Sound Clips,Original Cover
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Information,Koch Int'l./Distributor I
"Moving and sensual"
- Ruth Levin
Oneg Shabat, Radio Reka
modersmal.skolverket.se (in Swedish)
Translated from the Swedish:
" . . . honesty and authenticity. . . "
" . . . his voice and intonation is always a strange mixture of
sorrow, irony and moaning hope, such as comes out of pain."
of "Transmigrations: Gilgul" (in Russian)
English translation by by
Prof. Robert Rothstein, U. Mass (Amherst):
Wolf Krakowski, guitarist and blues performer from Toronto,
Canada, currently living in Northampton, Massachusetts. Born
August 26, 1947 in Austria in the Saalfelden Farmach
A self-taught musician, Wolf Krakowski acquired quite diverse
skills, playing in the Upper Canada Ragtime Mama Jug Band with
future folk stars Mendelson Joe and Daisy DeBolt
and performing with the legend of the Winnipeg bars, Stork
McGillivray. Krakowski played the blues and grilled chicken in
the company of the Mississippi bluesman Big Joe Williams,
who traveled with his own frying-pan.
Gilgul is recorded beautifully. The sound is fresh, as if from a
[mountain] spring. Of the 12 songs on Gilgul exactly three are
happy. The rest are openly mournful. The songs performed
by Wolf Krakowski have a simple and touching sound, without any
strain or exaggerated emotion. One gets the impression that his
creativity is not a gift, but rather a burden or a brand
[as from a branding iron].
Canzoni Contro La Guerra
Anti-War Songs Site (in Italian)
featuring "Blayb Gezunt Mir, Kroke" (Farewell, My Krakow") by
Gebirtig - Lemm and Varshe ("Warsaw") by Benzion Witler
("Little Rain") and "Friling" ("Springtime")from
WFDU-FM (Fairleigh-Dickinson University) Program Notes
Wolf Krakowski has been played on the Sunday Simcha program many
a time. He has, however, a whole other side to Yiddish music.
What can be best described as country folk-rock with meaningful
lyrics with a great style and voice.
--Bill Hahn, Host
From Exploring the Postmodern
Identifying Jewish Elements
. . . Most artists in the (Radical Jewish Culture series)
vocal repertoire (including German punk band Kletka Red [Tzadik
7111], Wolf Krakowski
[Tzadik 7150], Jewlia Eisenberg [Tzadik 7155], and Sephardic
Tinge [Tzadik 7128])
typically choose at least a few arrangements of well-known
Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish
(Ladino) songs on their albums. Their use of material already
present within the Jewish
soundscape serves as a bridge of implicit communication,
clarifying artisitic intent
and message on a canvas of common knowledge. Listeners might
accept or not accept as
meaningfully Jewish how the artists have transformed the
material, but either way their
reception falls undeniably into discourses on specifically
--Exploring the Postmodern Landscape
by Judah M. Cohen
from You Should See Yourself: Jewish Identity in Postmodern
edited by Vincent Brook
Rutgers University Press 2006
think of a Neil Young who would visit the synagogue."
TZADIKOLOGY (in French May 2009)
(Translated from the French)
Warm Warm Diary (2005)
Amazon (USA, May 8, 2004)
Yiddish vocals and the ever-present guitar
Transmigrations offers the listener a deft blending of
traditional Yiddish songs and musical styles that range the
gamut from country-rock to reggae. Yiddish vocals and the
ever-present guitar fuel the pulsing beat of this unforgettable
The Rocking, Bluesy,
World-Weary Voice of Wolf Krakowski, (July 10, 2003)
I just discovered Transmigrations and I'm overwhelmed.
Musically, it's a globe-spanning combination of Old World poetry
and melody, and New World rock, blues, country, and reggae.
Krakowski's bluesy, raw voice is backed by a great, rocking band
and a trio of of singers with angelic, almost gospel voices. The
Yiddish lyrics (translations provided) are a powerful mix of
sorrow and joy. This collection is rare achievement: it somehow
touches your heart deeply and at the same time makes you get up
--By A Customer
UK Rainlore site
The Real Yidishe Blues: "Transmigrations: Gilgul"
"Original and highly personal, individualtic style that is
both striking and wonderfully accessible."
