David Lawrence-Young – Safed Klezmer Festival 2016
There are four Holy Cities in Israel: Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron and Safed. Safed is the coolest. Firstly, it is situated in the northern hills of the Galilee, and secondly, it is the home of the annual Klezmer Festival. This week saw the 29th Festival take place, a festival that is the largest Jewish soul music festival in the world. This was my fourth visit and I can tell you that it was as vibrant, noisy, musical and colourful as usual.
Wandering around from one of its five stages to another was a fantastic experience. I bumped into friends, fed on politically unhealthy nosh while drinking in the surrounding atmosphere of sheer joy, fun and great Klezmer music. This of course was mainly played on violins and clarinets, although brass band instruments and accordions were also heard.
The music was non-stop and once you had heard enough of one player or band, you just moved on to another equally great stage. Of course you might have had to push and shove a bit and say “slichah” –Pardon me – a few times as this ancient city of the Kabbalah was not really designed to accommodate the quarter million visitors who attended this festival.
What is so special about Klezmer music that it attracts Israelis from all over the country as well as drawing many foreigners to listen to its special sound? It is traditional Jewish music, the music you’ll hear at a wedding or barmitzvah or in ‘Yiddishe’-style films and plays such as Fiddler on the Roof.’ It is Ashkenasi music which dates from the 15th century and is often associated with the Jewish suffering and joy of life in the ‘shtetl.’ But from its Mittel-European past it may become American flavoured as the organisers have invited for next year’s 30th Klezmer Festival, a well-known brass band music player from the USA. His name is William Jefferson Clinton.
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