Appropriation, Advocacy, and the Road to Hell

Being a good friend can be a tricky business.  And it can get much trickier when you’re trying to be friend to other cultures, or to a culture in particular.  Assuming that you know I’m part of a Klezmer group that also branches out into related genres of music, it’s not difficult to see where this is going.  Pretty much from when we started this band, we knew we wanted to include Romani music in our set.  This was for a few reasons: 1. We love it and it’s fun.  2. We wanted to highlight the dialogue between Romani and Klezmer music – that since we see them as two sides of the same coin, we wanted to show both parts of that coin. 3. We wanted, in whatever measure we could, to promote Roma culture and bring something of fairly authentic Romani music to people who may not experience it otherwise.  Although I don’t think our conviction on all three points has ever wavered, we were also aware that we were treading on territory that wasn’t necessarily our own, and this did give us pause.

Because, let’s face it, there is something of a dark side to the new, multi-culti, global age of teh internetz.  There was a time when you actually had to engage in a culture to learn anything about it.  *Maybe* you could find a book or field recordings, but still.  Compared to the modern days of YouTube, when folk songs from Mongolia to Macedonia are a mouse click away, when do you get to decide what culture’s riches are yours to play with?  We could start throwing in half-ass versions of Uzbeki music and it’s not as if anyone could *stop* us.  With Roma culture in particular, the success of Gogol Bordello has brought some awareness, but with that it has made the term “gypsy”a very chic adjective to attach oneself to these days, and that’s something we’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with, and would rather distance ourselves from.  You might ask, if we truly valued Romani culture, why would we even take the risk of being part of that bandwagon?  Because for us, it still comes down to the above three reasons – nothing about the mode du jour changes that.

Anyway, before all of that started getting hairy, what made me personally get over my own self-consciousness was actually a show that we played fairly early on, with a group that did (does) traditional African drumming and dance.  Now, half the drummers, and all of the dancers, involved were white.  But color aside, their authenticity was astounding – the precision, the energy, the exact flavor of the enthusiasm was so spot on that their emotional connection to what they were doing was without question, even though their heritage was apparently different.  So when someone that obviously dedicated feels a connection that deep to a culture, even one they weren’t born into, and can express it, who is *anyone* to slight them for it?  And then I thought about the issue from my own perspective as a Jew.  A number of non-Jews are involved in Klezmer, some as members of some of the most prominent Klezmer bands currently playing, others as complete non-Jewish ensembles playing in, say, Germany.  And certainly, it doesn’t take a foreigner to exploit a culture – a Jew could make a hash of his own heritage, as could a Rom.  Really, as a Jew, all I could ask would be that anyone who approached my culture (be they of it or not) to do so with respect.  So I at that point, I figured that, so long as we continued to study what we were doing, and did our best to represent well, we were doing okay.

But there’s also another consideration which occurred to me recently, while reading about another issue in advocacy.

I may or may not earn some looks of consternation for mentioning this movie (in retrospect, it was rather ridiculous), but I remember there was a line that stuck with me towards the end of “Soul Man”, when, after reviewing the disciplinary action against the main character for impersonating a black man, James Earl Jones’ character comments something to the effect that at least perhaps now he knows something of what it’s like to be black, and he replies, “No, I don’t.  Because if  I didn’t like it, I could always get out.”  This is the liability of those who advocate for others, and it’s one that’s often overlooked with the best of intentions.  When the effects of your advocacy don’t benefit or hurt you directly, you walk a fine line that the nobility you feel in your cause does not make any broader.  I could attend every “pro-something” rally and stir every pot to be stirred, but when I put my sign down and step away from the crowd, I go back to looking like your average white guy, no matter how “connected” I feel to the cause.  Thus, what I do in these realms affects others much more than myself, and nothing will ever change that.  Does this mean refraining from advocacy?  Some would argue that this is the safer and more respectful option.  While I see the sentiment and the logic in this (an incompetent ally can certainly be worse than an enemy!), it isn’t one that I can personally accept.  Because, aside from truncating our band’s set list, most of what I’m interested in doing professionally involves this kind of advocacy.  And with few imaginable exceptions, the best way to learn to do anything is to do it as best you can, AND to always look for ways to improve.  And in the meantime, to understand that intentions are no substitute for responsibility.

