Acclaimed Latvian singer Sasha Lurje performed at Auburn’s Temple Shalom last Wednesday, easily being the highlight of the congregation’s week. She performed a mix of traditional and modern Yiddish songs, accompanied by violinist Craig Judelman. Lurje also visited Bates College, giving a talk to Professor Cernahoschi’s class on Jewish lives in Eastern Europe.
Sasha was born in Riga, Latvia and began singing at a young age. Since 2003, she has studied Yiddish music, looking at its style and relationship with religion. She is currently in four different bands, each exploring different aspects of Yiddish music.
One of her bands, Forship, is a Yiddish psychedelic rock band with influences from jazz and reggae. Forship is the most eclectic of Lurje’s various bands, being described as “if Pink Floyd and The Doors had ever jammed together at a Jewish wedding” on her website. Unfortunately, this band did not perform at the temple, but alas it gives you a reason to travel to Latvia to see them.
Her next band is the Semer Ensemble, which features some of the most famous Yiddish musicians to recreate the sounds of 1930’s Berlin. They play all kinds of music, Berlin cabaret, Russian folk songs, opera, and cantorial music.
Sasha is also a part of STRANGELOVESONGS, an “interlingual” love song duo who perform strange love songs in not only Yiddish, but in Ukrainian and Russian as well. This way you can hear these “beautifully malicious” love songs and “laugh your way through lovesickness, lust, and murder” in multiple languages!
Her most famous band is You Shouldn’t Know From It, an international klezmer band from Berlin who play traditional Yiddish and Jewish dance music. They play all over Europe and at multiple festivals.
Lastly, Sasha recently started a collaboration named Goyfriend with a Brooklyn klezmer band. They explore the image of the Jews in folk culture and the intersection between Jewish, Slavic, and Baltic cultures.
Now, with all this mention of klezmer bands, you may be wondering what “klezmer” is. Well, it is the music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Generally, the music is dance-oriented and instrumental. Initially, when Yiddish-speaking Jews immigrated to America in the early 20th century, they mixed klezmer music with American Jazz music. During the 1970’s, there was a revival of traditional klezmer music. This type of music still remains a staple at Jewish weddings. There is even a weeklong klezmer retreat named KlezKanada that brings people from all over the world to learn about klezmer music and Jewish history.
The klezmer community is what brought Sasha all the way to Temple Shalom in Auburn. Rabbi Sruli Dresdner is big in the klezmer world, as he and his wife, Lisa, are master klezmer musicians. Sruli and Lisa know almost every single klezmer band out there: if your parents had a klezmer band at their wedding, Sruli probably knows the band. Sruli and Sasha know each other from their klezmer connections, which is why the congregation was so lucky to have seen Sasha perform. It was a truly special concert impossible to see elsewhere. Luckily, Sruli and Lisa perform often, sometimes even at Bates! They are not to be missed.