Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   In the 1980s, after the movie Fiddler on the Roof became extremely popular in whole Europe, in many countries and societies came out the new wave of sentiments for Jewish culture. The same time many records in numerous countries were issued. After one thousand years period of peaceful coexistence which has been brutally finished in German death camps, Jewish community in Poland was largely destroyed. The dramatic acts of after-war pogroms and expulsion, that took place in 1968 under control of Communist party, made situation very hard. Although Jewish culture had no chance for place in official culture, it was still alive and in half underground created many important phenomena. And in many cases it was recognized mostly as Polish culture, eventually the one of Jewish origin.
   After 1978 Nobel Prize in litereture for Isaac Bashevis Singer, with every translation of his books more positive attitude towards Jewish culture was coming out. After translations of Singers prose (first from English) came more literary translations from Yiddish language and many of them were books printed in Poland before the war. Maybe this was the beginning of the returning to the consciousness of Jewish presence in Polish culture. But in popular culture situation was still not so good. Big part of society is not reading any books and especially artistic prose. The turning points became the movies – Polish production based on the book by Julian Stryjkowski Austeria (1982), East-German TV-series Hotel Polan und seine Gäste (1982) and much older Hollywood production of Fiddler on the Roof  from 1971 but shown in Polish TV in mid eighties.
   The issue of the musical about Tevye and his daughters made elements of the Jewish culture an obvious element of secular European tradition. But Jewish music in wider society was still almost unknown. As the consequence there came recordings from actors of Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. In spirit of those years Polish Jazz Society label – POLJAZZ published two records of Jewish music. The editors choose one in Hebrew and one in Yiddish. While the Hebrew one – Hava Nagila by Effi Netzer & Beit Rotschild & Band – was closer to folk and Israeli tradition, Yiddish record was quite a nostalgic view of music in East-European Diaspora as sung by 1956 Ziemia in the album The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs.

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   Yaacov Shapiro - Di 18 Perl fun Yiddishen Lid (יעקב שפירו - די 18 פערל פון יידישן ליד)  – this album became an unexpected success in Poland. Recorded and produced by Dov Zeira this album originally title was Mameleh, after the opening song of the album. In Polish edition as the opening song in the A-side editors used Mashi’ah Kimt and Mameleh was placed as the first song of the B-Side. The title of the album indicates that it includes 18 songs, however there are only 13 pieces on the disc – the last one is titled Potpoury (in later CD edition Chiribim Medley) and unites 6 popular songs – Chiribim, Shayn vi di Levuneh, Tumbalalaika, By Mir Bistu Shein, Di Greene Kusine and Josl, Josl. Whole album is completed of most popular songs, and sometimes they have much more meaning than just popular music. Maybe the most notable example of artistic value is Hulyet, hulyet kinderlach (Play children play), the song written by Mordehai Gebirtig in Krakow ghetto.
   All the songs collected by Yaacov Shapiro are valuable part of Yiddish folk heritage. And they are really beautiful even if sometimes little bit too monotonous what concerns both accompanying group and lead singer. Voice of Yaacov Shapiro sounds well, it is strong and resonant. Instrumental parts are arranged by Martin Moskovitz in pop music convention of early 80’s sometimes it sound little cheap, like it was one of common bands playing for dancing. Of course there are no mistakes or weak moments, it is only consequence of artistic assumption. It is interesting the Shapiro's album was more popular than  Hebrew songs and it's harder to find it on a second-hand internet auctions. Probably Yiddish tradition is closer to stereotypic image of Jewish songs. Maybe its Yiddishkeit was the primary reason for buying decisions – no matter what it was, this record accomplished the great mission of promoting Jewish culture in Poland.

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