We Reached Our Kickstarter Goal!

[box] We want to thank everyone who contributed to our Kickstarter campaign! Thanks to you, we will be able to get our long awaited first CD printed! The campaign is STILL OPEN through Monday, June 3rd. If you haven’t contributed yet, you still can, and take advantage of special offers only available through this campaign – such as the limited, high-quality prints of our cover art signed by the artist; or the opportunity to book FSKB for your private event for only $150, or to have a Squeezebox-O-Gram by Matthew Vorhies for $50. Since the campaign has reached its goal, you know you’re going to get what you pledge for, so don’t wait until it’s too late!

There will be surveys and probably individual emails going out once the campaign closes, but just to give those who have pledged a head’s up on how this is going to go down:

Between getting the funds, proofing, manufacturing the discs, and receiving them, there’s a total time of about 2-3 weeks depending on how soon the funds go through. We’ll make arrangements to distribute them after that. As of this moment, we are 100% go on our end – we’re just waiting on the money.  We’re planning on having a CD release party in early July, and for the local folks that would be the best time to claim your pledge rewards. That way they can be accounted for, *and* it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the people who made the campaign a success. Some of our merchandise is currently available. If you have pledges involving multiple items, you’ll receive them as a whole when we have all of the items involved. It would just be too difficult to sort out who already has what from each reward level, and we really want full accountability to make the campaign a success on our end. So if you’ve made a pledge, and then attend one of our shows in the meantime, and want, say, a shirt, it will have to be separate from the shirt that’s part of your pledge reward. Sorry if that seems confusing, but we need to keep our merch sales separate from the Kickstarter rewards.

So once again, thank you so much for your support! We look forward to carrying on even more Klezmer mishegas in the future, and everyone’s welcome to come along for the ride![/box]


Northwest Folklife Festival 2013

We had so much fun at the Northwest Folklife Festival!  What a crazy, intense, and beautiful experience!  If you’ve never been to it, it’s hard to explain the enormous mass of stuff that is the Folklife Festival.  For those living in Idaho, imagine the Hyde Park Street Fair, multiply it by about 10, *then* add the Boise Curb Cup on top of it (but without the tokens).  And then make it four days long.  Lots of shows were happening on 24 (!!!) stages for the entire weekend, and then you had small groups of buskers down every walkway and bordering every park.  And then there were the food and merchandise vendors.

The organization was excellent.  Victoria said that getting registered was a bit hairy, but our stage had a stage manager, an MC, and an audio engineer, and what’s better; all three knew what they were doing!  The crowd seemed to really enjoy what we were playing and aside from some drum mic’ing issues it would be hard to imagine a smoother ride, especially given the circumstances.

We also would like to thank Mai Li of The Debaucherauntes for everything she did to make the Klezmer Folklife Afterparty happen.  If she had balls, she certainly busted ’em on this one, and we’re very grateful for the opportunity to play with and for the likes of Nu Klezmer Army, Bucharest Drinking Team, Erev Rav, and The Debaucherauntes themselves.  Sound issues kept things from being as tight as they could have been, but hopefully round two will be in the not-so-distant future!!

Here’s a few pictures from our experience.  There’s also pictures and some video from our performance.  I’ll try and update this gallery with them once I track down the originals…

Photo Gallery

A collection of some of our favorite pictures, by event

Click on any image to open up a gallery slideshow


Happy New Year!

As I write this, the sun has just set on the last day of 2012, and what a year it has been! It all started a few years back, with Victoria and I just wanting to play the music that we loved, the way that we wanted to play it. It’s really amazing to think of the people who have indulged us, or even have come along for the ride. I’d like to thank the venue owners, organizers, and fans who have supported us this past year, especially Sam Stimpert for helping us get the Diego’s Umbrella show, and Eric Gilbert for getting us into the Alefort lineup.  These were some of our first forays on our own outside of the “usual” bar gig, and we’re humbly grateful to have been considered for those events.

