided to write lines that sung well and rhymed and hoped that they would make some sense. Sister Sarah wrote itself. The words just flowed off the pen and there were only a few parts I even had to think about and I managed to fill them in over the course of a few days. I remember one moment, arriving early at a rehearsal for a blond, bombshell LA singer and sitting in my car, writing a few phrases to fill in the empty gaps in the lyrics. Somehow the song just worked, even though I didn't know what it meant. It just sounded good. Once it got on the radio, I was invited over to a rabbi's house for Purim and while quite inebriated in the holiday tradition, he sat me down and proceeded to explain to me, the meaning of the lyrics that had written themselves and how they alluded to lofty, Kabbalistic and Torah concepts that were, and probably still are, way beyond my comprehension.
- There's always Avinu. I first thought of recording it while at Yom Kippur services with friends in Berkeley CA. I had heard the melody all my life but this time I could not get it out of my head and thought it would be a nice project, especially since I had just assembled my first recording studio and was looking for a song to start off with. There is a different version of Avinu on each RebbeSoul album. I've got plenty of stories about them and this could easily be a blog on its own.
- Kaddish is one of my favorites and took 2 years to complete. It comprises field recordings or samples of Kaddish prayers from Israel, the United States, and Europe. I wrote a blog about it, particularly the very first field recording I did which was at Amuka in Israel and featured an Ethiopian reciting Kaddish. The others to follow were the Sephardim at Abu Hav in Tzfat, Yemenites in Ashkelon, Hungarians at the yahrzeit of the Ramban at his grave in Tiberias, an Ashkenazi at the kotel, singers from India, Moroccans and Persians in Los Angeles, and me on my balalaika, caxixi from Brasil, bendir from Morocco, and so on. The original blog is here: http://brucespeaks-rebbesoul.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/visit-to-amuka-and-making-of-kaddish.html.
There are a few more to consider but right now, dyenu!