Hava Nagila...No Longer Popular? Jul 31, 2012 9:09:05 GMT -5
Post by shira on Jul 31, 2012 9:09:05 GMT -5
At Some Happy Events, 'Hava Nagila' Isn't Invited
By LUCETTE LAGNADO
CEDARHURST, N.Y.—When newlyweds Bryan Salamon and Rachel Itzkowitz entered the ballroom of Temple Beth El earlier this month, the band struck up a raucous rendition of the hora, a traditional Jewish folk dance.
For 45 minutes, the Neshoma Orchestra—whose slogan is "Your Soul Source for Jewish Music"—performed 15 Hebrew dance hits as hundreds of guests surrounded the couple, hoisting the bride high on a chair and dancing around the two in ecstatic circles.
Noticeably absent from the gleeful medley? The best known Jewish wedding song of them all: "Hava Nagila."
"'Hava Nagila' at a wedding is like pouring sour milk on cereal," said Naomi Salamon, the groom's mother. "You won't hear it in the next set or the set after that," vowed her husband, Michael.
"Hava Nagila," Hebrew for "Let Us Rejoice," has been a staple of Jewish—and some non-Jewish—celebrations for decades. The song often accompanies the hora, a traditional dance-in-the-round that is performed at weddings, bar mitzvahs, engagement parties and other joyful occasions.
As American Jews assimilated, "Hava Nagila," with its dizzying tune that incorporates major and minor modes, became one of the last cultural touchstones of the past. Even the most secular Jews craved it.
It became "the equivalent of a knish," says Henry Sapoznik, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Wisconsin. Incidentally, he considers it to be "a really crummy little tune."
Crummy or not, the melody rang off the walls of catering halls, echoed in big suburban synagogues that sprouted up after World War II and broke into the musical mainstream in the 1950s. Crooner Harry Belafonte made it one of his signature songs. Chubby Checker danced the twist to it. Lena Horne used the melody to deliver a powerful message against racism in a song called "Now." In 1961, Bob Dylan sang his own version—"Talkin' Hava Nageilah Blues"—in a Greenwich Village club.
Some of those earlier interpretations may have boosted "Hava Nagila" into an improbably cool range. Now, a backlash is in full swing.
"It is the cliché of Jewish music," insists Neshoma Orchestra leader Elly Zomick, which does some 200 wedding and bar mitzvah gigs a year. He avoids playing it—along with "The Macarena," "YMCA," and "Sunrise, Sunset"—unless specifically asked.
Among other tunes from the annoyingly redundant banquet-hall repertoire: "The Electric Slide" and the "Chicken Dance."
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehilath Jeshurun, a large Orthodox congregation on Manhattan's Upper East Side, isn't one to be moved. The body of Jewish musical works, he says, "has gone leagues beyond" the familiar ditties. Yet "no one sings it unless someone in the wedding party has a nostalgia for the old days."
He should know. Rabbi Lookstein presided over the wedding ceremony for Ivanka Trump, daughter of real-estate mogul Donald Trump, and Jared Kushner, publisher of the New York Observer. Afterward, the wedding party adjourned to a reception at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. There, at the request of the couple, the band played "Hava Nagila."
"Hava Nagila" isn't in danger of becoming a musical relic. It already is one. The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan is planning a fall exhibit on "Hava Nagila," and has collected old album covers from the years when the tune pulsated through nearly every Jewish affair. Museum staffers plan to re-create a 1960s rec room, with a dance floor. Visitors will be able to listen to Mr. Belafonte's cover of the song, or comedian Allan Sherman's droll 1962 parody, "Harvey and Sheila."
Melissa Martens, the exhibit's curator, says "Hava Nagila" has had a long, strange journey. "It came from Eastern Europe, its lyrics were written in Palestine and its final chapter is here in America," she says.
Ms. Martens says those who wish for the song's disappearance are bound to be disappointed. If nothing else, YouTube videos will keep the song alive. And it continues to surface in unexpected places. At the London Olympics on Sunday, U.S. gymnast Alexandra Raisman performed her floor routine to "Hava Nagila."
Now, "Hava Nagila" even has its own movie—a documentary that opened at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco on July 19. Roberta Grossman, director of "Hava Nagila (The Movie)," says disliking the song "was a great place to rebel, for one generation to say, 'we are not interested in suburban religion.' ''
Among the most dedicated Hava-haters are musicians who have to play it. For serious Jewish folk musicians, the wearisome tune has become as much anathema as "When the Saints Go Marching In" is to New Orleans jazz performers.
In the Big Easy, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band began beating back "Saints" requests some years ago by announcing that that particular rendition would cost patrons extra. Recently, they doubled the price. The current sign reads: "Traditional Requests $5, Others $10, The Saints $20."
Even so, "it's a hell of a deal," says Ron Rona, managing director at Preservation Hall.
Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics, a Grammy-winning band, says his group takes a less confrontational approach. The Klezmatics, leaders in the recent revival of klezmer, the party music of Eastern European Jews, never perform "Hava Nagila" at its concerts. But at private functions, they sometimes get requests they can't refuse. "We do a big dance number and throw it in," Mr. Sklamberg says.
Some musicians have rebelled against "Hava Nagila" stigma by trying to reinvent it. Philadelphia musician Ben Laden recorded "Hava NaFriggin Gila" after asking his band to play whatever notes they wanted "as long as they weren't [the notes to] 'Hava Nagila' but in the melodic rhythm of 'Hava Nagila'." The result? A madcap, discordant version—yet one that still sounds like "Hava Nagila."
In New York, musician David Krakauer put together his own "funky" version and dubbed it "The H-Tune." When he and his band, Abraham Inc., performed it, they were joined by a chanteuse in a slinky dress—actually Mr. Krakauer's daughter, Alicia. Her halting, Marilyn Monroe-esque voice gives the song a sultry edge. "You can think of it as hateful or you can embrace it," says Mr. Krakauer. "I enjoy the challenge of making it sound really good."