Introducing, Chai For All

Introducing Bristol jazzy Yiddish folk ensemble, Chai For All, who’ve got me reminiscing about how, pre-internet, we used to find new musical genres, much least, we tried!

Remember when record shops presented products alphabetically yet had separate sections for the more, shall we say, unusual genres? You know, for the peculiar customers?! Masses of rock and pop spread across the store, yet it was a quest to find tiny sections of blues, or reggae, even lesser so for jazz, and microscopes were essential to locate the “World Music” section. The remainder of the entire planet’s music stuffed into a five-inch gap and shoved carelessly in the corner with the worst dry rot!

Dare you even browse there, through fear of someone you know sauntering in and questioning your activities? Resistance is futile; conform to pop culture or be ridiculed!

Even Paul Simon’s attempts to make world music “cool” was unsustainable. Therefore, I’d sneak into the public library whereby I could hire cassettes from around the world, and that was my introduction to music from outside pop confounds; my DIY Womad! Praise the internet, where now you can virtually trek the earth, privately browsing and obtaining more information than sleeve notes could’ve ever provided.

But the net has drawbacks. This week some over-zealous nutjob blocked me on Twitter for calling a band “misfits,” when by dictionary definition they’re darn close, and it was far from the “hate speech,” of which they accused me. Meanwhile, I was listening to Chai For All, because I crave the unusual, consider the status quo often tedious, and besides, in my honest opinion, the word misfit was used as a term of endearment, even the band themselves approved; it’s good to be different.

Chai For All, chai being Hebrew for ‘life,’ are a Bristol-based multinational, multilingual ensemble, touring middle eastern and Jewish music sets, and music and spoken word performances both nationally and internationally. Through a tinge of jazz, they breath fresh air into Yiddish song, klezmer and middle eastern music. It’s about as far reached from aforementioned pop confounds as possible, and I love it for that very reason.

Can I even say Yiddish, if I can’t say misfit?! I’m certain someone somewhere will pull me up on it despite, aptly, it’s what the band use to describe their sound. You can’t please everyone; I’ve never felt the need to use the twisted trending word “woke” before, and refuse to start now!

© Claudio Ahlers

Exploration of burgeoning Balkan ska has prepped my ears for this sound, UK groups like Mr Tea & The Minions, The Boot Hill All Stars and the Bomo-Sapiens, inspired by the inclination yet fusing anything from West Country folk to Bavarian Oompah Bands into the melting pot. I don’t profess to be all-knowledgeable on the subject, but I know what I like.

Like, because it glides you to another place, or another time; good music transcends barriers, rather than pop blasé raising them. As a restaurant’s background music embraces its cuisine and creates a fitting ambiance, the emotive middle-eastern folk and powerful Yiddish song of Chai for Life’s repertoire transports you to lands afar. You can visualise rising synagogues above sandy market places bustling with Kaftan-robed, camel escorting, traders when they play their accomplished and wholly entertaining old ballads of soulful, yearning and rousing dance tunes.

© Gina Tratt at Vanilla Visuals 

Never has it been more appropriate to recite the phrase “also available for weddings or bar mitzvahs,” as Chai for All concerts celebrate the rich Yiddish song and klezmer wedding and dance traditions. Its two most recent music and storytelling shows explored the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which led to the creation of the State of Israel, the Palestinians’ loss of their homeland and the unleashing of one of the bitterest conflicts of modern times. Weaving together Jewish, Palestinian and British stories, this is a riveting study of the complexities of history. Such is the subject of their album Longing, Belonging & Balfour, available to download on their website.

Yet singer Marianna Moralis is keen to point out to me this past storytelling album project is not really representative of their upbeat Yiddish set, combining swing, which they perform at gigs, and that’s right up my beer-spilling street.

Overall, and to conclude, their beautiful sound is a magnificent musical journey from the haunted Eastern European shtetls, through the dimly-lit basement bars of tango-crazed Buenos Aires, to the vibrant neighbourhoods of swinging New York. Coupled with tongue-in-cheek banter and audience rapport, you have to admit, around these parts, it’s something completely different, and, I think, would suit a small-town arts festival…. this isn’t Prague or Warsaw, least last time I checked.

Unless, of course, you can locally think of another example of a music and spoken word performance, illuminating the many personal acts of Palestinian rebellion against Israeli repression, from reviving native seed stocks to preserving and promoting traditional music?

No, I thought not!

You can find Chai For All performing at:

 — Chai For All at the INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY celebrationThe Grapes, Bath BA1 1EQ
 — Mazl & Brokhe: Yiddish SongThe Hare on the Hill, Bristol BS2 8LX
 — Mazl & Brokhe: Yiddish SongNew Inn, Bath BA1 2AY

Find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


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