Socalled (Josh Dolgin)
Socalled Sings Yiddish With String Quartet
The Yiddish revival is old news. A culture of literature, music, art, philosophy, story, dance and language once truly on the brink of extinction has been fostered, nurtured and resurrected with festivals, concerts, lectures, classes, records, Youtube clips and podcasts to become a viable, living, evolving force. Yiddish has been revived. We’re back.
When Josh “Socalled” Dolgin became interested in this movement of “socalled” revival, it was as a musical archaeologist, digging through records looking for sounds he could apply to new, technologically-mediated works, actual new works made up of actual old sounds combined with the textures and sonorities of today. He was a hip hop producer, making new beats saturated with a Yiddish tam, flavour.
But after a while, Socalled became interested in these old records and sheet music archives not just as someone looking to chop things up to be used in bits and pieces: he became dedicated to learning the styles of that lived tradition, to being able to first play the melodies on his accordion or the piano, and then to sing the songs.
As a collector and archivist of this Jewish repertoire, Socalled has amassed a pretty sizeable collection, some 4 or 5 hundred records and endless sheaths of written-out music. And in so doing, he’s listened and read-out quite a lot of songs, and couldn’t help but pick some favourites. Some songs have really leapt out at him, for their lyrical content, for the way they were arranged, for a particular performer’s interpretation, for the melody. Socalled developed some of these songs into his repertoire that he performs internationally at festivals, workshops, concerts… but he hasn’t gotten to all of it yet, not by a long-shot.
This new program of songs arranged for string-quartet was his attempt to present some of the most incredible songs of this most incredible of repertoire in a really classy way: songs from the Yiddish Theatre, art song, Hassidic melodies, Klezmer, folksong, songs from the Holocaust, from Israel, and even some original songs written by masters of the genre for Socalled. The composers, the performers, the arrangers, the labels, every song has a story, a lesson, a history, a role in the drama, that he can’t wait to share with audiences. And through song, so much history and culture can be exposed, given new life. The quartet arrangements give the music the harmonic respect it deserves, an integral and often overlooked element in presenting this material.
The program is funny, sad, beautiful, dark… “I think I put together a nice range of styles, colours, keys, modes and moods“. The Yiddish revival is over, it’s the Yiddish era again; so let’s dig deep, let’s celebrate and explore the riches of this extraordinary culture.
The Socalled Movie
In 2010, Garry Beitel directed a feature-length documentary, The Socalled Movie, describes as a dynamic kaleidoscopic portrait of Socalled (aka Josh Dolgin). More information is available on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.