Hip Hop Hoodios

A Latino Jewish urban collective.

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In the New York neighborhood where I live, Friday afternoons are marked by the near-simultaneous call of the muezzin from the local mosque, and an alarm that marks the imminent approach of Shabbat. Kosher grocery stores sit adjacent to Mexican restaurants, and signs are as likely to be posted in Yiddish or Spanish as in English. There are Jewish proprietors who speak fluent Spanish, and Bangladeshi convenient stores that stock a wide array of kosher products.

New York is like that, sometimes. Proximity causes margins to bleed, creating mash-ups and hybrids that would be impossible anywhere else.

Hip Hop HoodiosThe Hip Hop Hoodios, led by Josue Noriega (aka Josh Norek) and Abraham Velez, have found their home amidst the linguistic and musical chaos of the big city.  Employing klezmer, salsa, cumbia, guitar rock, and a rotating cast of well-known Jewish and Hispanic musicians, the Hoodios are polyglot musical omnivores, their plate filled to overflowing with fresh sounds. The Colombian Norek and Puerto Rican Velez, who were both also born and raised Jewish, have been recording together since 2001, when both Norek and Velez were involved in the Latin-music industry (Norek as a publicist, Velez as a writer).

They have attracted a crossover audience not necessarily limited to Jews in on their jokes. As they recently told an NPR interviewer, their fan base varies with each city; crowds as Los Angeles shows have been mostly Chicano, while New York audiences are comprised primarily of Jewish hipsters. Critics, though, have been united in their enthusiastic response to the Hoodios’ first full-length album, “Agua Pa’La Gente” (2004), and the band’s two EP’s. Their new album “Carne Masada” (2009) cobbles together their greatest hits, along with some new tracks, and is–of course–a product of New York City.

If the single, “Times Square (1989),” with its shout-outs to former New York City mayor David Dinkins and former New York Mets center fielder Mookie Wilson, and its racket of wailing police sirens, weren’t hint enough, the sheer sonic cacophony of “Carne Masada” would tell the whole story. The Hoodios’ New York allegiances run deep. The Ferdinand-and-Isabella-bashing Inquisition jam “1492” builds to the shout “Forget Espana, want New Amsterdam.”

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Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.

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