Simja Dujov’s name means “Happy Soul,” and that’s exactly what people can expect to see on stage when he makes his Canadian debut at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.
The Argentine musician arrived in the city on Feb. 17 and will be in town until March 1 as part of an artistic residency with the Koffler Centre of the Arts and the Ashkenaz Foundation.
The two-week residency is filled with workshops and master classes, and it will culminate in a group performance of Dujov and six other culturally and musically diverse musicians at Toronto’s Lula Lounge on Feb. 27.
Working with SKETCH, an organization that brings cultural opportunities to Toronto’s homeless and underprivileged youth, Dujov will run a music workshop with 10 at-risk youth. Together, they will collaborate on an original composition.
“I’m very excited to work and see what blends we discover together,” he told The CJN over the phone from Buenos Aires. “We can share as much as we can about our music and culture and ideas, so we can have deeper co-operation.”
Dujov will bring to the mix his own blend of Latin klezmer and gypsy cumbia, with a touch of surf-style music. The 30-year-old musician describes his sound as the music of his hometown of Córdoba, Argentina, portrayed as if his city had sand and waves – which it doesn’t.
“It’s a way of imagining how my city would be like and a way of creating my own new world with music,” he says.
Dujov has been playing music his whole life, but discovered klezmer when he was in university studying classical composition and symphonic music. One of his professors directed a Yiddish choir. Knowing that Dujov was Jewish, he invited him to sing.
Although most of the participants were in their 70s, Dujov describes the rehearsals as having the atmosphere of a party.
“I went into this Yiddish culture by sharing this moment with these kind of grandparents,” Dujov jokes.
Soon after, he began to perform at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and in synagogues before starting his own klezmer band.
While he was travelling in New York City and Tel Aviv in 2008, he decided to form a band that played original music. It was then that he realized how different Jewish life can be around the world.
“I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix and Latin American music, but that doesn’t make me less Jewish than a guy born in Jerusalem, wearing a big hat and a beard,” he says, adding that it was travelling that taught him to discard the fixed ideas he had of how people live around the world. “That makes you feel more free for your life and your own musical creation.”
About his visit to Canada, Dujov says he’s excited to see how Canadians live – and he’s especially looking forward to the visit since he has been reading a biography of poet and singer Leonard Cohen, who he describes as one of his inspirations.
Born Gabriel Dujovne, Dujov picked his stage name to represent his love of parties. “Simja” is a Spanish spelling of simchah, and “Dujov” is translated as “soul” from Russian.
His album is called Santificaras la fiesta, which is a play on the Spanish translation of the fourth commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” In Spanish, both religious holidays and “parties” are called fiesta, so he used a play on words to “make sacred the fiestas.”
“We don’t need to be holy just on Saturdays… You have your own work and life and you decide when is your best moment to think about the holy things,” he says.
He describes parties as holy moments, as in times of reflection and connection with others and with “your other self” – you can become the person you want to be without the restrictions you face at work or during other parts of life.
“It’s not just a place for escaping reality – it’s much more,” he says.
Although Dujov’s music isn’t necessarily religious, he says his faith does come through in his songwriting.
“I don’t want to be like a priest trying to spread religion, but I think religion can be a way of life,” he says. “I write about religion, politics, I write about love and family and things that happen in my life. I don’t write specific things about religion, but it’s all over.”
Dujov says he hopes Torontonians will enjoy the party the live show creates.
“If you want just the sounds, you can buy a CD, but if you’re at a show, it should be a moment for your senses,” he says.
He hopes people will hear his music and that it will make them happy.
“Our cultures were inspired by happiness,” he says. “If you keep on being inspired by happiness and not by hate, we can do much better things.”