Following their Alwoodley performance as part of Leeds International Season, JLife speaks to local klezmer outfit, Kibitz on keeping Jewish musical tradition alive.
Hey guys, tell us what inspired you to get together and play klezmer?
The band first started playing together around 2016. Our violinist, Robin had studied with Ilana Cravitz, a fiddle player from the London Klezmer Quartet, as part of his music degree in London and wanted to set up his own klezmer outfit in Leeds.
Robin met Barney online as he was looking for an accordion player. The two of them rehearsed together regularly as a duo while trying to recruit more members to complete the line up! Soon, we had Oly Clarkson on clarinet, Luke Darlison on bass, Ollie Margerison on guitar and vocals and Alex Chadha on drums. None of the full-time members are Jewish, we just have a sincere love of the music.
You’re quite a traditional klezmer arrangement, but you infuse a number of genres into your music.
Historically speaking klezmer has often welcomed outside influences from other cultures, particularly other Eastern European/ Balkan music as well as jazz in the American klezmer revival. In terms of our own performance of klezmer sometimes we take a more traditional approach.
However, our band members all come from varying musical and cultural backgrounds, each with their own ideas to bring to the table. This is particularly apparent in our original compositions which take a more contemporary fusion approach incorporating influences from gypsy jazz, electro swing and Irish music to name but a few.
Does klezmer play a bigger influence in popular musical culture than we might think?
Considering klezmer is not that widely known in mainstream music, there are certainly many melodic references that find their way into popular music culture! I feel Fiddler on the Roof might have had something to do with this!
What type of events have you played?
Playing klezmer has given us all sorts of interesting gigging opportunities. We have played Jewish weddings and Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs, but also plenty of non-Jewish weddings and events. One of the great things we have found about playing klezmer is that it seems to have a universal appeal and will go down equally well with us playing as a duo in a care home to playing at a festival with a full six-piece.
We saw you in Simon Glass’ recent BBC Four documentary: ‘A Very British History: The Jews of Leeds’!
Simon first got in touch with us through an agency saying what the film was about and asking if we were interested in being a part of it. He was looking for a klezmer band that was from Leeds and we fit the bill! We were obviously very keen to be involved and met up with Simon to discuss it further and play some music.
Our set at the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board was filmed with Simon joining us on second guitar and we later played again for the premiere of the film at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. We all thought the film was amazing and felt very lucky to have been a part of it.
Following your debut record being featured on BBC Introducing, when are you releasing your next album?
We have been recording some original material recently along with a selection of traditional klezmer tunes. You can listen to a few demos of the original tunes on our SoundCloud page at ‘kibitzmusic’. We’re hoping to get the new album out in early 2020.
What’s your view on the ‘cultural appropriation’ debate? Shouldn’t we all just be able to enjoy the music?
It’s certainly a very good question and something we’ve spent many a long car journey to gigs discussing between ourselves. Although we can understand how people may consider a band of non-Jews playing klezmer music to be ‘cultural appropriation’, we have always tried to maintain a culturally sensitive approach to the music and have put many hours practising and researching not only the music but also the culture and history behind it.
Finally, why do you feel it so important to keep klezmer thriving?
We feel that klezmer is unique among folk styles in its ability to take the listener through a range of emotions in a short space of time. Its fascinating history deeply tied to Jewish culture and its resilience in the face of musical extinction makes it all the more crucial to keep alive.