A community tribute to Leonard Cohen will feature artists who have appeared at the Askenaz Festival – among them Batsheva – as well as performers like Kevin Breit, who will be new to Ashkenaz audiences.
Batsheva will sing her Yiddish and Hebrew translations of Cohen’s songs at the tribute presented by Ashkenaz and Beth Tzedec Congregation on Feb. 11, as part of the synagogue’s Shabbat Shirah weekend.
A Toronto native based in Nashville, Batsheva has translated Dance Me to the End of Love into Yiddish. The first time she listened to the song, she “heard” it in Yiddish in her head, she said. “Its cadence, its melodic antecedents, its sentiments – were distinctly Yiddish to me. It began to write itself.”
She’s also translated Cohen’s Hallelujah into Hebrew. “It has Jewish soul, Jewish pain and Jewish chords. To me, it belonged in Hebrew. That’s the language of its origins,” she said. “Everywhere I have sung it as I tour in the South, it has become an anthem. There’s one synagogue here in Nashville where the rabbi will not let me come unless I sing it.”
Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Ben Caplan, whose latest release, Birds with Broken Wings, was listed on CBC Radio’s 50 Best Canadian Albums of 2015, was scheduled to perform but was replaced by Breit.
Breit is from McKerrow, Ont. and has never performed at Ashkenaz before, though Toronto audiences may be familiar as he’s been a fixture at the Orbit Room with his band the Sisters Euclid for over 13 years.
The tribute also features the Barrel Boys, a bluegrass band, and pop and jazz singer Lori Cullen, all of whom wouldn’t normally be a natural fit for an Ashkenaz program.
Ashkenaz artistic director Eric Stein said that since Cohen’s music isn’t as ethnographically Jewish as the music usually presented at Ashkenaz concerts, the tribute is a chance for them to showcase some artists who don’t specialize in Jewish music.
A fan of bluegrass music, Stein discovered the Barrel Boys, who sing four-part harmonies, at a recent folk-music concert.
“I loved what they did. When this Leonard Cohen thing came up, I thought, wow, this would be an interesting opportunity to have some really great singers and instrumentalists interpret his music in a way that it has not been interpreted before,” he said.
Cullen, who was part of a tribute to Cohen on the radio station JAZZ-FM9l, will duet with Beth Tzedec Cantor Sidney Ezer, one of the other singers on the Ashkenaz program.
Stein said this is an opportunity for Ezer to venture into pop music styles. “He’s a trained cantorial singer, obviously, but this is a lot different and new for him. I think he’s really excited about the opportunity.”
Also performing at the Cohen tribute is Aviva Chernick, the lead singer of the world music ensemble Jaffa Road, and a name the Ashkenaz audience will recognize. “She’s a really deep and spiritual interpreter of music,” Stein said. He’s looking forward to hearing her in duets with Cullen and with Ezer.
The tribute features two speakers, including Moses Znaimer, the president of ZoomerMedia, who was a friend of Cohen’s, and Seth Rogovoy, who writes about Jewish music and culture. Rogovoy will also be speaking at Beth Tzedec’s Shabbat Shirah dinner on Feb. 10.
The Cohen tribute takes place at Beth Tzedec synagogue on Feb. 11 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30
at the door. For more information, visit www.ashkenaz.ca