A Groyse Metsie's New Twist on Jewish Music

A sinking boat in Thailand and a reggae song from the Ukraine. It's all part of the story behind A Groyse Metsie, a new Israeli klezmer band.

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Ben Bresky, | updated: 21:02

A Groyse Metsie
A Groyse Metsie
Ben Bresky

A Groyse Metsie plays mostly traditional klezmer music, with clarinet and violin, in a fast-paced almost frantic style. They have been performing at both religious and secular venues, including festivals, bars and concert halls all over Israel. Their debut album was released in 2007, simply called A Groyse Metsie. Many tracks are instrumental, such as a violin solo of a Shlomo Carlebach melody. Another contains esoteric English lyrics in a spoken word style. The opener, "Hey," is lightning-fast, punctuated by shouts of "Hey!" 

Israel National Radio's Ben Bresky spoke to the two guitar players, Nadav Bachar, who also sings, and Shai Perelman.
Question: On your web site it describes your sound as "Jewish progressive klezmer music." What does that mean?
Nadav: It's a fusion of a different variety of styles. All the people in the group come from different backgrounds.
Question: What is the song "Hey" about?
Nadav: I wrote it after I spent the month of Tishrei in the Chabad-Lubavitch center at 770 [Eastern Parkway] in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It expresses the feelings and happiness of the High Holidays. This is what happened after I danced all evening. This is what came out in the morning.
Question: I like the electric guitar solo. 
Nadav: Not everyone thought so. It got a bad reaction. People said it was a really badly played solo and asked why we put it on the album. Originally we thought we would sing that part, but finally we decided it should be an exaggerated guitar solo.
Question: What is your background? Where are the band members from?
Nadav: Everyone is from Israel. The drummer and bass player are from kibbutzim. I am a Chabadnik. One of the members is Breslov. One is Ashlag. One is Carlebach. Everybody comes from a different place.
Question: Some of you wear kippot and some of you do not. How did that come about?
Nadav: All of us were friends from before. We played together before we became baalei teshuvah [returnees to observant Judaism]. We stopped for three years and then the time was suitable to come back to the world after spending time in yeshiva. We are still waiting for the other two members of the group to wear something, but now it's really just a matter of time.
I think that Jewish music brings a message of G-d and of believing

Question: Shai, how did you grow up?
Shai: I grew up in a religious house. My father was a hasid of the Ashlag Rebbe, Rabbi Baruch Shalom. He was the son of Baal Sulam, who had a dragot on the Zohar. I played reggae and other African style music. Then I came to play with this great band and I am very happy with it.
Question: What is the song Hashem Melech about?
Shai: Hashem Melech is a mix of two traditional tunes. One is a Sephardic prayer and another is a Moroccan tune. We mixed these two and added some of our solos.
Question: What does Groyse Metsie means?
Shai: A groyse metsie is known to every Yiddish speaker. It means a big find (a bargain or deal). I know many English speakers have a problem pronouncing it. I think it's a name that everyone will remember after they hear it the first time.
Question: How do you define Jewish music?
Shai: I think every music that the Jewish people make is Jewish music because our heritage can't be lost. Every Jew has belief and prayer inside even if he personally doesn't realize it. But Jewish music is special because music is a special language that everybody can understand. I think that Jewish people and Jewish music brings a message of G-d and of believing. That's what we, as a band, try to bring to the people.
Question: You have a live recording on your web site of a Jamaican style song called Rebbe Nachman. What is that about?
Shai: It's a new song I wrote after I was in Uman, Ukraine [the burial place of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov] for Rosh HaShana. It was my fifth time there. I wanted to bring this kind of feeling you have after you get back and try to realize what's been going on. It's kind of ragamuffin style. I used to play it a lot. We didn't release it on CD yet. I think we will do more tunes like this.
Question: Why do people love Rabbi Nachman so much? What does he evoke in musicians?
Shai: I think that Rabbi Nachman belongs to every one of Israel and Hebrew man. There is a story of Rabbi Nachman that he tells about a big tree. All the animals and birds like to stay under it. Rabbi Nachman is this tree and every Jewish man and woman can learn from him. He brings a message of hope and happiness to all our people.
Question: Nadav, you're from Chabad but you also like Rabbi Nachman too.
Nadav: Yes, I also feel connected to Rabbi Nachman. In the beginning of my teshuva, I was connected strongly.
There was a storm and everybody thought the boat was going to sink.
Actually I think that once he really saved my life. I was in Thailand and I needed to go from the mainland to an island. We got in the boat, and it was a very small boat. Then there was a storm. Everybody thought that the boat was going to sink. Everybody was very upset. It was only the beginning of my teshuvah so I all I had was this card that said "Na Nach Nachman MeUman." I started to repeat it over and over. Everybody onboard started throwing the bags from the boat. Then they told us to jump. We jumped in the water. All the bags were OK, and I felt like I owe it to Rabbi Nachman. And then the amazing thing happened on the island. It's a half-hour drive from the mainland, and I met a hasid of Breslov, and he gave me a copy of Rabbi Nachman's book, Likutei Moharan, here on this island, in the middle of nowhere. So I feel strongly connected to Rabbi Nachman.
Question: So in a way, Rabbi Nachman came out to meet you in Thailand.
Nadav: Rabbi Nachman can go to the lowest places to find people.
Question: Tell us about the song Ki Hilatsta Nafshi, the one with English in it.
Shai: It's a melody by Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag. This is a very weird musical idea that we transformed it into. It's a kind of progressive rock style. The choruses are the melodies of Baruch Shalom and the verses are a translation of Kabbalat HaAri that we translated from Hebrew. Oren does the spoken word in English.

Groyse Metsie will be performing this coming Tuesday (after Tisha B'Av) at the Aharit HaYamim Festival in Gush Etzion with Ehud Banai, Aaron Razel and more. For ticket information visit http://www.aharit.net/festival.htm

For more information on the band visit its web site at http://www.groyse.com/