"Socalled" triumphant after setting pulses racing in the Tempel
Since the inauguration of the first Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow in 1988, some performers have almost become fixtures as they appear year after year.
There is little danger of the festival stagnating, however, if the organizers continue to invite such iconoclasts as Josh ?Socalled? Dolgin to give concerts and workshops. Magician, DJ, musician, photographer and writer, Dolgin loves throwing down the gauntlet and courting controversy.
He is probably best known for singing with and creating beats and samples for New York clarinetist, David Krakauer?s ?Klezmer Madness? amongst others.
But the idiosyncratic and uncompromising fusion of hip-hop with Jewish and world music that he produces under his own name is beginning to attract a great deal of attention. In 2004, his ?Solomon and Socalled Hiphopkhasene? even won a music critics? award in Germany for Best World Music Album.
His group, the Socalled Orchestra played in the Tempel Synagogue on Tuesday June 26. He also gave a couple of well-attended workshops on June 25 and 27.
Seeing the elders of the local Jewish community squeezing their way to the front of the lavishly gilded synagogue before Tuesday?s concert, I couldn?t help wondering whether Socalled would water down the set a little to accommodate them. But there was no chance of that.
During the course of a refreshingly varied but homogeneous set that in turn embraced and rejected tradition, he cranked up the beats, speeded up a sampled Jewish choir until they sounded like Smurfs and exhorted the startled audience, many of whom were dressed up to the nines, ?to play with my dick and lick it.?
Throughout the concert, he displayed a strong sense of the absurd, describing Montreal, where he currently lives, as a fantasy land of naked mounted police, flying beavers and moose patrols. ?I Like She,? which he performed solo with accordion contained amusing Fats Waller-style interjections that outrageously paraphrased the text for those members of the audience who were not proficient in Yiddish.
Socalled is an avid collector of records of all styles and spends much of his free time when touring, trawling second-hand stores for unusual material that he can sample and add to his productions.
The excitement he probably feels when discovering something to sample, whether it be a few complete measures or a simple snare beat became evident during the second workshop he gave. One of the participants brought along a DVD of tinny but atmospheric Azerbaijani and Albanian pop music. Everyone present shared his obvious delight as a vocalist with a handlebar moustache and Gandalf hat swiveled on his cane while belting out a passionate ballad. It was practically begging to be sampled.
His selection of musicians for the Socalled Orchestra strongly reflect his esoteric tastes.
They include saxophone player, Bucky Leo, who is a Nigerian born veteran of the king of Afro-beat, Salif Keita?s band. Ganesh Anandan, who played percussion, was brought up in Bangalore, South India, where he studied the classical music of the region for many years.
In addition to Socalled himself and the soulful Katie Moore, vocals are provided by C-Rayz Walz, a Brooklyn-based underground rapper who once burned his rhyme books to release his creativity. It appeared to have worked. His freestyle rap, which Socalled accompanied with piano that sounded strangely like sampled snippets of a midnight cocktail pianist, was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the concert.
The elderly audience member who I was using as a barometer of the crowd?s reaction even shook free his stubbornly folded arms to applaud after C-Rayz punched the air in jubilation after a job well done.
Socalled used most of the first workshop to describe the circuitous route which he took to reach his current musical style. His early musical experiences were not positive. Synagogue was decidedly uncool.
The discomfiture he felt when faced with an organist whose toupee had a life of its own and a ?cantor who can?t? were only partially relieved by the joy of discovering the music embedded in the religious text of the Torah.
Like ?many upper-middle class Jewish kids from the suburbs? he eventually turned to hip hop culture, classic funk and sampling, becoming fascinated with the way early pioneers had transformed their drab neighborhoods, ?turning garbage into gold.?
The moment of revelation came when he discovered that a 72-year-old Jewish drummer called Elaine Hoffman-Watts was able to create the funkiest beat. And she knew it. After sampling a studio recording of Elaine beating out the rhythm he had heard her play earlier, there was no going back.
In the second workshop, Socalled created a groove which included a ?virtual Elaine? funking it up, an extract from a traditional Rumanian doina and the man with the handlebar moustache. His technical explanations on the whole were very clear, but I have to admit I got lost a little towards the end as his fingers flew impatiently over his sampler.
One participant in the second workshop asked Socalled how he managed to keep so much information in his head.
?Because I?m a fucking genius,? he blurted out.That?s debatable. But the fact that the elderly man who I had been using in the synagogue as a crowd barometer was intrigued enough to stay for the third encore is certainly progress of a sort