cabaret


How comes it that I did not know at least her name before? Sanda Weigl is a superb musician, with a deep and moving voice, whose art has its roots in the Gypsy and Romanian traditional music which she processed with the help of her colleagues in formats specific to the jazz and cabaret genres. In a good location but with too little publicity and out of the circuit of the jazz concerts she succeeded to give tonight in Tel Aviv one of the best music shows I have attended in the last few years.

 

Sanda Weigl at Tzavta in Tel Aviv

 

Born in Bucharest (as I was) Sanda was exposed and attracted since childhood by the music of the Gypsies she could here in the streets of the city. Her out-of-ordinary biography that can be read at http://www.barbesrecords.com/SandaWeigl.html tells about a life of permanent wandering and search, search for art and for freedom.

‘Sanda’s family was forced into exile in the early 1960s, due to persecution by the harsh communist regime in Romania.  They settled in East Berlin, joining her aunt Helene Weigel. Bertolt Brecht’s widow and director of the Berliner Ensemble, Weigel immersed her niece in the innovative musical and theatrical world of Brecht and Weill. Sanda put her training to use a few years later when she joined the popular rock band Team 4 (lead by future East German Deputy Minister of Culture Hartmut Koenig). While she tried to find an audience for the Gypsy music she loved, Romanian songs had no cache in East Germany, particularly among young people who were looking to the West and rock ‘n’ roll.

Her insistence at sharing her passion for Roma music gained traction when the 17-year-old Sanda won a gold medal at Dresden’s International Song Festival with a riveting performance of the Gypsy song “Recruti.” But her career in East Germany was cut short when East Bloc tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put an end to the liberalizing Prague Spring. Joining an underground student group to protest the Prague occupation and the government’s repressive rule, she was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison (though international pressure led the government to replace prison time with hard labor).

Barred from performing, Sanda once again found herself forced to leave her home when East Germany expelled her as an enemy of the state. Landing in West Berlin, she reinvented herself at the Schiller Theater, where she worked with a glittering cast of directors and performers, including the celebrated playwright/actor Klaus Pohl (whom she married) and Robert Wilson. It was through Wilson and Tom Waits’ “The Black Rider” that Sanda returned to her first love, as she recruited the production’s musicians for her band and returned to singing Romanian Gypsy songs. With Wilson’s support, Sanda and Pohl ended up moving to New York City in the early 1990s, another relocation that took her by surprise.’


(video source shokonoagaiproject)

 

After settling in New York Sanda found there not only a home but also a musical environment to express herself. The concert in Tel Aviv was the same full show that she takes wherever she travels in the last years, telling about her life and and her music, and the way they came together. Many of the songs she is singing are very familiar to the Romanian audiences belonging to the traditional music songbook, part of them sung more than half a century back by Maria Tanase, the greatest singer of Romanian folklore music in the 20th century. Sanda has a voice that fills the musical space of the hall, and together with the three Japanese musicians she works with – Shoko Nagai, Satoshi Takeishi, Stomu Takeishi – she creates one of the best incarnations of the concept of fusion I have ever heard. While the voice performance is fully Romanian traditional, each of the instruments creates its own space – jazzy piano, gypsy style accordion, exceptionally rich bass guitar texture and traditional Japanese drums on the rhythmic register.

 

(video source shokonoagaiproject)


The clips on youTube are the first two in a series that presents the same show that she performed in Tel Aviv. The ‘Gypsy in a Tree’ album is available on streaming over the Internet at http://sandaweigl.bandcamp.com/.

 

 

 

I discovered Max Raabe the last winter thanks to ARTE, and it was love from the first song. Raabe and his Palast Orchester specializes in the German cabaret music style of the 20s and early 30s. He has a scenic presence that combines elegance and humor. All the members of the band and especially violinist Cecilia Crisafuli and pianist Ian Wekwerth are remarkable musicians, they seem happy to play together and they make the audiences feel how good they feel about it. I was excited to hear that he comes to Israel and it was great to be in the audience in their first show tonight.

