But how did an Eastern European Jewish instrumental music rooted in 1,000 years of tradition infiltrate an America obsessed with youth culture and technology? Part of klezmer's appeal is its concept of universality as a kind of spiritual conduit: Any musician -- regardless of religious background -- can participate and impart his or her own improvisational style onto the basic melodies and rhythms. The Yiddish word klezmer comes from the Hebrew kley-zemer, which means "vessels of song," and refers to both music-making and music-maker. Originally performed at simkhes (celebratory rites of passage like weddings and bar mitzvahs), klezmer music stems from the church. Around the turn of the century, virtuosic klezmorim (professional musicians) augmented the religious content with secular melodies. This innovation has continued to the present day, with the interest of an adventurous younger generation of Jewish musicians (John Zorn, Ben Goldberg) and non-Jews (Don Byron, Frank London).
In response to the music's current chic, showcases like this weekend's "Klezmer Mania!" simultaneously explore the roots and update the genre with innovative musical applications. In its eighth year, the East Bay music fete has grown into a large-scale celebration of Jewish culture. Giant-puppet MCs Moishe and Leah will host a variety of acts, including musical performances (Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, San Francisco Klezmer Experience, Kaila Flexer & Third Ear), theatrical pieces (Joan Holden), and comedic sketches (Larry Pisoni). An array of Jewish culinary delights will also be available. This simkhe is open to all.
-- Sam Prestianni
"Klezmer Mania!" takes place on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m., at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft and Telegraph on the UC Berkeley campus. Tickets are $14-26; call (510) 642-9988.