(Germany, December 2001)
"Outstanding. Proves in a stunning way that the Nazi
Germans did not succeed in completely eradicating an entire
culture. World music with Jewish soul-- a truly
(Translated from the German)
"One has to take this album seriously. It belongs to
those Yiddish albums of mine I listen to most, and again and
again I find myself speechless. Yiddish songs have seldom
been as lively.
(Translated from the German)
From CMJ (College Music
Originally released in 1996, this ire-issue is an oddity - a
Yiddish rock album. While bands like the Klezmatics have picked
up strands of the past and brought them up to date, Krakowski,
born in a displaced persons camp after World War II, takes songs
- and this is really about songs - of the Jewish diaspora and
gives them a modern context. Yes, it can be mournful
stuff, but there is a fiber of steely determination underneath
"Shabes, Shabes" is a blissful celebration, and "Yeder Ruft Mikh
Zhamele" a song of suffering that's typified the Jewish
experience over the centuries,
has a melody justifiably akin to
blues. For all the modern trappings on 'Transmigrations,' it
remains strongly rooted in tradition, and Krakowski wears his
heart firmly, and proudly, on his sleeve. R.I.Y.L: Chava
Alberstein, Klezmatics, Bob Dylan
From The Forward (New York,
What would you get if you crossed
traditional Yiddish folk-singing with the distinctive, driving
guitar sound of Dire Straits and the reggae strains of Bob
Marley? To find out, look for Wolf Krakowski's aptly titled
"Transmigrations". Mr. Krakowski, born in an Austrian
refugee camp to Polish [Jewish] Holocaust survivors and today a
resident of Northampton, MA, has found a way to meld rock guitar
riffs with heartfelt mame-loshn belting -- and not sound
completely deranged while doing so. The reason this alchemy
works so well. . . is perfectly simple: Mr. Krakowski is one
native-born Yiddish speaker who just loves to rock-and-roll.
-- Douglas Century
From The Valley Advocate
(Kame'a Media) . . .filmmaker Wolf Krakowski (who has worked
documenting Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's Survivors
of the Shoah Visual History Project) has branched out with his
encyclopedic knowledge of the life and the rhythms of Eastern
European Jewish culture. "Transmigrations" is a
non-classifiable collection of Jewish folk songs, ghetto
cabaret tunes, songs. . . from . . . the Holocaust . . .
Krakowski "braids" these songs into a contemporary sound
borrowed from reggae, blues, honky-tonk and world beat while
still maintaining the wild, sad, almost keening sound of these
songs' origins. . . Jim Armenti. . . provides inspired licks and
soaring phrases throughout the album. And vocalist
Fraidy Katz provides a lively counterpoint to Krakowski's
own controlled and world-weary voice. It is, after all,
Krakowski's style that defines these new arrangements. He is
rather unique in contemporary music. It's a bit like discovering
Bob Dylan for the first time. You don't understand why his voice
works so well, but it mesmerizes you. Like the wonderful concept
album it is, "Transmigrations" offers more than the sum
of its parts.
-- John Morrison
From "The Jewish Scene," WERE-AM
and WCLV-FM (Cleveland, OH)
I confess that I was quickly
caught up in the effective amalgam of Ashkenazic Yiddish culture
and a contemporary idiom. . . you have lent a measure of
respectability to current pop culture.
-- David Guralnik
From The Canadian Jewish News
. . . It's this mix of
contemporary music with the tradition of Yiddish sound which
makes this CD unique. Older lovers of Yiddish song might be able
to get their teenagers to slip this into their CD player instead
of the latest Pearl Jam album. . . Some of the songs included in
this collection are traditional folksongs like the rather
upbeat, rocking version of "Tsen Brider" (Ten Brothers);
the bluesy, mournful "Varshe"
(Warsaw), written by Holocaust survivor Benzion Witler and "Shabes,
Shabes," which pulsates to a sizzling, rootsy reggae beat.
"Her Nor, Du Sheyn Meydele" (Listen, Pretty Girl) is one of
my favorites. Krakowski is joined by Yiddish diva
Fraidy Katz in this upbeat male/female dialogue where the
woman vows to undergo every hardship to be with her man. (OK
it's not politically correct, but should be taken in context
like anything else.) Most of the songs on "Transmigrations,"
. . . have a swinging, shaking feel to them and Krakowski's
unique, deep voice adds a rich, bluesy touch.
