Blog: L’chaim Kapelye

Hat Wells and Dan Mawson of Manchester Klezmer band write about being welcomed into the Jewish community

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It’s probably best to start by answering the question “what is klezmer”?

Historically, it is the musical tradition that arose from the wedding music of the Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe. To listen to, think folk music with the mysterious sounds of Eastern European modal melodies that make you want to get up and dance. Nowadays, klezmer is associated with Jewish (or Yiddish) heritage and cultural identity; the music reminds many Jewish people of their parents, grandparents, or long-gone relatives.

So, with that in mind it normally comes as quite a surprise for people to find out that not one member of our seven piece band is actually Jewish!

We – L’chaim Kapelye (“L’chaim” means “to life” in Yiddish, popularised by the song of the same name from Fiddler on the Roof) – began as one of the numerous cohorts of klezmer musicians from the University of Manchester in recent years. This unusual upsurge in popularity of klezmer has been primarily due to the dedicated klezmer performance module that began five years ago. The course teaches the musicians about the craft of playing the music, whilst setting it within a wider context of its historical origins and even the traditional dance steps.

From bar/bat mitzvahs to weddings to klezmer ceilidhs or creating jingles for Jewish Hour on Salford City Radio, these experiences have been afforded to us because, amazingly, we have been welcomed into the community of another faith. Forming links early on with the Manchester Jewish Museum, we have played for the past four years at the annual Chanukah celebrations. This relationship has led us to another project, which is by far the biggest that we have undertaken.

The project, entitled Amid the Mirk over the Irk, is a three part concert series that explores the imagined musical meeting of two migrant communities who lived either side of the river Irk in Manchester in the 1900s – the Jewish and the Irish. The idea that snatches of music from each community might have drifted across the water, finding themselves revived and fused in a new Irish-Jewish musical form, is the concept of these concerts. We were asked to represent the Jewish migrants and are beyond privileged to be playing alongside the pin-ups Mike McGoldrick, Dezi Donnelly and Angela Durcan, who are representing the Irish migrants. Fusing bulgars with reels, slip jigs with horas and hornpipes with khosidls, it’s a fusion that still takes us by surprise and keeps us at the edge of our seats. We don’t know what is about to happen next!

Klezmer in Manchester has grown a huge amount over the past few years. It has been amazing to be a part of that development and watch our relationship with our audience members also grow. It became apparent very early on that this relationship was more than just enjoyment of the music. Our unconventional beginnings in Klezmer seem to resonate extremely deeply with the Jewish community. We can’t be sure why, but we feel that it is because others outside their community (us, in this case) are finding value and enjoyment in something which is rooted in their identities, which in turn allows them to rediscover their own Jewishness.

We are hoping that these Jewish-Irish fusion concerts will do even more to bring together different communities through music and widen what is possible when two amazing traditions of music are brought together.

Irish Folk & Klezmer was at Manchester Jewish Museum. For a full programme of events see here. For
L’chaim Kapelye’s live dates and to buy their EP see here.

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