Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jewish Music Post # 1

Recently I was having a heated discussion with BlogDM about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and who should play his music. I am going to respond to him on a later post which will be a long one, especially since this is something I am very passionate about.

What I wanted to discuss was something about Jewish Music which was talked about all over the Jewish Blogosphere today. The first place where I saw something was on Arutz 7 when I got there daily email and saw the following article #7 about the new music video that Avraham Fried has produced. Rubin brings in an Interview with Avraham Fried about the state of Jewish music and I don't remember where I saw the other discussions regarding this issue.

My problem with all of this is why is there a need to have a Jewish Music video? I think all of this is a defamation of the Torah everytime an "entertainer" who some people think is a musician sings some psukim to put on a show for some people. While I was bored and looking at all the stupid videos that are available online, someone posted a video of what they called "Jew Video" which was actually MBD dancing around pretending to be spiritual. Its real spiritual to have your, name, picture, and video all over the place while you are putting money in the bank. What is the necessity of a Jewish Music Video? Most people who listen to that garbage don't have TV's to begin with so where are they going to watch it? If its on a CD its not going to work on a CD player. You need a DVD player or a computer to watch it. What would be the point? In secular music the whole reason why MTV came about was to have a video as an advertisement to sell albums. Videos draw attention by having semi dressed woman dancing around and all sorts of other things. The more vile, the better the video. Is this the path the Jewish Entertainment world is going to take as well to sell more albums?

I know I am being extreme but this has got to be one of the stupidest things around. If you look at the people who are given credit as starting the Jewish Music business, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Ben Zion Shenker, Diaspora, Deveykus, Rabbis Sons and a few more I am unaware of, were in the music business to spread Torah, neginah and dance in a way to help people with their Avodas Hashem and to bring people closer. Not to have their pictures plastered on posters and billboards all over Jewish neighborhoods to sell albums and tickets to concerts. Now on top of that videos need to come out? They might as well sing in English, take all Psukim out of everything they sing, come out with their videos and finally admit what they are doing is not Jewish. There are plenty of Jewish musicians who are out their who are not "entertainers" and are really Baalei Niggunim the right way. I am not going to list the ones who are in this category but I will say there are not many. Not only are there not many of these people but almost all of them live in Israel. That can add to the bumper stickers that I see that say Yerushalayim Shel Zahav- Americai Shel Kesef- Jerusalem of Gold-America of Money.

The only thing I can do is not buy these peoples albums and not listen to their music and go their concerts. The only problem is that it is impossible to ignore when they put there faces all over the newspapers and the other places I mentioned before. Maybe these people love looking at themselves and seeing themselves all over the place now in videos as well. There is no other explanation for this. I will continue with a post to come about Jewish Music in general.

13 comments:

Yehuda said...

A few points.
1) The video in question is nothing like those of MTV. I believe the point is to add effect to the powerful song. (Which happens to be an English song. Don't know what you were thinking with the "They might as well sing in English, take all Psukim out of everything they sing,")

2) It seems you have no idea who you are dealing with. While I am not close to Avraham Fried, I have come in contact with him a few times and know a few people who are very close to him. He is very far from the person you depict in this piece "..... have their pictures plastered on posters and billboards all over Jewish neighbourhoods to sell albums and tickets to concerts..." He is an incredibly modest person and would probably prefer the life without billboards and posters.
Just like the others you mention, he too sings to inspire. Yes, he does it for a living, but he really does do it for the right reasons.
As for MBD and the others, I have no clue, but I don’t see a reason to go out and bash them unnecessarily and without cause.

I think the underlying problem you have is the use of modern innovation. Instead of shunning it, AF has decided to incorporate it into his music, while at the same time not overly secularize his music (he makes this very clear in the interview).

I think this post was an overly harsh, knee-jerk reaction, to something which, even in worst case scenario, isn’t so despicable.

FrumWithQuestions said...

Thanks Yehuda for reading. I enjoy hearing the opinions of others and In will now adress your points.

1- The videos on MTV started that way. By having a video it puts the focus on the video itself and the music is just something in the backround. What i said about "They might as well sing in English, take all Psukim out of everything they sing," was a general statement regarding all of this modern Jewish music. I am just a bad writer so you did not read the way i wanted it to be heard.