-- Joseph Serge
From The Washtenaw Jewish News
(Ann Arbor, MI)
The synthesis of traditional
Yiddish songs with musical styles ranging from country-rock to
reggae would seem at first to be an unwieldy one. It was with
pleasant surprise that I observed just how effortlessly singer
and guitarist Wolf Krakowski has made this combination on his
new compact disc "Transmigrations."
makes use of diverse musical idioms while still preserving the
integrity and soul of twelve great Yiddish compositions. Upon
first listening, I recalled immediately, and with surprising
clarity, the music I heard in Russian restaurants while growing
up in Brighton Beach. Krakowski sings in that same tradition,
with a mournful and heartfelt enthusiasm. I had only to hear a
few words before it became evident that Krakowski is, without a
doubt, the genuine article. It was only considerably later that
I noticed the breadth of musical flavors that provide the
framework for Krakowski's singing. It is true that
is an album of World Music, but it is moreover an album of
Yiddish music, in which the powerful Yiddish vocals are the
common driving force. It is this that makes "Transmigrations"
an album of Yiddish music in the true sense rather than a
half-hearted novelty album; while Krakowski experiments with
different musical idioms in the presentation of the material, he
refuses to doctor the material itself.
The instrumentation for
is typical of both modern musical ensembles and traditional
Yiddish groups; apart from the standard guitars, saxophone, bass
guitar, drums and percussion, "Transmigrations" also
features the sounds of the violin, mandolin and bouzouki.
Krakowski gets some help on vocals from a backup section of
three female singers, who sometimes echo him in a manner similar
to that of groups of the 1950s. In addition, vocalist
Fraidy Katz takes a lead vocal role on the song, "Her
Nor, Du Sheyn Meydele" (Listen, Pretty Girl).
opens with a guitar-driven country-rock version of the
traditional folksong, "Tsen Brider" (Ten Brothers) . The
sorrowful "Tsen Brider"
describes in each verse the death of one of ten brothers. The
lament begins with several bars of powerful guitar, leading to
Krakowski's vocal. . . .
In "Shabes, Shabes,"
we have another, though much different, performance of a
traditional Yiddish folksong. Well-known as this song is, it is
unlikely that anyone has ever played it quite the way Krakowski
does here. The song begins with a distorted violin and hand
drums. After a soulful introductory phrase, the reggae beat is
in full effect and Krakowski begins his singing. Here the backup
vocalists echo Krakowski, adding yet another style to the
musical mixture of the song.
The soul of Krakowski's singing
and the talents of the musicians are so great that the
combination of such varied musical elements does not sound
ridiculous in the least. The violin provides a steady background
drone, periodically taking the lead. Krakowski sings in an
impassioned yet reserved manner, pleading for the Sabbath, peace
and freedom. Not every song on "Transmigrations"
can boast such radical digressions as "Shabes, Shabes"
can. On several of the performances, . . . Krakowski plays the
music in a manner that is subdued, if not downright traditional.
The honest melancholy of these songs works well to balance out
the sometimes overwhelming blending of styles that characterizes
much of the album. "Yeder Ruft Mikh Zhamele"
(Everyone Calls Me Zhamele): listening to the vocals and
mandolin one could easily believe it a recording several decades
older, were it not for the electric guitar and the occasional
giveaway blues lick. The homeless narrator of this waltz laments
the murder of his family, and pleads with the Almighty for
compassion and mercy. Like "Tsen Brider," "Yeder Ruft Mikh
Zhamele" delicately portrays the loss and desolation felt by
one who has lost his family.
In contrast, "Yidishe
Maykholim" (Jewish Foods) recalls a happier time of abundant
delicacies. Fans of Jewish cuisine will appreciate the
references to bagels, gefilte fish, knishes, chicken soup,
pastrami and kishke. The beat is somewhere between reggae and
Latin, and the prancing saxophone provides a savory counterpoint
to Krakowski's singing.
The album's final song, "Zol
Shoyn Kumen Di Geule" (Let The Redemption Come), lends
itself equally well to the reggae beat. Krakowski gives us an
equally enthralling version, featuring heavy layers of guitar
and violin. The first verse starts off slowly, with sparse
chords on the guitar. At the end of the verse the beat starts
and the backup vocalists repeat the word meshiakh as
Krakowski describes the coming of the Messiah. The last verse
ends with a plea that the Messiah will not be too late.
