Chava Alberstein - Live

Chava Alberstein Chava Alberstein stands poised between two worlds. One is the Central European culture of the pale-- Germany, Poland, Romania, Belarus, Central Europe in general -- that world-gone-by of Yiddish culture first decimated during the Second World War and now dying out with the last remnants of an aged generation. The other is the new world built upon the ashes of the old in Israel. And where one language, Yiddish, and its people are disappearing, another language, Hebrew, is reinvented, reinvigorated, moving forward. "In the beginning of the State of Israel,"Chava explains, "people like Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, were fighting against Yiddish, because to create something new you have to destroy something old. I don't approve, but I understand this. It was to create a new national identity. But we lost a great cultural treasure, because Yiddish is literature, poetry." And now when the language is nearly lost, there is a growing recognition, a mourning for the language and culture that has all but disappeared. "Now people are less arrogant and cynical and more open to it -- maybe because it is dying. It is not threatening anybody anymore." Chava Alberstein is the premier voice, world class, poignant, some would say world-weary, of Yiddish culture in Israel and the world. Her work in keeping the tradition alive, in tracking down old songs and even setting Yiddish poems to music for the first time, is therefore all the more important. It provides a bridge to a vibrant culture that was, a culture that will have died out completely in a matter of just a few more years. Poland Chava Alberstein was born in Northern Poland, just after World War II. Her parents survived on the run, escaping first to Russia when the Nazis invaded Warsaw, and then back to Poland again at the end of the war. "All the others in the family stayed in Warsaw," she explains, "because nobody believed what would happen. I think none of them remained alive." In December 1950, the family moved to Israel. "I grew up among people who were all immigrants, of course, which is the strongest experience for me. It appears in everything that you do, being an immigrant: beginning a new life in a new place, with a new language, a new culture." At home she heard Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew. These old and new worlds were to have an effect upon her that would strike its most indelible mark in her music. On the one side was the almost unfathomable tragedy of what they had escaped from. On the other was the new state of Israel and its language, wrestled from the old and breathed into life once again. Chava's music, like the experience that formed her, spans these worlds in transition. In Poland, her father had been a piano teacher, but in Israel the family was too poor to afford a piano. He took up accordion, "the poor man's piano," as Chava puts it, and started giving her lessons when she was 13. She learned quickly and soon enough could be found playing at neighborhood folk dances. Her father continued to encourage her love of music and once day came home with a guitar he'd bought from a street seller in downtown Haifa. "I fell in love with it immediately," enthuses Chava. This was a time, in the early 1960's, when the acoustic guitar became the emblem of a folk-singing generation. Joan Baez was the first to become popular in Israel, and Chava had found in her an early idol and influence. Soon enough she came to know many of the American folk artists of the time. At the age of 14, she hopped a on a bus to Haifa, she lived in the Northern suburbs, to catch Pete Seeger in concert. "it was the first time he came to Israel; it was one of the strongest experiences in my life to see this man alone on stage with a guitar, banjo, ukulele hanging on him. When he started to sing I felt this is what i want to do. This is the way I want to make a connection with people." But rather than parrot American singers and their themes, Chava's artistic temperament instinctively sought out a music that would be as meaningful to her and her experience as the American singers she loved made a music relevant to theirs. She found at home two very old books her parents had brought with them from Poland, two of the very few, precious things brought from the old country. They were books of Yiddish poetry and music. "I started to learn a few songs and to ask questions about Yiddish music, because I felt it was something I could relate to. It was the 1950's and even now we still don't know what is original Israeli music. I wanted something that had more edge and could really be called folk music." She learned songs from her mother, started playing them in public and soon enough her neighbors began rummaging through old trunks to hand over their own prized books of songs and poetry. Her very first album, recorded before she was 18, bore the fruits of this work. It was an album made entirely of Yiddish songs. And, as Chava notes, "It was not very clever and commercial for a young singer to sing these very old songs." The Yiddish songs that did exist on radio were only done in a mock-operatic style, and "here I came with my guitar, as young singers all over the world sing their own music, because it was my inspiration." To her great suprise, young people liked it. And that was the beginning. In time, she expanded to singing Hebrew songs, but throughout the years returns to Yiddish repertoire. Her research continues apace. "Through the years, I collected them partly from books, partly from my parents and surroundings, and from what I learned traveling."
Now you can hear all this in her new double cd "Live"