News Column

"Everybody's music"

June 27, 2013


June 27--At the Frederick Film Festival this weekend, Grammy-winning band the Klezmatics will share its story and its sound with the city, both on screen and live in concert.

The 27-year-old klezmer band will perform Saturday night at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, after a screening of "The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground," a documentary that follows the band throughout several years.

While klezmer has its roots in Eastern European Jewish folk music, the Klezmatics have combined those roots with other influences such as Arab, African, Latin and Balkan rhythms, jazz and punk, creating a sound for a broader range of listeners.

"If you're not a fan of their music, it's very likely because you've never heard it," film festival organizer and Klezmatics fan Walter Chalkley said. "It's heavy on the beat, it's loud, it's danceable."

The band has encountered obstacles over the years, said director and producer Erik Greenberg Anjou, who created the documentary. With roots in the Jewish klezmer sound, one of its greatest challenges is appealing to a board audience with a unique style.

"They're the biggest fish in a very small pond," he said.

Anjou originally decided to make the film after working with Frank London, the band's trumpet and keyboard player, on the score for another documentary, "A Cantor's Tale." In addition to his interest in Jewish subject matter, he was intrigued by the Klezmatics' longevity and ability to adapt traditions in Judaism to a modern listening audience.

Despite its roots, however, Anjou said he would not describe the Klezmatics' music as religious in nature. Though some might conceive it as such, due to the Yiddish lyrics and occasional references to God, the songs themselves are mostly secular.

"It's everybody's music," he said. "By its nature, it's an amalgam of a lot of different forms and colors."

In the film, the audience will see this amalgamative process, as well as the backstage interactions between band members, who have a unique collective dynamic with no particular leader. This method, said band member Lorin Sklamberg, can sometimes be a challenge, but it ultimately works better for this group of strong personalities.

"It's much more difficult to make decisions, but it's nice that everyone has a voice," said Sklamberg.

Ultimately this challenge has not held the band back from success. The Klezmatics won a 2006 Grammy Award in the Contemporary World Music category for their only album in English, "Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie." They have released 10 albums, and will travel through Europe in July for concerts in Slovenia, Portugal and Ukraine.

"I wanted to make a movie about a band that against all odds finds a way to transcend," said Anjou. "They're really kind of on the cutting edge of making this old thing new and important again."

Cinema and Song

Musical performances at Frederick Film Festival

The Klezmatics

When and Where: Saturday 9 p.m. at the Weinberg Center for the Arts

Preceded by: "The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground" documentary, directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou

Sound: Jewish klezmer with punk, jazz and Latin influences

Hugh and Zane Campbell

When and Where: Sunday 5:30 p.m. at Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center

Preceded by: "New River: A Family Musical History Tour" documentary, directed by Tom Sims

Sound: country/rock in a storytelling style


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