Though the beat here is more
Kingston than Krakow, the music is still decidedly Jewish. It's
not just the lyrics or the melodies, or even the Yiddish
language itself. There is a much deeper sense of the Yiddish
tradition here, a sense that can only be created by a musician
as committed to that tradition as Krakowski is. Krakowski may
dabble in foreign beats and instrumentation, but throughout "Zol
Shoyn Kumen Di Geule" and the rest of "Transmigrations,"
he retains the essence and soul of Yiddish music. Though the
external presentation of the music may be new, the inner truth
of the music -- its soul -- remains unchanged. It is in this
transmigration that both the title and the beauty of Krakowski's
-- David Teller Goldman
We listen to your tape
continuously in the car. It is the kids' favorite. I really
enjoy it more and more each time. Yasher koyekh.
-- Zalmen Mlotek
"Gilgul" has a helpful copy of
the lyrics in Yiddish, transcription (strict YIVO standard) as
well as in English. This is a great learning and teaching tool.
-- "Fishl" Kutner, Der Bay,
I devoted my entire hour to [Transmigrations],
and the feedback has been nothing but favorable. . . . my
listeners loved it. Even my rabbi, who is a young man, enjoyed
the reggae sounds and the Yiddish lyrics. I enjoyed hearing that
ekhte Poylisher Yiddish that my mother used to use. .
.This is a great new sound.
-- Hy Meltz, WUCF-FM, Orlando,
Thank you for producing this
wonderful recording. I do not understand most of it, but it is
so familiar. . .
-- Dubi, CIUT-FM, University of
Toronto, Toronto, Canada
From The Jewish News of Western
Massachusetts (Northampton, MA)
Carribbean rhythms, cabaret
songs, rock and blues all figure into the non-klezmer mix in a
perfectly natural way. Clearly the years Krakowski spent
performing all types of music have contributed to the seamless,
authentic sound of "Transmigrations." Like much of
today's most vital music, this genre-bending approach is fresh
and interesting, yet it does not trivialize or detract from the
intense subject matter. . . In contrast to Krakowski's stark,
honest tenor, the vocal purity of backup singers
Fraidy Katz, Jaye Simms and Pamela Smith seems
life-affirming, even when Krakowski sings the darkest lyrics.
-- Dan Margolis
From The Jewish Journal (Los
recording by the son of Holocaust survivors is unlike any Jewish
music you've ever heard. Krakowski blends musical styles . . .
in melodies haunted by nostalgia and loss. The opening song,
"Tsen Brider" (Ten Brothers) is simply unforgettable.
-- Robert Eshman
From Dirty Linen,
This is one cool dude. Krakowski
goes where no one dared go before. He sings in Yiddish, but
murmurs like Leonard Cohen. He fronts a band and backing
vocalists who sound as if they've backed Bob Marley, Smokey
Robinson and Al Green. What's more, he mixes Yiddish folk songs
with show tunes and mournful ghetto melodies, sometimes by
applying a world beat here and there. No, this isn't klezmer.
It's world music with a Jewish soul that manages to blend global
rhythms with wise visions. I've never heard anything like it.
The tender ode to family members who perished in the Holocaust
is painful. Yet, he can deliver an uplifting punch by setting a
traditional "Shabes, Shabes" the tune sung during the
Friday night dinner to a dancehall beat right out of Kingston. A
highly original disc that adds a previously unexplored vein to
the fractured world music scene.
-- Ed Silverman
From The Berkshire Eagle, July
Northampton's Wolf Krakowski has taken a dozen Yiddish folk
[sic] songs and rearranged them as contemporary rock, reggae,
honky-tonk and Rythm & Blues tunes. Himself a survivor [son of
survivors] of the war that pretty much destroyed the culture of
Eastern European Jewry, Krakowski creates a poignant, compelling
new fusion out of its ashes that needs no translation (although
English translations are provided in the liner notes). Backed by
some of the top musicians in the Pioneer Valley, the end result
-- alternately soulful, sinuous, suggestive and hypnotic --
sounds like nothing less than a rootsy, Yiddish version of
"Street Legal"-era Bob Dylan.
-- Seth Rogovoy
From Washington Jewish Week,
November 20, 1997
We only can wonder what 1990s
Yiddish music would have sounded like if it had been allowed to
grow naturally in its European setting. Nevertheless, a
fascinating CD comes close to telling us, one by
Massachusetts-based singer Wolf Krakowski. His 1996 album
challenges the notion that Yiddish is a dead language and that
Yiddish culture died with the Jews of Europe.
