Tamás Wormser knew what to do when his newest documentary film The Wandering Muse had an overflow of musical footage. After balancing different geographical regions, and various religious and political leanings, as well as gender representation in the film, many contemporary Jewish musicians had to be left out. He decided to create a website where he could share his bounty and then carried on shooting specifically for the site for a total so far of 250 video clips.
Wormser invites Jewish musicians from around the world to continue adding to it and music lovers to listen at the Wandering Muse website.
An international audio-visual library of Jewish music
“My intention is to create an international audio-visual library of Jewish music that is alive and growing,” he said. “Musicians can log in and put their own video clips up. It’s a Jewish music network where you can also follow people, find out where they play. It’s like a Jewish online festival where you can locate everybody who wants to be there and watch hundreds of videos.”
Wormser launched the site in October under the banner of his independent production company Artesian Films while he was presenting The Wandering Muse at the Kleztival Festival Internacional de Música Judaica in São Paulo, Brazil.
He introduced the site as “an online portal and social network for Jewish musicians and fans,” as well as an archive and “living audio-visual library.”
Wormser is sparking further creativity by holding a remix contest with the winner to be announced on March 1. The aim is for musicians to download and sing to the sound of various instruments like an Afghani Jewish flute while adding a Ugandan Jewish drum, for example.
“That’s what Gershwin was doing and Benny Goodman. Many of the famous Jewish musicians were mixing things in new ways. Montreal’s Josh (Socalled) Dolgin is a good example of that,” says the filmmaker.
Changing the stereotype that is Jewish music
Wormser’s idea from the outset was to change the stereotype of what is considered Jewish music. In the film, he found Daniel Kahn bringing his Detroit protest mentality to Berlin where he sings out against anti-Semitism and revives old political and anti-Fascist songs from the Yiddish activist era.
Wormser followed Moroccan vocalist Vanessa Paloma into a Tangiers synagogue abandoned since the ’70s to use it as a backdrop for her exquisite Judeo-Spanish ballads. He captured the vibrant pairing of Marcelo Moguilevsky’s harmonica and Cesar Lerner’s accordion in life-affirming concert hall tunes.
He travelled to Putti, Uganda where the Abayudaya Jews shimmy to African beats with Hebrew lyrics. At the Montreal International Jazz Festival, he videoed Jeremiah Lockwood channeling his legendary grandfather, Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, with blues and world beat rhythms.
These are just a few of the 11 musicians in the film who fly, drive, cycle and walk in their wanderings to spread and pollinate Jewish music and earn their livings.
“The simple question for me in making the film was ‘What is Jewish?’ It’s a question I’m trying to answer for myself but also tell my two sons because for me, it’s not just a religion, just a people, just a culture; it’s all these things and none of them at the same time,” says Wormser who left Hungary in 1986 to join relatives in North America and build a career first in live theatre, then in film.
“I had a very strong Jewish identity in Hungary. My grandfathers died in the concentration camps,” says Wormser. “One of my grandmothers was killed the last day of the war when the Hungarian Nazis lined up Jews from the ghetto, and shot them into the Danube. That’s how my [then] 13-year-old father lost his mother.
“The reason I chose music for my film is because music carries the soul of the people in it.”