KlezFactor is two bands in one – a Canadian ensemble of Toronto-based musicians and a European version made up of international players.
Bandleader Mike Anklewicz put together the European edition of KlezFactor in 2012, when he spent a year in Berlin finishing his thesis on klezmer music for his PhD in ethnomusicology and playing in the city’s active klezmer scene.
Anklewicz, on clarinet and saxophone, was one of the rare Jewish klezmer musicians in Berlin. If they’re Jewish, they’re from outside Germany, he said. The European lineup of KlezFactor consists of bassist Alex Bayer and guitarist Florian von Frieling, who are both from Germany, drummer Finlay Panter from England and Australian-born violinist Daniel Weltlinger.
The band’s chemistry – with all the musicians on the same page musically – made it difficult for him to leave after his visa expired. “When I left, I told myself I was going to record with them,” Anklewicz said.
Last summer, Anklewicz returned to Europe to perform with world-music phenom Lenka Lichtenberg in the Czech Republic, led his traditional klezmer trio in Amsterdam and participated in a world-music conference in Astana, Kazakhstan. He also toured with the European edition of KlezFactor, and the group recorded their first CD, Europa, which was completed at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Dresden, Germany.
Anklewicz composed 10 of the 11 tracks on Europa, an engaging and innovative blend of klezmer, rock, jazz, classical and Balkan music. “I have two competing ideas in my compositional philosophy, and one is that klezmer is a dance music,” he said. “A lot of times I will take rhythms from western dance music and put them into klezmer-influenced melodies. And then there’s the other side, the person who studied composition in university and wants to make things more complicated.”
Both of Anklewicz’s compositional esthetics are reflected in Europa. The CD also includes a rendition of the Ukrainian pop song, Kolomyika, with a stunning vocal by Toronto-based singer Ekaterina. Originally recorded by the tune’s co-writer, Ruslana, Kolomyika was on the same album that included Wild Dances, the winning song of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest.
Ekaterina is the singer of a folk metal band called Protokult and performs in Balkan vocal ensembles. “She sings in a lot of different styles and they fit in with what we do in KlezFactor,” Anklewicz said.
On Europa’s back cover is a picture of the Alta Shul in Krakow. Anklewicz’s grandfather, Berek Finger – who fled east after Poland surrendered to Germany in 1939 and spent most of the war in Soviet labour camps – had his bar mitzvah there.
Built in the 1400s, the Alta Shul is the oldest synagogue still standing in Poland. A photograph Anklewicz took of Krakow’s Hoykhe Shul, built in the 1500s, is on the CD’s front cover.
“The old section of Krakow is still full of places where you can see Yiddish writing, where you can see the places where mezuzot have been removed. These locations are very powerful,” Anklewicz said. Some of them have been turned into tourist sites, and he said tourists see a lot of the contradictions of contemporary Poland and the way it memorializes the former Jewish presence.
Krakow’s Alta Shul is now a museum that many Jews visit during a Jewish culture festival held annually in the city. “People are coming to see it during a Jewish culture festival that’s about the biggest in the world in a place where there are almost no Jews left living and all the Jews who come are tourists,” Anklewicz said. n
For more information on Europa and KlezFactor visit klezfactor.com.