2. I disagree with you completely. AF's picture is all over the place and if you look at the pictures they were clearly taken in a studio or someplace professional for the sole purpose of being put all over the place. He could have objected to this but he did not. He does not do it to inspire but does it to make money. If you go to CH where he lives, you can walk down his block and clearly identify which is his house. I you go down a different block (where Matisyahu lives) you would be clueless when it comes to figuring out which one is his. I have some experience with AF that is the exact opposite of your experience. If you think he is in it to inspire, where is he after his concerts? Does he go into the audience after and talk to people? Not a chance. Try going to a real Jewish concert with a real Baal Neginah and they will talk to whoever wants to talk to them. Real Baal Neginah have stories about where their niggunim are from. The only AF stories I have heard are the ones he stole from Chabad and put on albums to make money.

This post was not a knee jerk reaction. That news article was just an add on to the problems I already have.

Yehuda said...

I fail to see why singing in English is "modern". You cite Dveykus as inspirational material. Dveykus is only one project out of Abie Rotenburg's many. 90% of his music is in English, and pretty inspiring, if I may say so! Chabad, for instance have songs in Russian. It makes sense, if you want to inspire, inspiration must come in the language a person understands. I personally think of "modern Jewish music" as Blue Fringe, Matisyahu etc. AF is definitely not in that category.
He personally picks topics and words for his songs, as is evidenced from the way he speaks about them. He picks them to inspire and to uplift. He doesn’t just rely on a composer. He is involved in every step of the production, arrangements etc to make sure his message and style is consistent.

I don’t really want to get into the whole “AF is a great guy/horrible guy” back and forth. My main point was the second to last paragraph of my last comment, (which you didn't respond to) but it feel it unfair to let your sharp criticism go unanswered.

Let me stress, I am not related to AF in any way and have no vested interests.
AF is an incredibly modest man. I am too young to know this first hand, but I am told that at the beginning of his carrier his stage performances were horrid. He practically hid behind speakers. He had to work very hard on the outgoing personality he presents on stage now. I don't know what you have experienced, but personally, and every person I know, has the same experience. He is a quiet gentle person, who barely says a word.
But that doesn’t quite go with the billboards and studio pictures does it? I think its all part of what he took on. Yes, I will even call it sacrifice! He wants to spread a message through music, in these days that comes with a certain "pop culture" imaging. I know very well that you are thinking that the “true Ballei Neginah” don’t do this, but I believe that in order for him to have the success he has had, it needed to be done. Others don’t do it true, but they don’t have the impact he has either. He has touched thousands all over the world. Sholom Carlebach touched many more and came dangerously close to, if he didn’t actually do so, crossing Halachic boundaries. I know we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but his dealings with women were, umm, questionable. AF has crossed no Halachic barriers, is very careful as to the style of his music, but his video makes him a money-hungry businessman with no care at all for Jewish musical inspiration.
He constantly gives of himself wherever he is. On all his tours he will always be asked to visit someone in hospital or something similar. He is always there to help, I have heard tis first hand from many people. He sings at times, like all performers do, for free or at reduced rates, and is a constant source of Chessed. I really find it difficult to believe (not that I don't) that you experienced otherwise. It just goes against everything I've heard and seen. As for his house, I really have never noticed it, despite walking down his block many times, but then again I have never looked.

As for going to audiences, his audiences are probably a hec of a lot larger than those other singers you refer to have! Besides, it simply is not true! He is very open to speak to anyone and everyone at all times. I have never heard of him brushing off anyone.

I take back the “knee jerk reaction” comment. I misjudged, and for that I will be eternally sorry. Actually I think that’s a bit extreme, but you get my point ;-)
About what you mentioned about not writing clearly, I don't know if you are that terrible a writer, but you definitely come across very sharp!

FrumWithQuestions said...

