With so much hate being spewed by a Trump presidency, you need music that enriches your soul and awakens your spirit. Mostly Kosher can do just that, fusing traditional Judaic sounds with high energy rock, jazz and Latin Klezmer. Klezmer music is essentially the love songs, fight songs and heart wrenching stories of a long heritage of the Jewish people.
“Some say the interest in world music is a backlash from some of the xenophobia we see in society,” said Janice Mautner Markham, Mostly Kosher's violinist. “We see our Jewish cultural music really fitting under the larger tent of world music, as Jews have lived all over the globe.”
“Our music is far from a one-size-fits-all — Jewish cultural music in Spain is different from that in Iraq, which is different from that in Austin, Texas. But the common denominator is it comes from the core of Jewish cultural heritage, we just pick it up from whatever country of origin we find it, and then drive it to a whole new destination.”
While Markham, who is artist-in-residence at Pico Union Project, an interfaith arts and community center, has played Klezmer for many years, she considers herself a student of world music.
“I will never cease learning about the origins of this music and feeding in our take on it. We have a new original Balkan piece that we have been working on gearing up for our new, upcoming album. We try to pay homage to the traditional beat, but then reinvent it with our voice. It's very exciting in a way, to know that there really is no endgame to this, it's a constant exploration,” she enthused. “That keeps every day, every rehearsal, every performance feeling like a new adventure.”
Klezmer, the music of the Jews from Eastern Europe, flourished during the 1800s and had an American resurgence in the early 1980s. “But as the Jewish people have gone through some many periods of diaspora, including during World War II, the music evolved depending on where the musicians ended up. This aspect of Jewish cultural music is fascinating to me, as it's always a melting pot of Jewish cultural music and the rhythms and feel of the local folk genre,” said Markham.
One of the important crossroads in Mostly Kosher’s “klezmification” was when the band went to KlezKanada in Montreal. “We were able to work side by side with [Los Angeles-born] Lorin Sklamberg and Frank London from the Klezmatics and many other incredible musicians. They became mentors and really inspired us to jump into this music head first,” acknowledged Markham.
Bandleader Leeav Sofer hopes to build a following in Los Angeles for exotic world music. “L.A. has such an emphasis on pop music due to Hollywood, and I feel it’s lacking an world folk scene fueled by young audiences.”
While there are young and modern Persian and Syrian Jewish bands out here, there’s no one that’s specializing in Eastern Europe, Sofer told me.
“I would love to see this develop more; I hope we can get more people my age, 20- and 30-somethings, interested in what we do — our music is more exciting than just the normal indie band. We really try to make our music the sweaty and sexy sound that’s danced to in a low-lit, beer- and wine-filled cafe. [It's] our response to the EDM scene,” Sofer said.
For Sofer, klezmer music is part of his Jewish culture. “I grew up with this rich music. It’s deep within me, and when I sing, I feel as if I am connecting back to my roots. Despite not [being] intimately religious, the music allows my spirit to connect to something bigger than myself. Even if that god-like presence is just the greater awareness of my lineage and where I came from.”
Still, Sofer doesn’t think there are enough L.A. venues that support ethnic music culture.
“Cultural music is placed at a distance, not in your pocket or hand, the same way it is in San Francisco, where there are more grassroots efforts. It feels like a passing experience; you come to a venue, watch the performance, and then you leave. It’s not something you keep with you. You don’t go and seek out that vibe, it just doesn’t lend itself to that.”
In response, Sofer is working on creating a monthly — and, he hopes, eventually weekly — night in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District to fan the flames of a world folk scene. A space where everyone can come together and dance in the dark as if nobody is watching, all while experiencing a wide range of world music.
The band is also comprised of drummer Eric Hagstrom, bassist Adam Levy, accordion/trumpet Mike Bolger, trombonist Mike King and guitarist Will Brahm.
“Each of us have sideline projects, and I think that keeps the energy of the band fresh. Eric, our drummer, is in the band BrainStory, a parallel to Chicano Batman; Will has his Latin jazz group, Homenaje; and I run Urban Voices, a homeless choir and educational music outreach organization on Skid Row serving Los Angeles County,” summed up Sofer. “Many band members from Mostly Kosher end up coming down and supporting the work we do with the community of men and women affected by homelessness.”
Mostly Kosher performs at the Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation on Saturday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m.