While many Jewish music listeners
lump all explicitly Jewish music into the category of klezmer,
definitely is not a klezmer album. It is the Yiddish music of a
generation raised on the blues, country and folk rock.
features blues numbers like "Ven Du Lakhst"
(When You Laugh) and country tinged roadhouse rockers like
"Tsen Brider" (Ten Brothers). Also presented is the stirring
traditional song "Shabes, Shabes," an anthem where
Krakowski calls out for peace, freedom, holidays, happiness,
light and compassion -- Shabbos throughout the entire world.
And it is sung to a reggae beat,
no less. A solid band that keeps the music rocking backs
Krakowski, who sings and plays rhythm guitar. Featuring
multi-instrumental powerhouse Jim Armenti on lead guitar,
violin, sax, mandolin and bouzouki, the rich sound borrows from
all of Krakowski's musical influences. With intricate blues
riffs, rock rhythms, country guitar and mandolin picking, the
musical textures range from aggressive and hard driving to
poignant and sensual.
While the sound is fully
contemporary, "Transmigrations" comes from deep within
Yiddish culture. This is not a novelty album of Yiddish
translations of classic blues, rock or American folk songs, but
a modern tribute to the poets, both professional and folk, of
the Yiddish tradition. The 12 songs feature the work of Yiddish
poets and musicians including Ben-zion Witler, Bernardo Feuer,
Mordkhe Gebirtig, Manfred Lemm, Shmerke Kacerginski, Abraham
Brudno, Abraham Eliyohu Kaplan, Max Perlman and Rabbi Abraham
Like the blues that Krakowski
clearly loves, many of the songs on "Transmigrations"
are songs of grief, pain and loss. Some are rooted in the
specific experience of the Holocaust, but others reflect
universal themes like lost love. However, Krakowski does not
neglect songs of the simple pleasures of life like food and
love. "Yidishe Maykholim" (Jewish Food) and "Her Nor,
Du Sheyn Meydele" (Listen, Pretty Girl) are presented with
great affection and emotional power.
In "Zol Shoyn Kumen Di Geule"
(Let the Redemption Come), Krakowski is particularly effective
in blending Jewish literary and religious furor with the hard
edge of contemporary music. This song, written by Shmerke
Kaczerginski and Rav Kook, tells of the longing of the Jewish
people for the Messiah. Musically centering on Armenti's ripsaw
violin, the song pulses and wails in an ecstatic frenzy that
seems to be seeking a direct link to heaven.
What kind of experiences could
spawn an artist who would produce "Transmigrations"
? Krakowski, a native Yiddish speaker, was born in a displaced
persons camp in the U. S. occupied zone in Austria in 1947, to
Polish-Jewish parents. He grew up in Sweden and then later in
Toronto. Early Jewish music influences were Krakowski's mother's
Yiddish songs and the traditional sounds of the cantor in their
small Toronto shul.
He later was inspired by the
American folk, blues, jazz and rock-and-roll artists he heard in
Toronto's clubs and coffee houses. Leaving home at 17 to travel
with the Conklin and Garret Shows, a traveling carnival,
Krakowski learned guitar and harmonica. He was a member of the
Original Upper Canada Ragtime Mama Jug Band and spent 10 days in
Montreal with first-generation Mississippi Delta bluesman Big
Krakowski, who describes himself
as the Last of the Yidishe Cowboy Bluesmen, lives in Western
Massachusetts with his wife Paula Parsky, a Yiddish teacher and
translator who sings on "Transmigrations" under the stage
name Fraidy Katz.
works because it is not a musty, nostalgic memorial, but a
living modern tribute to the victims of Nazism. Krakowski's CD
represents a transmigration of the soul of Yiddish culture to
the modern age. It is an in-your-face rebuke to the Nazi attempt
to consign Judaism to the museum.
Likewise it is unapologetic in
its use of contemporary musical sources and the energy of the
contemporary music scene. It is pure Yiddish poetry fused with
the grit of Krakowski's North American musical heritage.
-- Gideon Aronoff
From The Berkshire Eagle
(Williamstown, MA) December 5 and 19, 1997, "Picking the Best
Albums of 1997"
The Beat's annual list of the top
10 albums of the year makes no claims to objectivity. Rather, it
reflects the wholly arbitrary preferences of one listener.
Readers can therefore judge these selections accordingly, based
on their relative experience with the critic's point of view.
