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Wolf Krakowski's Goyrl : Destiny
reviewed by Mordechai Kamel, Mkamel26@comcast.net
I have been attracted to Yiddish music since hearing lullabies from my mother (o. v. shalom). The Klezmer revival of the '70s spoke directly to me and I purchased every piece of Yiddish music I could lay my hands on, from Mickey Katz and Andy Statman to Klezmer Conservatory Band and Kappelye and more. When I bought Seth Rogovoy's "The Essential Klezmer" about 2 years ago I looked in the glossary and realized that I already owned 14 of the 20 titles he described as "The Essential Klezmer Library" and "Ten more for good luck".
I first encountered Wolf Krakowski in this excellent book. Rogovoy described the music on Krakowski's first album, "Gilgul / Transmigrations" as "electric shtetl-rock, which as a Yiddish speaking 2G I found off putting, but he went on conclude his piece by quoting the musician who said, "I sing through them and those that were silenced sing through me." Having been named for 2 grandfathers murdered in the Shoah and having felt the weight of "speaking through them and having them speak through me" my whole life, that statement touched a nerve. That raw nerve was best described to me several months ago when I read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "In the Beginning Was Auschwitz" by Melvin Jules Bukiet. He made the point in discussing the survivors that their lives went on after the Shoah. He states, "In a way, life has been even stranger -- though infinitely less perilous -- for the children than the parents. If a chasm opened in the lives of the First Generation, they could nonetheless sigh on the far side and recall the life Before, but for the Second Generation there is no Before. In the beginning was Auschwitz." This nameless sense of absence, this yearning for a "Before" had always coloured my life actions and responses and that was the nerve that this article touched.
Within a few weeks, I had the album. I was impressed by the treatment that this obviously native Yiddish speaker put into both the theater songs and the folk songs, many of which I knew. The thing that really got to me was the depth of understanding, pain and anger that he was able to put into the music and poetry of the victims and survivors like Kaczerginski, Brudno, Witler, Gebirtig and Perlman. These were poets and songwriters steeped in Yiddish whose culture had been burned to the ground around them and who had found no voice to do them justice until this CD. The culture that they represented was "Before" and this CD was not only excellent music, it was an honest representation of that culture, as touched by its loss.
In the intervening years, I have met and come to know Wolf and see in him much of my own sadness, anger and "2 G'ness" (whatever that is, I think that we recognize it in each other when we see it) and it became very clear that the emotion and depth that he brings to the music is authentic.
I have owned the new Wolf Krakowski CD, "Goyrl : Destiny" for about 3 weeks and have listened to it often. I will make no attempt to address the album musically other than to say that the quality of musicianship and vocals is excellent and that I liked the music a lot and found the treatments of the songs both wonderful and entirely appropriate (but then my mother (o. v. shalom) used to sing Yiddish folk tunes to a tango beat as well, so it was not unnatural to hear some of the stylings). What touched me, and in a way compelled me to write was, in fact, the rightness and naturalness of the CD. Krakowski is not only a musician deeply rooted in Yiddish, he understands the culture we lost in a way that few if any of the other modern Yiddish singers do. He sings the folk tunes and theater tunes with an understanding of "Before" that seems totally natural. It is important to say at this point that this is not a dry recycling of prewar material or stylings, but a complete integration of his Yiddish roots with his North American upbringing. His treatment of Doyna is the first that I have heard that recognizes that this isn't a little ditty about freedom, but the death trip of a calf on its way to the slaughterhouse. When he sings the poem "Tife Griber, Royter Laym (Deep Pits, Red Clay) by Shmuel Halkin he truly evokes the loss of the survivor in ways that I have rarely heard in any art form "Dorten ligen mineh brider,……..(There lie my brothers, torn limb from limb stabbed in their homes and shot at the pits), and he also manages to evoke Halkin's deep albeit sad optimism with "kimmen veln gitteh tsaiten………." (And better times will come, pains will get easier to bear and children will grow again. Children who will play loudly near the graves of the martyrs. Near the deep full pits so that the pain will not overflow." His treatment of the other songs from the Shoah is deep, honest and respectful and reflects the pain, the suffering and the ongoing belief in survival.
This is a CD that every lover of Yiddish music should have, but from my perspective, it is a CD that every second-generation person should listen to and play for their children, because this is a rare authentic representation of "Before". To paraphrase Rogovoy: It isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that had Eastern European Yiddish civilization survived, it may have on it's own produced music remarkably like that found on Wolf Krakowski's CD's.
Review by Mordechai Kamel, Mkamel26@comcast.net, 19 Aug 2002