Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this evening, and for the second year in a row I have to figure out plans that stay within my pandemic comfort zone. That means forgoing anything resembling a large celebratory dinner full of friends, their relatives, and strangers whose vaccination status is unknown to me. As I consider my few options, my mind drifts to music, as it always does—though I admit, I run into trouble finding music that reflects my peculiar ideas of Jewish identity and this particular holiday.
I had better luck finding music made for Hanukkah seven years ago, when I set out to trace the history of Jewish artists involved in hip-hop. I even dug up a local rap cassette from 1989, which is pretty remarkable considering how few hip-hop recordings came out of Chicago that entire decade. When I look for Rosh Hashanah music, my criteria are mainly aesthetic—if a piece reminds me of the joyousness that wells up in me on the High Holidays, it fits. I’m tempted to recommend Psalms, a terrific new album where Louisville guitarist and composer Nathan Salsburg reimagines Jewish tehillim in a setting befitting his contemporary folk sensibilities.
But my mind has also wandered to “You Are Never Alone,” a 2007 single by Montreal experimental pop artist Socalled. The track’s whimsical instrumental combines boom-bap production with the sounds of traditional Jewish folk music (horns aplenty!) and incorporates samples from a 1950s seven-inch called Passover Greetings From the Jewish Cowboy. I don’t consider “You Are Never Alone” a Passover song (not any more than it’s a Rosh Hashanah song), but Socalled’s melodic mosaic evokes my religious cultural heritage with fragments from across the spectrum of pop in a way I haven’t often heard—at least not done well. Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration, and for me, that definitely involves hearing C-Rayz Walz rap over a klezmer-flavored beat.
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