And so, my favorite CDs of 1997
1. Bob Dylan, "Time Out of Mind"
2. Cornershop, "When I Was Born For the 7th Time"
3. Yo La Tengo, "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One"
4. Prodigy, "The Fat of the Land"
5. Ani DiFranco, "Living In Clip"
6. The Klezmatics, "Possessed"
7. Cliff Eberhardt, "12 Songs of Good and Evil"
8. David Bowie, "Earthling"
9. Wolf Krakowski, "Transmigrations": On paper it seems
preposterous. Take old Yiddish folk, theater and pop tunes
and set them down in roots-rock arrangements while remaining
true to their melodies and Old World-spirit. With the aid of
some incredibly talented and sympathetic musicians and through
the sheer power of his timeless vocals, Krakowski pulls it
off, making for a startling fusion that flies in the face of
logic and history.
10. Deb Pasternak, "More"
While the fusion on Wolf Krakowski's "Transmigrations"
(Kame'a) is of two distinct 20th-century styles--Yiddish popular
song and American roots-rock--its effect is no less stark,
timeless or suggestive. Retaining the haunting melodies and
provincial concerns of Yiddish theater, folk and pop tunes while
recasting them into rootsy rock and honky-tonk arrangements,
Krakowski invests them with contemporary power and
politically-charged urgency worthy of Judah Maccabee, the hero
of the Chanukah story.
-- Seth Rogovoy
From The Pakn Treger (National
Yiddish Book Center) Winter, 1998
"A Blues for Yiddish"
Wolf Krakowski is puttering
around the kitchen of his home, a half-hidden-behind-trees,
rambling affair that seems oddly out of place on a cul-de-sac of
a stately suburban development. It is a dark, gloomy shade of
red, and a peaked tower rises above the neighborhood at one
corner of the house. Throw in a beat-up old pickup truck in the
driveway and a porch full of empty beer bottles awaiting
redemption, and it's clear that whoever lives here marches to
the beat of a different drummer. Having finished pouring tea and
retreated to the adjoining den -- a room dominated by CDs,
videotapes, and the machinery needed to bring the hidden sounds
and visions therein to life -- Wolf Krakowski, a small bear of a
man in spite of his name, settles into an easy chair, looks
around the room, and smiles knowingly at the irony of his
He is a long way from the
Saalfelden Farmach Displaced Person's Camp in Austria (U. S.
Occupied Zone), where he was born -- and an even longer way from
Czenstochov, Poland, his mother's hometown and, coincidentally,
my grandmother's as well.
What has brought us together
today -- the bridge, so to speak, between past and present,
between Czenstochov and the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts --
is Krakowski's new CD, "Transmigrations," from Kame'a
The album teams Krakowski with an
ensemble of some of the region's finest musicians on a
collection of a dozen Yiddish folk and pop songs given a
contemporary twist, Old World meets New World in Krakowski's
electric shtetl rock, which combines the sound of the American
roadhouse with mournful, vintage Ashkenazi melodies to create a
self-styled "Yiddish world-beat soul" blend.
In the wrong hands, such musical
miscegenation could sound forced at best, like a novelty record
at worst. But Krakowski pulls it off successfuly, perhaps
because he himself is the very embodiment of Old World Meets
Shortly after his birth,
Krakowski's famiy moved to Sweden, where they lived for six
years before permanently settling in Toronto. It was there, in
Toronto's multi-ethnic, inner-city West End neighborhood --
known as "the Junction" -- that Krakowski would be confronted by
many of the dualities that would later inform his life and work.
Not the least of these was the
fact that the shul in the Junction sat literally across the
fence from the railroad tracks, so that to this day the sounds
of cantillation and the lonesome train whistle co-exist inside
Krakowski's head -- as apt a summation as any of the
extraordinary fusion at the heart of "Transmigrations."
For much of his early life, the figurative train whistle drowned
out the cantor. He dropped out of high school at seventeen, and
literally ran away with the circus, sharing a room with a
sideshow freak named
and his "keeper," a hard-drinking
French-Canadian Gypsy prone to outbursts about the "Jew"
Roosevelt (b. Rosenfeld). "I took it all in stride," says Krakowski. "It beat the hell out of high school."
