Yom and the Wonder Rabbis: from shtetl to dancefloor, the klezmer beat goes on

Audio 13:42
Yom in psychedelically-philosophical mode on new album You will never die
Yom in psychedelically-philosophical mode on new album You will never die ©Sylvain Gripoix

French clarinetist Yom electrifies klezmer, the musical tradition of Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. On his new album You Will Never Die, recorded with the Wonder Rabbis, electric bass, drums and turbo clarinet have replaced accordion and cimbalom, but the vibe and emotion is the same. "It's dancefloor," he says, "but then klezmer music was also [about] dance".


Yom’s 2008 debut album New King of Klezmer Clarinet was by his own admission fairly traditional, a tribute to New Yorker klezmer clarinetist Naftule Branwein. But it was his only one. Since then, he’s gone freestyle, writing all his own compositions, injecting a high-energy dose of groove and electricity into the two albums he’s recorded with the Wonder Rabbis.

On You will never die “there’s some Radiohead and Portishead influences and a lot of other stuff, like tribal music from Africa,” he told RFI.

Branwein to Radiohead might seem like an impossible stretch, but Yom's kept the klezmer thread running through.

“The vibe and the emotion and the way of thinking the music and feeling the music is the same. Of course there’s no accordion and cimbalom, it’s really dancefloor music but klezmer music was also [about] dance. So there’s real brotherhood.”

Klezmer's social function

Klezmer was originally played at festive occasions, it was party music at heart and Yom has hung onto that vibe.

“Klezmer music had a real social function in Eastern Europe in the little shtetls, the little villages and then it nearly disappeared because of WW2. After the revival in the 70s in New York, some musicians tried to make klezmer live again, but this music was really like concert music, not party music. So now we have to think about it, do we want klezmer to be like in a little museum, or do we want to it to live and have a social function again?"

Yom's answer is clear.

“I try to find the social function of what was klezmer music in eastern Europe before the second world war.”

Yom at RFI.
Yom at RFI. RFI/Laurence Aloir

Instrument of the voice

“Klezmer is a contraction of two Hebrew words - kli and zemer - meaning instrument of the voice. I feel feel that’s one part of why I will always be a klezmer clarinet player because I really feel I have to expres myself like a voice. When I compose, very often the clarinet has the place of the voice in a song."

Yom has developed multiple voices. While You will Never Die leans towards the deranged psychedelic, Prière (prayer) with organist Baptiste-Florian Marle Ouvrard takes us to a higher plane. Recorded in St Eustache church in Paris the two musicians improvise around a Hebrew prayer and Bach fugue.

Green Apocalypse meanwhile was recorded with China’s Wang Li. He plays the Jew’s Harp - a percussive instrument which has nothing to do with Judaism and is traditionally used by Shamans in Mongolia.

He’s also recorded Illuminations with string quartet IXI and Lingua Ignota with mezzo soprano Elise Dabrowski, inspired by a language invented by a Benedictine nun from the Middle Ages.

On each occasion Yom makes a connection to the spiritual realm.

His mother is an Ashkenazi Jew from Transylvania but he operates outside of any organised religion.

"I’m not Jewish, not Catholic, not anything, but I feel that spirituality doesn’t have to be a religion, it’s more like a way of being, of thinking, of receiving what is all around us. In music, if there is no spirituality I don’t hear it as music, I just hear it like annoying noise.”


Yom & The Wonder Rabbis at La Cigale, Paris, 6 December as part of the Jazz 'N' Klezmer festival.

You will never die! is out on Buda Musique.

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