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Sounds of the world : the Jazz´n klezmer festival, music of resilience

This article is a result of a col­la­bo­ra­tive pro­ject bet­ween #Aux­Sons and Ale­jan­dro Abbud Torres Tori­ja, lec­tu­rer at Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims, and regu­lar contri­bu­tor to #Aux­Sons. As part of the class “Sounds of the world : Music as mir­ror of the inti­mate and the col­lec­tive”, inter­na­tio­nal stu­dents from Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims pre­pa­red articles pre­sen­ting contem­po­ra­ry music from dif­ferent parts of the world in connec­tion with recent socio-poli­ti­cal events.

The annual Jazz’n Klez­mer Fes­ti­val in France has this year been adap­ted to offer online musi­cal events during the pan­de­mic, pre­sen­ting one concert per month, with artists such as Col­lec­tif Medz Bazar, Macha Gha­ri­bian Trio, Mathias Levy Trio, Norig & No Gyp­sy Orches­tra and Yakir Arbib. The fes­ti­val aims to spread the revi­val of Klez­mer in all its contem­po­ra­ry forms. Klez­mer is a genre of music that has both faced and been for­med by chal­len­ging times. Klez­mer offers a por­tal through which his­to­ry and memo­ry can be explo­red as well as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get to know the col­lec­tive uncons­cious of a popu­la­tion with a his­to­ry like no other.

Col­lec­tif Medz Bazar – Vod­ki


When lis­te­ning to Klez­mer, one embarks on a jour­ney through the com­po­nents of Jewish iden­ti­ty. The repe­ti­tive rising and fal­ling of the melo­dies reminds us of the defiance with which the musi­cal genre has faced set­backs ; it reflects the his­to­ri­cal struggles of the Jewish people as a whole. The music is often cha­rac­te­ri­zed by a fee­ling of emo­tio­nal year­ning and raw­ness as it conveys both ecs­ta­sy and grief.

Although the pan­de­mic has undoub­ted­ly posed a chal­lenge to the music sec­tor as a whole, it is cer­tain­ly not the first chal­lenge Klez­mer has faced. His­to­ri­cal­ly pas­sed down through fami­lies, much of the tra­di­tion was des­troyed during the Holo­caust, later to ree­merge from archi­ved recor­dings and sur­vi­ving musi­cians in the U.S. One may won­der what makes this genre so resi­lient. Be it through pogroms, emi­gra­tion or wars, Klez­mer seems to be able to regain popu­la­ri­ty and adapt to its sur­roun­dings. This could be explai­ned by its abi­li­ty to make the lis­te­ner recon­nect with him or her­self, brin­ging the echoes of the past into the present. Fol­lo­wing the assi­mi­la­tion of both Ame­ri­can and Ger­man Jews after violent pogroms in Europe, the search for iden­ti­ty sti­mu­la­ted the revi­val of this dying genre. Col­lec­tive memo­ry is a cen­tral part of the Torah, ins­truc­ting the Jewish people to remem­ber signi­fi­cant bibli­cal events which contri­bute to a col­lec­tive sense of Jewish iden­ti­ty. As his­to­ri­cal­ly per­se­cu­ted people, this notion of a Jewish col­lec­tive memo­ry has offe­red both solace and a sense of com­mu­ni­ty through the most chal­len­ging of times. Its expres­sive melo­dies empha­size raw emo­tions by imi­ta­ting the human voice through the use of musi­cal orna­ments (dreyd­lekh) such as kre­khts (or sobs).

While the sense of fami­lia­ri­ty and emo­tions com­mu­ni­ca­ted through Klez­mer trans­cend both time and space, the music itself has been hea­vi­ly influen­ced by dif­ferent genres, cultures and time per­iods. Born from the musi­cal tra­di­tions of the Ash­ke­na­zi Jews of Cen­tral and Eas­tern Europe, it has been hea­vi­ly influen­ced by tra­di­tio­nal music from this region, in addi­tion to Otto­man music, reli­gious Jewish music, Ger­man and Sla­vic folk dances and Baroque music. During the Klez­mer revi­val of the 70’s, musi­cians began increa­sin­gly incor­po­ra­ting other genres such as jazz and punk. 

The deci­sion taken by the Jazz n’ Klez­mer fes­ti­val to move their events online pre­sents just ano­ther example of how the genre has mana­ged to adapt to its ever-chan­ging envi­ron­ment. Along with the fusion of Klez­mer music with the glo­bal­ly popu­lar genre of Jazz, this Jewish musi­cal tra­di­tion is sho­wing no sign of disappearing. 


the authors

Maria Gloers­tad is 21 years old and of Norwegian/Italian ori­gins. She is cur­rent­ly pur­suing an under­gra­duate degree at Sciences Po Paris in Reims. She has always found music and its connec­tion to his­to­ry and socie­ty very inter­es­ting. She is also pas­sio­na­te­ly inter­es­ted in Judaism, and has taken a Hebrew sum­mer course at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Haifa.

Tom Knowles comes from Lan­cas­ter, nor­th­west of England. He is cur­rent­ly stu­dying poli­ti­cal science at Sciences Po Paris cam­pus Reims but has had a keen inter­est in music all his life. He has played the pia­no and gui­tar for around 10 years and loves to play pop, rock, funk, and jazz music. Wha­te­ver the style, he is fas­ci­na­ted by the way in which we as a socie­ty inter­act with music. 

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