The ensuing years were a blend of
cross-country travel, all-night jam sessions with pickup bands,
stints on a commune and with a Cambridge street theater, and
work as a carpenter, sheetrocker, and guitar-maker. Says
Krakowski of that period, "I styled myself in the mold of the
hard-livin', hitch-hikin', guitar-playin' vagabond-poet. It
worked for me." Then, in 1981, the native Yiddish-speaking
Krakowski, a son of survivors, began documenting Holocaust
survivors on audio-and video-tape -- years before Steven
Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah project, for which Krakowski
worked in 1994-95.
More recently, Krakowski has
returned to music, his first love. He traces the roots of
-- which contains a dozen Yiddish folk, theater and popular
tunes rearranged by Krakowski variously as rootsy country-,
blues-, and reggae-influenced tunes -- back to his childhood.
"My life did not include music lessons or the New England
Conservatory," says the self-taught guitarist. "It did, however,
include playing with Canadian folk legends Mendelson Joe and
Daisy DeBolt and all-night jams with bluesmaaster Big Joe
Williams. It started even before then -- with my mom's Yiddish
folk songs and Hebrew liturgy, mixed with the sounds of Fats
Domino and the Everly Brothers on the radio."
What is perhaps most surprising
about "Transmigrations" is how effortlessly the Old World
overtones -- the melodies, phrasing, indeed the Yiddish language
itself -- blend with the New World touches -- sinuous electric
guitar leads, chunky Rastafarian rhythms, gospel-style choruses,
Latin dance beats, blues-drenched saxophone solos. In
Krakowski's hands, the combination seems logical and downright
"My sound isn't mere
'pine-reproduction furniture' music. It is not a studied thing.
It is a thing of the heart and soul. This stuff just came out
the way it did due to the 'bridges' I happened to sense in the
songs. I don't groove to those East European grooves. What have
I to do with mazurkas, doinas, quadrilles and polkas -- the
stuff klezmer is based on?
"I dig blues-based music above
anything else. And it took a lifetime to have it all come
together to the point where my experience and evolution both as
a person and musician enabled me to find the bridges in the
songs and the melodies without messing with them or turning it
all into a novelty or a joke.
"I am a transcultural person. I
am as at home in the world of I. B. Singer as I am in the worlds
of Willie Nelson and Bob Marley."
-- Seth Rogovoy
For complete unedited text:
From The Jewish Week, April
3,1998, "Fascinatin' Rhythm"
This CD came out at the end of
last year, but I didn't get to hear it until last week. I'm glad
I finally did because, with some minor reservations, I'm
thoroughly sold on it.
Krakowski, who was born in a
Displaced Persons camp in 1947, grew up in Sweden and Canada,
and he reminds me a lot of two other Canadians, Leonard Cohen
and Neil Young. Like both of them, he has a rather inflexible
vocal instrument but he uses it extremely well, affecting an
incantatory style that suits his material. And like Young, he is
heavily influenced by country and rock. This set takes a dozen
Yiddish tunes, mostly standards, and reinvents them in a
folk-inflected, country-rock vein and, for the most part it
works well. Krakowski's lead guitarist, Jim Armenti, plays some
searing stuff in a style redolent of Richard Thompson, and
Krakowski's haunted vocals carry a dark charge . . .there is
real power here.
-- George Robinson
From DJEMBE Cross Culture ¥
World Music (Denmark)
(download pdf version)
If you say "Yiddish Music" to
people acquainted with so called World Music, you may be more or
less assured of the reply: "Ah, you mean klezmer."
However, it's a fact that klezmer
today is going through much the same crisis that once made New
Orleans Jazz stiffen into Dixieland. Many of today's klezmer
musicians lack in improvisional skills and are actually not
rooted in that wonderfully modulated, almost shimmering,
language that begat it: Yiddish.
Allow me instead to take up the
battle for Wolf Krakowski, a guitarist and blues singer from
Toronto, Canada, now residing in Northampton, Massachusetts, and
firmly anchored in Yiddish. What Krakowski has done with his
debut CD "Transmigrations" is simply to unite those two
traditions: Eastern Jewish culture and the music of
blues-rock-reggae. It may sound risky and would have been so in
the hands of a less conscious and sensitive artist. That it
works out well for Krakowski is of course a consequence of the
fact that he is permeated by just these two strains. Yiddish is
his mother-tongue, his "mame-loshn," as is the tender
Yiddish term for it, and modern blues-based rock is his natural
In an e-mail interview I have
done with him, he tells how he once, at the beginning of the
klezmer revival, experienced how a musician executed a "Yiddish
blues" as a pure parody. "I couldn't understand why all the
wonderful music of both these forms should be misinterpreted in
such a way." The thought that he himself should show what one
could do in this area grew organically.