Yehudah- If this is the comment I did not respond to " think the underlying problem you have is the use of modern innovation. Instead of shunning it, AF has decided to incorporate it into his music, while at the same time not overly secularize his music (he makes this very clear in the interview)." I will right now. I have no problem with modern innovation as long as it is done without defeating the purpose of a niggun. I am a fan of Soulfarm and other groups who use "modern innovations" to old niggunim without changing them or turning them secular. What AF does along with the other musicians is take the sounds of the secular music and put pesukim or Jewish sounding English lyrics which are horrible. Check out these posts by MO Chossid for a better understanding of what i mean : http://mochassid.blogspot.com/search?q=english+lyrics.

AF music isn't innovating anything secular because most of it is. And for your info on AF earlier albums he stole music from Reb Shlomo and put it on his albums without persmission or credit. Is that modest? How about the limos he goes to at his concerts? Reb Shlomo had much bigger crowds at some shows than AF and had enough time to mingle with people. Someone who dresses and acts like this is not modest. I don't know how you define modest. There is a difference of being quiet and shy like you said and being modest.

I am curious to know how Avraham Frieds performances have inspired you to do something? While I am at it, how come Misnagdim can't get enough of AF and hate Lubavitch at the same time? That always bothered me as well. He wrote the lyrics and started the Baruch Habah Melech Hamoshiach movement!!

Yehuda said...

Ok, I checked up those articles on MoChossid and read all the comments. Very interesting discussion, though it’s not really the point we are discussing. I think you are confusing (or more likely, I am misunderstanding you) two issues. 1. English lyrics. 2. Modernisation.
The point there (MoC) is purely about the suckiness of Jewish English songs. I personally agree that they while they mostly do suck, but there are PLENTY of exceptions. Abie Rotenberg as I have mentioned, a few MBD songs and a few AF songs (outside the stream of main, you have Ken Burgess, Moshav etc and even others like 8th Day who have “interesting” lyrics). I am not going to go into examples, you can go back and read "still wonderings" comments, I pretty much agree with him, but not completely. (I also agree with TTC's points about the abuse of Hebrew lyrics, but that is done by practically everyone)

Funny thing is though, I think when it comes to shiny shoe music, Fried is the absolute best with lyrics, both Hebrew and English. You don't end up dancing to nachem or crying to Asher Barah.

The video actually would be the worst thing to pick on in this regard. Your problem as stated there is that people don't write their own stuff. Well, Fried wrote this himself, and he is extremely involved in any parts he doesn't do himself (arrangements etc)
This song, in blog reviews across the spectrum, (Rubin, ASJ, Jewish-music, mystical paths to name a few) was called an exception in English songs. It was loved by all that I have read. I wonder if you even heard the song! Just as MoC "admits" to not having listened to regular MBD English songs, but dismisses them all, you have automatically dismissed any English song!

Basically I believe that a major problem exists in Jewish music. Unsuitable lyrics. But I believe the problem exists both with Hebrew lyrics and English lyrics and there is no difference between the two. I still can't see why you pick on the English. (Not English ppl; I'd totally understand why you'd pick on the English!!!)

I am not going to continue the AF argument. I think he's great; you've had bad experiences, heard some bad things and disagree. I’d like to leave it at that.

The feeling I get from you is that you have a bit of an extreme personality. And if you dislike something you'll throw it out completely. (Obviously I don't know you, and have barely even read anything of yours, this is just me being very judgemental!! probably a stupid thing to do, but.......)

As for your comments on Misnagdim, AF and Lubavitch, that is an entirely different thing! All I can say is that when I read it, I just laughed. It doesn't make sense, but maybe because the hate in the first place makes no sense. They love music, they love fighting. I am a Chossid and I don't like Shweckey! I don't think there is a connection, but you never know!!! (I love others who or not chassidic! Believe it or not, I'll even listen to a Moshav Band song or 2!!! Not very Michoel Shnitzler like, eh?)

As for AF's inspiration, I personally don't listen to any "music" for inspiration to improve in my Avodas Hashem. The songs that inspire me to DO (and that’s the main thing) are Chabad niggunim. Yes I listen to other music, but that puts me in a different frame of mind. It will lift my spirits, make me smile or make me think about certain things, but I am not going to listen to Abi Rotenburg and then go daven better. If I sing Tzomoh Lecho Nafshi, well, that’s a different story.
I am not knocking anyone who does. I personally would not feel like learning a blat Gemorroh after listening to Soul Farm. That style of music comes across to me like half-baked-spiritual-freak-druggies. “Let’s get closer to G-D, Oh, holy brother. Lets feel the love.” To me it’s a bit wishy washy.

