On “Hava Nagila”



A still from Hava Nagila (the Movie), directed by Roberta Grossman, which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July 2012. Photo copyright Jenny Jimenez.

I am a music snob. People know this about me, and I deserve the title.  I have said hurtful things in the past, and if you were on the receiving end of any of my snobbery, I apologize (unless I was right).

My snobbery extends to Jewish music, as well.  My master’s thesis, after all, is entirely about the history and meanings of contemporary klezmer, a musical genre descended from the instrumental music of Eastern European Jews.

So, in preparation for my wedding last weekend, one question loomed larger than any other: what to do about “Hava Nagila?”

I won’t recap the entirety of the song’s history, ubiquity and supposed fall from favor, but it is fair to say that I fall into the camp of concerned listeners who hear it as a schlocky piece of music that has come to stand in for a much richer repertoire of celebratory Jewish tunes.  But people expect it.  After a few fraught exchanges with our wedding DJ and extended consultation with fellow music snobs, I came to the following conclusion: the DJ could begin with the version of “Hava Nagila” he’d originally proposed—the beginning of a pretty canned medley of Hebrew songs—so long as he faded into my preferred tracks. The opening “Hava Nagila” got people dancing in a circle and cued our friends to lift me and my bride up in our chairs, but by the time I was safe on the ground again, I was able to dance to Jewish music I actually enjoy.

So here are the tunes I picked:

This is a live video of Maxwell Street Klezmer Band> performing “Chusn Kalleh Mazl Tov.” I picked a studio recording of the track from their 2002 album Old Roots New World.

And a personal favorite, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars doing “Lieberman Funky Freylekhs,” from the 2002 album, Brotherhood of Brass. Just hit the play button below.

Liebermann Funky Freylekhs

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