Ending this year on a *really* good note, Danielle Demaray has finished our cover art for our upcoming CD (see above, or visit our facebook page for a closer look), and we had our last recording session yesterday. The first part of January will involve me getting the recordings cleaned up and ready for mastering, the last part will involve the mastering itself. Getting the funds for printing CDs is a challenge, but we may be getting a Kickstarter campaign together, involving pre-sales, autographed prints of Danielle’s cover art, and perhaps us playing for a party of your choice, but we’re still working on that – stay posted!

2013 is going to be amazing! Our long awaited first album *will* be finished within the next two months.  From there, we get everything that we’ve built over the past three years, *plus* we’re now adding Hollace McMeirce to our lineup, and totally revamping our set list. Much more Klezmer, Russian, Romani, and Balkan goodness will be added in the very near future!

For shows, we have a tentative gig that we’re putting together at the Red Room on Jan 30th (details TBA), a very definite part of The Big, Badass Bellydance Show on Feb. 1st, then we’ll be bringing in Purim with Chabad Lubavitch of Idaho on Feb. 24th, and another tentative gig where we’ll rejoin our friends from Portland, Insomniac Folklore, on Feb 26th. Plans are also in the works for us to leave town once or twice in the summer!

And that’s life on Fleet Street right now! May you all have a happy and healthy new year!



A Freylikhn Khanike @ Shangri-La


We would like to thank Bob and Toni for hosting our 3rd annual Chanukah celebration, as well as the lovely duo of Hollace McMeirce and Akasha Rose for joining us, and everyone who came out to play and clap and dance.  It was a Chanukah party to remember!

Happy Chanukah!




Wow!  Two great Chanukah shows already!  We want to thank everyone at both the Shangri-La Tea Room and Cherry Gulch for two awesome shows with lots of fun and dancing!  Hopefully more pictures will be surfacing soon…

Na Zdrovye! To past, present, and future!




Oy, November was an extremely eventful month!  First off, we now have three fully mastered tracks currently for sale on CD Baby, and on our own website!  This is pretty huge by us.  Between different recording methods, lineup changes, this is something that we’ve been working very hard to achieve for over two years.  We have about ten more tracks ready for mastering, and three more to record, and then we’ll have the album we’ve always wanted.  We would *love* to give you a hard and fast release date, but the time and money to finish this project have been extremely hard to come by.  We’re still hoping to have the album itself finished by the end of the year, though we may have to wait until early spring for printing actual CDs.

We would also like to take a moment to thank everyone who supported us at the 2012 RAWards.  An absolutely heroic effort was put in by everyone to bring the most energetic performance we could muster, and our gratitude goes towards everyone who came, partook, and enjoyed it.

In other news, we’re very pleased to announce the addition of Hollace McMeirce to the band!  Hollace comes to us from Salt Lake.  Born and raised in the SLC area, Hollace has spent years studying Persian Art Music and other Oriental musical styles on a variety of plucked strings, such as a banjo he built and configured himself to mimic the traditional Persian saz.  When he isn’t playing with us, he’ll also be playing bouzouki in his improvisational music/dance duo “Drodna” (with his lovely fiance, Akasha, doing the dancing)

Our website has also gone through major updates!  New pictures have been added, our tracks are available for sale there, the navigation has been simplified and is now 100% mobile/tablet friendly.  The “About” section reflects our current lineup and now includes all members in one nifty frame.

Another change is that we’re going to *try* to use facebook differently.  Yes, facebook is nice, even essential.  Since most folks are on it, it’s easier to add to your news crawl than to try to get your attention elsewhere.  Also, when someone else takes pictures of us and posts them, it’s far easier to share than to track them down, upload the pictures to our site, and give them proper credit.  However, as some of you are very aware, facebook has changed the rules in who gets our updates.  This has drastically impacted our exposure there.  So now we are going to *try* to get in the habit of updating our website, and *then* sharing the updates on facebook.  This way, you can subscribe to our newsletter or RSS feed and get everything, and there’s always facebook besides.

So, onward!  On December 8th, we’re kickin’ off Chanukah in style with our 3rd annual Chanukah party at the Shangri-La Tea Room.  Bring the kids, the gelt, and your dancin’ shoes!

Now on CD Baby!

Our first three mastered tracks are now available for purchase on CD Baby, *THIS SITE*, and will soon be available on iTunes and other digital distribution outlets!  Click on the CD Baby button on the Navigation bar, or you can just click this link:  Here