Once again, I stress TO ME! I do not think they are half baked druggies, I’m sure they are fine people who keep Torah and Mitzvos and may be closer to G-D than I’ll ever dream of. That’s just what that style music makes me think of. Call me crazy!

Anonymous said...

I love abie rotenberg stuff, and I think it does have a true yiddishe tam.
I agree that tom, dick and yankle are just churning em out.

FrumWithQuestions said...

Yehudah- YOu have figured me out that I have a very extreme personality when it comes to opinions. I am a very honest straightforth person which is why this Jewish music drives me crazy. I know you don't want to talk about AF anyomore but one thing i never mentioned is that i think that when he sings he does not use his natural voice. He is very nasal and does not sing properly. When i hear his voice sometimes I cringe. My point with the video and the music is that these people AF included are in it for the money and not for music and neginah. Bands are different because they are actual musicians and without them we would have no simcha music at weddings. You also need talent to be in a band where as these singers just need money to pay someone to write songs and make yourself and self proclaimed Jewish music superstar. The real Jewish musicians do not do this. I don't throw things out completely if I don't like them. Its just that Shulchan Aruch prohibits one to listen to music since the temple was destroyed. Heterim have been given to this generation because we need it in forms of real chassidishe niggunim and simcha music for weddings and other similar occasions to help raise our spiritual level. Rebbe Nachman teaches and it is a Simply Tsfat song that a dance will help you cope. This other modern Jewish music does not fit in this category. If you go to an SF performance, there is no dancing and the ushers will make you sit, i am not listening to this music in a setting of wedding and I certainly would not hire him for a febrengen or and suedas mitzvah where there is singing. The video over emphasizes this point. That the music is not for the purpose of the Heterim given. I am making an assumption that you are a Lubavitcher. As someone who is close to Chabad I will tell you that i understand what you are saying about Chabad niggunim and how they help you. If you think about what you said than you can undertand what I am talking about if you compare a real Chabad niggun to the modern day jewish music and you cannot. Chabad niggunim were written by Tzaddikim and there is a story behind every niggun where this modern Jewish music is written from the wallet for the purpose of the wallet.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Interesting discussing.

mamamitzvah said...

BS'D
Hi,
I can understand exactly what you are saying and a part of me agrees totally with you. However, I am guessing you are somewhat younger than my 50+ years. I had the mazel of knowing R' Shlomo OBM. You may not believe this, but we are still fighting battles on his behalf. There were many who felt betrayed when R' Shlomo left the cloistered life of Lakewood for the world of Kiruv. However, You appear to understand what R' Shlomo was attempting with music and the stories of our beloved , holy ancestors. I can see why you are critical of today's singers of Jewish music, but I am wiling to bet, and I really have to believe that everyone from Avram Fried to Mattisyahu is doing what they do for the purposes of spreading Torah to people totally unaware of Torah life. So, SoulFarm, Moshav, Chaim David, Simply Sfat, RebbeSoul and even Mattisyahu amy be touching a part of a non religious person who could not be reached by the conventional means of Kiruv. I saw Mattisyahu in a small club in Tel Aviv. There were only enough frum people to count on 2 hands, but the rest of the room was basically non frum Israelis, mostly Chayalim. Being probably the oldest person in the club, the Chayalim looked at me as a sort of Safta. One young Chayal told me that he doesn't look frum, but he says Tehillim everyday. Even though the English awareness was less than perfect, they all knew the lyrics and when Yerushalayim was mentioned or when he said the cleverly repetitive lyrics 'FIGHTING FOR YOUR SOUL' the people were mesmerized. Now, nobody lined up at the door to put on Tefillin, but the young Chayal who was in front of me who told me that he siad Tehillim every day, I gave my Tehillim, which was a gift from the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM, who gave it to me almost 36 years ago and said "You will know when it is right to give this away." I knew at that moment it was right. I only extracted one promise from him, please say at least some Tehillim each day from this sefer and I told him from whence it came. Do you know that he cried. This big tough Chayal...he cried. His soul was ready to be touched after hearing Mattisyahu. Today we cannot be conventional in terms of Kiruv. We all have an obligation to touch a lost soul or one who has strayed. If A video by Avram Fried or MBD touches such a person, welll Kol a Kavod! Mattisyahu never plays concerts for frum audiences. I do not know what Avram Fried or MBD or Country Yossi do, but Dam L'Shaf Schuss..I am certain that they are doing what they do in the name of Ha Sh-m and to spread Torah. My friend R' Shlomo would have said, every person tries to touch a soul in the way they know and while it might not suit us, if it touches the soul of another and makes a person more conscious of the Derech haTorah...that is sufficient. We will not respond to the same things, as my Grampa OBM would say..... That is why Heinz made 57!
So, let us always think the best of our fellow Jew and may our actions, thoughts and words help us merit the Geulah and the swift coming of Moshiach in our time. Achdus is so important amongst us.
These are my views. I hope nobody holds the against the nice person who publishes this blog.
If you wish to disagree respectfully, please find me in VIRTUALYESHIVA.COM
or
http://mamamitzvahsvirtualkosherkitchen.blogspot.com
Thank you and Gutten Shabbos, Guten Shabbos....one for each Neshama
May we say Shema at bedtime and awaken to say Modeh Ani in Yerushalayim!
I hope I may mention your blog in mine.

