Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, hip-hop artist Socalled and funk trombonist Fred Wesley, who’s worked with James Brown, form the nucleus of Abraham Inc., a supergroup that’s shattering musical boundaries by combining Jewish music, hip hop and funk.
The group’s three leaders will be joined by six other top musicians who together are bringing their funky klezmer dance party to this summer’s Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival.
The roots of Abraham Inc. originate with a collaboration between Krakauer and Josh (Socalled) Dolgin, who met at the Quebec Yiddish cultural festival, KlezKanada, in 2001.
Dolgin said Krakauer, who was already mixing klezmer with jazz and electronica at the time, seemed to him to be a kindred spirit. Dolgin gave Krakauer some of his early experiments in mixing Jewish music with hip hop and house music.
“I’d done a Passover project – it’s called the Hip-Hop Haggadah, the Socalled Seder – and at this stage it was some experiments I’d done in my basement. I played it for Krakauer – he’s always been at the vanguard of the klezmer revival, fighting for it not to be in a museum – and he said his brain exploded,” Dolgin said over the telephone from Montreal.
Krakauer invited Dolgin to join his band, Klezmer Madness, which combined klezmer, jazz and classical music, to which Dolgin, who also sings and plays piano, contributed his hip-hop flavour.
Sitting around in a hotel on tour some 10 years ago with Krakauer, Dolgin got the idea to bring Wesley into the group. “Wesley had been my hero. Growing up, I’d loved funk music and my favourite artist in the world was James Brown,” Dolgin said.
They approached Wesley, who’d also worked with funk music innovator George Clinton, and asked him if he’d like to play funky Jewish music. Wesley first question was, “What’s klezmer?” After listening to vintage klezmer recordings from the 1930s and ’40s and some music Klezmer Madness was working on, Wesley said he was interested.
“We jammed together in a New York rehearsal studio and immediately there was chemistry,” Dolgin said. Ironically, Wesley, who’s considered the godfather of hip hop, a genre that grew out of funk, told Dolgin that he hated hip hop.
Wesley’s “been sampled by everybody, by Dr. Dre, the Wu-Tang Clan. Anybody in rap – they have a bit of Fred Wesley in their new music,” Dolgin said.
“He always thought it was a step backwards for music to be sampling old things, and why would you bother doing that when you can play it on an instrument.
After we’d been working together, he said, ‘You really showed me why rap music is cool, why that’s a viable musical direction,’ which was awesome to hear for a Canadian Jew from Montreal. To turn Fred Wesley on to hip hop, that’s one of the greatest honours of my life.”
Dolgin said the elements of Abraham Inc.’s sound include funky beats and loops (pre-recorded musical snippets), along with hip-hop drum-machine sample-based rhythms and sounds from old records, mixed with “real funk arrangements by the guy who basically invented funk arrangements.”
The cake, or the icing, depending on how you look at it, is Krakauer’s virtuous clarinet playing, Dolgin added. “Fusion is tricky. This took a lot of development between the three co-leaders of the band, with sharing ideas and working on it, and honing it to make something that doesn’t sound like a joke,” Dolgin said.
Along with the three bandleaders, Abraham Inc. features drummer Michael Sarin, guitarist Sheryl Bailey, rapper C-Rayz, bassist Jerome Harris, tenor saxophonist Brandon Wright and trumpeter Igmar Thomas. Abraham Inc. performs at 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 3 at the Concert Stage at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Ashkenaz Festival. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.ashkenaz.ca. You can download Abraham Inc.’s album, Tweet Tweet, on iTunes.