JEECS member and Cockney-Yiddish music expert Vivi Lachs has a great event on November 22 with the launch of a CD by her band Katshan’es (Yiddish for “cabbage stalks”, and slang for “nonsense”).
The band performs Cockney-Yiddish music hall from the turn of the 20th century, harking back to the language of the eastern European Jewish immigrants who settled in England from the 1880s and created a vibrant Yiddish culture in London’s East End. In the height of the music-hall era, immigrant songwriters described their experiences of immigration in humorous, moving, feisty and irreverent Yiddish songs.
From the ‘York Minster’ and ‘Wonderland’ theatres of Whitechapel and Stepney, London Yiddish theatre troupes toured immigrant communities across the country with their witty and poignant Cockney-Yiddish entertainment. These songs give us glimpses of an impoverished, energetic and conflicted community in a state of flux, trying to acculturate to their new home with a new culture without losing their identity.
Katshan’es performs this material rescued from songsheets and songbooks lying in dusty archives. Some songs have known melodies, others have original music composed by the band. For two years Katsha’nes’ multimedia performance of songs and sketches has been entertaining audiences in the UK. Now their songs have been produced on an exuberant debut CD Don’t Ask Silly Questions, packed with lyrics, translations and historical context.
It is being launched in London on November 22 at Balabam, 58-60 High Rd, Stamford Hill, N15 6JU (close to Seven Sisters tube). Doors open at 8pm with music from 8.30. The band will be playing and there is a competition with prizes on the night, with food and drink on sale.
Tickets are £8 (£5 concessions) plus booking fee from Eventbrite here, via Facebook or from Katsha’nes’ website. On the door tickets will be £10 (£6). Every ticket secures a £2 reduction on the CD price. Pre-release copies of the CD can be ordered at £12 from www.katshanes.com.
Vivi is a key member of the well-established Klezmer Klub and has been singing Cockney-Yiddish songs for almost a decade. She completed a PhD at Royal Holloway on Yiddish popular culture of London before the First World War and her research will appear in the book Whitechapel Noise, to be published by Wayne State University Press in May next year. An experienced teacher, she gives lectures internationally and leads East End historical tours in song.
Other members of the band are: Sarha Moore of the internationally renowned Bollywood Brass Band, who is a saxophonist specialising in performing popular music from around the world, particularly in street bands; Flora Curzon, from Sam Lee and Friends fame, who started the violin aged four and recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, where she developed a passion for small ensemble playing; and Rebekka Wedell, music director of Kingston Liberal synagogue and a composer, singer and pianist who trained at the Guildhall School, London, and in Jerusalem.
What a joy! Derek Reid reviews the Katsha'nes CD
In this age of when the public have chosen to categorise songs of tradition and the genre (a French word meaning like, or similar to, but not the same) of protest song together, here you have exponents of the sharp edged, barbed urban statement straight from the streets where the Jewish immigrant encountered England.
Gradually under the influence of such street culture, the language of usage from the coarse and cutting edge of Loshen Ashkenaz slowly merged in the half way stage of “Yinglish” as she was “spoke”. A blend of Yiddish and English kind of!
The sentiments expressed in the lyrics and melodies that Katsha'nes buoyantly perform on this CD are those of the first annotated generation of “Agunot” (the chained women tied by religious law to the men who deserted them), a situation explained by the spiky performance on this release of the song “Di brivelekh fun Rusland – Letters from Russia”. Abrasive too are items “London bay nakht/London by night”; “Azoy geyt dos gelt avek/That's how the money goes”.
Listening to the biting lyrics of some of these ballads, I was reminded of serious composers with names like Eisler, Dessau, Weill, who in the years between the two World Wars and particularly during the Weimar Republic, worked with Bertolt Brecht and produced songs such as “Mack The Knife”.
This CD holds a spotlight to a very productive time of Yiddish tenement expression and the influence on it of the English Music Hall and of America's Vaudeville stage.
Katsha' nes here give voice to some souls of the immigrant settling generation, not so much the communities of Yiddish speaking Lantsmun* but mainly to the children of the ghetto suffocated by a constricted claustrophobic environment, full of dark and dimly lit alley ways and shadowy tenant courtyards that needed a lighter touch.
A sense of venturing out with a mouthful of a new language, a breaking of the heavy shackles with the past, but sometimes having to acknowledge that you could do nothing but wear them even when they were broken.
* Lantsmun: men of the immigration who came from the same village
What others are saying about Katsha’nes
“Katsha’nes is like being transported back to the Whitechapel Music Halls of my Grandparents stomping grounds. Sparkling with all the flare of that heady era when the London throb met tradition featuring some great playing and fine production. Just in time for Christmas.” – Sam Lee (folk singer, song collector).
“’East Stepney, east StepNEY!’ is the favourite children’s’ bath song in our house… It’s a risqué song that goes over their heads, but it’s so irrepressibly catchy to sing along ‘every Sadie is a lady and every Sam a gent.’ We loved the new material and presentation.” – Nadia Valman (Reader in East-End literature, Queen Mary University).
“Vibrant, full of energy and wit – beautifully performed and infectiously enthusiastic; we left, back into a world that suddenly felt a lot less bleak.” – Davina Cooper (law professor, University of Kent).
“Katsha'nes take you on a genuinely fascinating and extremely accessible journey through the dark, dirty, satirical world of the London Yiddish music hall of the turn of the 20th century. A highly recommended evening out.” – Rachel Weston (Yiddish folk singer).
“A fun, funk & fabulous performance!” – Lloica Czackis (Yiddish tango singer).
“Katsha’nes are four brilliantly talented women who bring the Edwardian Jewish Music Hall triumphantly into the 21st Century. Music, theatre, history, fly with élan into a contemporary show bringing the Jewish immigrant experience into the multi ethnic present, Music Hall travesti to 21st century gender bending. It’s an unclassifiable delight!” – Nico Pollen (writer).