Glory days for Yiddish music

Glory days for Yiddish music

Which Bruce Springsteen song best captures the pain of Jewish dislocation, from the destruction of the Temple to the Diaspora wanderings to the immigration to America and ultimately back to the primordial, mythical breaking of the primordial vessels and our existential separation from God?

It’s not a question we had asked ourselves, until the new record by Daniel Kahn and Jake Shulman-Ment made the answer blindingly obvious on the eighth track, “The Building.” “Mayn Tatns Hoyz” is a Yiddish translation of “My Father’s House,” perhaps the saddest song on Springsteen’s notoriously and beautifully gloomy 1982 album “Nebraska.”

Daniel Kahn first recorded with Shulman-Ment as part of his Berlin-based band the Painted Bird, which describes itself as ““a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret and folk punk,” and performed songs in English, Yiddish, and not infrequently in both languages. But he came to such measure of fame as exists to Yiddish singers these days in 2016, when the Forverts released a video of him singing a Yiddish translation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” That video now has 2.4 million views and the song was featured on his 2021 solo Yiddish-only album “Word Beggar,” which also featured a translation of Bob Dylan’s “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.”

“The Building” too is all Yiddish, with some lyrics being Kahn originals, some taken from well-known Yiddish poets, and one new Leonard Cohen translation: “Yeder Eyner Veys,” adapting “Everybody Knows.”

And, slotted immediately after “Mayn Tatns Hoyz,” there is a Woody Guthrie translation, in perhaps the best resolution of exile a committed Diasporist like Kahn can hope for: “Dos Land iz Dayn Land,” or “This Land is Your Land.” Notably, the translation replaces “New York Harbor” in the original with “Ellis Island.”

You can listen to this on Spotify and all streaming services. Or you can hear it performed live in New York on Thursday, June 15, at Drom in the East Village.


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