Yehuda said...

Firstly, Mama Mitzvah that was a beautiful comment! As a Lubavitcher Chassid, I can feel a bit what it must be like to part with a gift from the Rebbe. Though it seems, like always, you received almost as much as you gave. And I agree with your points. Ys, there are problems with Matisyahu in that he draws the frum into bars and other such places when they wouldn't normally be there, but one can not ignore the good he does. The Matisyahu argument has been done way to many times on the blogosphere, so I'll leave it at that.

FWQ; firstly about dancing by AF concerts (you wrote SF, but I take it you don't mean Soul Farm ;-) ) this is absolutely false. I have personally been to a few concerts and AT EVERY ONE we danced and we sang. The concerts I was at were not in America, perhaps it is different there! But the problem there is with the concert goers, not AF, as he danced along with us.

You find AF nasal, ok, don't listen. Personally I cringe when I hear Simply Tsfat. I really dislike their singing, and especially dislike the way they sing Chabad niggunim. That’s just a matter of taste. Nothing to complain or criticize about on an ideological basis!

As for the Heter of listening to music, I think that’s dependant on every person feelings when he listens to the music. The fact that the musician in question doesn’t mean it sincerely has no relevance. If I am brought to simchah by listening to AF, then good. The fact that he only cares about making a profit is of no consequence. Although I do tend to agree with MamaMitzvah that for the most part they have good intentions. Sure they want to make a living, perhaps more than just a living but everyone I’m sure, wants to touch someone. Holiness aside, it is a tremendously good feeling knowing you have made someone happy, or inspired them!!

As for the “you need talent to be in a band”. You need talent to be a singer. You don’t like AF’s voice? Fine, many people love it. If he were to take the voice G-D gave him and not use it, it would be a tremendous waste. Everyone has their area which they excel and they must use that. You have some people who’s talent is to write songs, some sing, other play instruments and others do all of that. (Eli Gerstener DOES EVERYHTING, but we won’t get into that….) Every person should try to use out their potential, if you don’t like it, don’t buy. If no one likes it, they won’t make it and they’ll find another area where they should make an impact. I don’t think the fact that bands do everything has any relevance to the Heter either.

Lastly, what you said about Chabad nigunnim, is true. The feeling I get from them is on a completely different plane to other songs (as per my previous comment). But you are wrong in your statement that they are made up by Tzadikim. You have some songs which were adapted from Russian peasant songs. Other songs, like “Napoleons March” were taken from sources far from holy. Other songs were made up by Chassidim, not the Rebbeim.

Anonymous said...

I too watch with dismay the way supposedly Jewish music is being played out (pun intended).
The defamation of holy words, the “copy the goyishe rock music” syndrome, and the out-of-control concerts.
I agree with this blog writer that this is a serious problem.

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