(video source fritz5125)

Although their repertoire is not limited to music from the 20s and the 30s (but all is played in this style) the program tonight was exclusively built of compositions to that period. All German songs were written before 1933, the year of the fall in the abyss of German and Raabe dully mentioned the year of the composition together with the title of every song. My Little Green Cactus is one of the examples of the German songs written in that period that Raabe presented tonight as well.

(video source MICHELMUSIK123)

From the more international repertoire here is the originally Yidish Bei Mir Bistu Shein and a more delicate version of Singing in the Rain which was to be made famous by Gene Kelly more than two decades after its first auditions.

The tour in Israel started tonight. They will be tomorrow again at the Opera House in Tel Aviv, then on Wednesday in Jerusalem at the Sherover Theatre and on Thursday in Haifa at the Krieger Centre for the Performing Arts. As in the concert tonight I expect the halls to be full of enthusiastic yekis.

We used the last two punched holes in the subscription card for the Habima theater season to see the satirical cabaret show ‘Nifgaei Harada’ which was translated in the English page of the program to ‘Anxiety Struck’. Well, ‘Harada’ is a little more than just anxiety, it is closer to terror or shock which probably describes better the current mood and state of mind of the Israeli society. The authors of the texts in the show are B. Michael and Ephraim Sidon, and the director is Moti Kirschenbaum – all three were involved three and a half decades ago in the making of ‘Nikui Rosh’ (Head Cleaning, Brain-washing) – a cult satirical program which started a few years before Saturday Night Life and had shaken all the holy cows broke all established taboos of the Israeli society at a time of moral and political crisis similar to the one that faces today the Israeli society, establishing in the process the rules of freedom of expression that became standard – at least until now – in the Israeli culture and media.

How is ‘Anxiety Struck’ different from the many satirical programs we can see each week on the TV screens? The most important aspect is in my opinion the fact that there is no search or intention of neutrality. Free (or almost free) from the constraints of rating and the ‘objectivity’ rules of the broadcasting laws the authors of the texts do not perform any balancing act, they come from a clear and enrolled position, and what they perform on stage is politics at least at the same extent that it is art. By doing this they play as all satirical authors have always done with the borders of the ‘allowed’ in what concerns the political consensus (which they often cross) and with the limits of the good taste (which they seldom cross). Their saying is crisp, engaged, and leaves no doubt on what side they are and what situations they believe need to be fixed. If there are different opinions concerning the political aspects dealt with in the show one needs to go to a different show in a different hall to hear.

What about the artistic experience? Here my feelings are mixed. All the actors – Yael Leventhal, Dov Navon, Alon Neuman, Talli Oren, Tomer Sharon – are very good, they feel good in this genre and love doing it. The hall at Tzafta in Tel Aviv is however very challenging for anybody who sits beyond the very first rows, and we were not among the lucky ones last night. The sets are very uninspired, and so is the music, which is quite a surprise taking onto account that the author of the music score is Keren Peles, whose other works I have seen until now were always good and interesting. This I hope is just an unhappy event in the career of one of the best stage composers we have in Israel.

Satire in general is something the Israeli society needs badly in this moment. With the writings of Kishon and Levin in the back wind and with authors like Sidon and Michael, and even some of the text authors who write for TV shows there is hope that the tradition continues.  Can satire change the world, or help the world to change? We can hope so, says Moti Kirschenbaum in an interview in the show program, but then, we go to sleep and wake up in the morning, and realize that we are no more than the court clowns. Yes, but then, are there not the clown acts that are in many cases in history remembered as best representing their times?

The New Year broadcast of ARTE brought to my attention the cabaret music of Max Raabe.

Born in 1962 Raabe leads Palast Orchestra – a band continuing the tradition of German cabaret music in the 1920s and 1930s. The above video is made at the Carnegie Hall concert which is also presented in the documentary film of ARTE.

Raabe has a great scene presence, voice and humor. His repertoire covers not only German music but also many of the vocal standards of the pre-war songsbook.

Berlin in the 20s was a fascinating place – great art and entertainment was created at that time under the gathering clouds. Raabe renews some of that tradition in music, and continues it in the 21st century.