Shalom, amigos! Imagine Klezmer clarinets, blaring brass, banda ballads, crazy congas, vigorous violins, fine flutes, syncopated steps, awesome oom-pah-pahs, amplified accordions, giant guitarrones and hilarious good humor! Is it a wild dream? No, it’s a performance by the ¡Viva Yiddish! Project at California Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles.
Each summer, Grand Performances at California Plaza offers free shows of music, dance and theater. The series brings together diverse artists and eclectic performances. The 2008 season was partial to Latin American music including the Mexican performers Ceci Bastida, Delfos Danza Contemporánea and Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos. Very Be Careful performed vallenato music of Colombia, Los Pinguos honored its Argentina homeland and Garífuna Collective introduced us to music from the indigenous cultures of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Collectively, the summer series performers seemed to say, “We Are the World, from A to Z.” (Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Cape Verde, the Congo, India, Israel, England and Zaire were also represented.) In addition, there were classic movie evenings and the beloved Bob Baker’s Marionettes and “Musicology” lectures.
Since its creation 20 years ago, the world-class Grand Performances has drawn a diverse audience including city residents and downtown workers. The California Plaza Watercourt site is unique and spectacular, with the stage surrounded by fountains and gardens arranged in reflecting pools. Behind the stage are vertical synchronized jets of water, illuminated by a row of rainbow lights. From the amphitheater-style seating it is possible to view the city lights along with some of L.A.’s most lovely modern buildings.
Saturday, Sept. 20 marked the end of summer and ¡Viva Yiddish! kept the excitement level high. The ¡Viva Yiddish! Project: The Yiddish-Latino Sound of Los Angeles was sponsored by an organization called “Yiddishkayt” that aims to preserve the Yiddish legacy and create multicultural exchange for diverse audiences.
¡Viva Yiddish! featured an array of talented performers, led by renowned klezmer and Yiddish musicians. The klezmer songs, characterized by emotional melodies, dissonance, irregular rhythms and improvisation were lively and expressive.
The klezmer entourage included violin, flute, cello, accordion, some percussion and clarinet. It is loved for its weeping, wailing effect. Some songs were in Yiddish while others derived from Latin American Jewish communities were in Spanish.
L.A. band Ozomatli joined the Yiddish performers. Members are from various ethnic backgrounds but emphasize Latino sounds. Ozomatli leader Wil-Dog Abers embodies the blending of the Jewish and Latino worlds – a Jewish guy, dressed like a homeboy, singing in Spanish and called “ése” by his friends.
But there were still more musicians! L.A.’s Banda Juvenil brought over a dozen brass, wind and percussion players. Led by the visionary and pioneering Valenzuela Twiins, Banda Juvenil plays regional Mexican music. The banda music, with its German polka influence and big-band style, blended nicely with the klezmer rhythms.
Josh Kun, the event organizer, didn’t just watch. He jumped, danced and sang along from backstage.
Josh Kun is an L.A. treasure. A scholar, writer, critic and USC professor, Kun has written about topics as diverse as lost treasures of Jewish music, the US-Mexico border, Borscht-Belt humor, drug culture in Tijuana and the effects of globalization. An expert in Jewish-American music, he also hosted Southern California’s first commercial “Rock en Español” radio show as well as “Rockamole,” TV’s Latin Alternative music program. Kun was featured at one of the first Grand Performances this summer, a musical lecture called “Josh Kun’s Brass Band Odyssey.”
¡Viva Yiddish! is a masterful fusion of sounds from Eastern Europe and Latin America that showcases L.A.’s musical diversity. Growing up Jewish, I came to love my culture’s Hebrew and Yiddish musics. Growing up in Los Angeles, I also fell in love with Latin music – everything from Alternative to Zarzuela. It was thrilling to experience the two cultures and musical styles intermingling.
My one disappointment was that women were not represented among the musicians. Thirty guys on the stage and not a single chica for most of the show! Ceci Bastida, a Tijuana alt-rocker, sang with a few songs, but her presence didn’t counter the impression of “no girls allowed” in the Yiddish-Latino clubhouse. There must be women playing klezmer and traditional Mexican music. Where are they?
If you’re dying to see Downtown’s bright lights and hear first-class L.A. music, there is one more Grand Performances show. The North Atlantic Jazz Alliance will be performing on Oct. 6; but even after the summer ends, there is always more music on Grand Ave. Within a stone’s throw of California Plaza are the Colburn School of Music, Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT and the L.A. Music Center. And don’t forget the upcoming Detour Festival on Oct. 2 featuring the Mars Volta, Gogol Bordello and plenty more cool bands.
So much music, so little time! So let’s grab a Bengal Bus and head downtown.
© Copyright 2010 The Occidental Weekly