"First and foremost, the blues is
my music. What have all these mazurkas and bulgars and
quadrilles that klezmer is based on to do with my daily life?"
That may sound disrespectful in
the ears of a "klezmer-purist", but the fact is that Krakowski
handles his material on "Transmigrations"
with deep respect.
Here we encounter some Ashkenazi
popular, folk, and theatre songs from the holocaust era,
presented in delicious arrangements which stress, but never
dominate the inner qualities of the texts and melodies. By the
way, the text of the Ashkenazi songs almost always are deeply
meaningful; they may seem simple, but they are more often than
not about essential and existential things, just like good blues
There are many pearls of the
Ashkenazi song-treasure on "Transmigrations,"
and you don't have to hear many seconds of of the opening number
of this CD, the traditional ballad "Tsen Brider" - "Ten
Brothers" to grasp that Wolf Krakowski has created something
unique. American reviewers have compared his voice to that of
Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, but I think it's all his own. It's
strong and tempered, warm and restrained at the same time:
filled with deep sentiment, but never sentimental. And he has
had the good taste to bring some excellent musicians along, the
group "The Lonesome Brothers," which recently had a new
CD out on Tar Hut Records, where especially the
multi-instrumentalist Jim Armenti excels. He plays guitar,
mandolin, violin, saxophone and bouzouki on
"Transmigrations." The interplay between him and Krakowski
brings Lester Young and Billie Holiday to mind. This may sound
exaggerated, but I wish to communicate an impression of
All in all: "Transmigrations"
is klezmer turned into World Beat, and at the same time a slap
in the face to historical and musical revisionists of all kinds.
-- Ingemar Johansson
-- Mike Sherman
Swedish (and English) Website for
Paula Kirman reviews
Your Mining Co. Guide
to World Music
From Helen's Yiddish Dance
"When I was in university, I had
to take Basic Design...
The professor always said: 'Respect the integrity of your
Wolf and his music are for me an embodiment of this principle."
"Klezmer! Jewish Music From Old World to Our World"
by Henry Sapoznik (Schirmir Books 1999)
"Exploring fusion from the inside looking out."
An example of someone
exploring fusion from the inside looking out is Massachusetts
performer Wolf Krakowski, whose 1996 CD Transmigrations
blends Yiddish song backed by a langorous Leonard Cohen-style rock
accompaniment. On the album, whose title derives from the Y.L.
Peretz story "A gilgul fun a nign" (A Transmigration of a
Melody), Krakowski,one of the few children of Holocaust
survivors on the Yiddish music scene, uses his command of the
language and culture to update Peretz's story about how music
changes in relation to its environment.
"The Essential Klezmer" by Seth Rogovoy
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2000)
"Wolf Krakowski's Shtetl-Rock"
It is a long way from
the Saalfelden Farmach Displaced Person's Camp in Austria (U.S.
Occupied Zone), where Wolf Krakowski was born, to Northampton,
Massachusetts, the ultramodern, ultraprogressive college town
where he lives today. Yet in the course of a four-minute song,
Wolf is somehow able to shrink the vast geographic and cultural
distance, and even to reveal correspondences between the two
Krakowski teams with an ensemble of some
of New England's finest roots-rock musicians on a dozen Yiddish
folk and pop songs with contemporary twists. Krakowski's
electric shtetl-rock combines the sound of the American
roadhouse with mournful, vintage Ashkenazi melodies to create a
self-styled "Yiddish world-beat soul" fusion. In the wrong
hands, such miscegenation would sound forced at best or a
novelty at worst, but Krakowski pulls it off successfully,
perhaps because he is himself the very embodiment of Old World
his birth, Krakowski's family moved to Sweden, where they
lived for six years before permanently settling in Toronto. It
was there, in Toronto's multi-ethnic, inner-city neighborhood
known as the Junction, that Krakowski first confronted many of
the dualities that would later inform his life and work. Not the
least of these was the fact that the shul in the Junction sat
literally across the fence from the railroad track, so that to
this day the sounds of the khazones and the lonesome
train whistle coexist inside his head -- as apt a summation as
any of the extraordinary fusion at the heart of
For much of
Krakowski's early life, the figurative train whistle drowned
out the khazones. He dropped out of high
school at seventeen and ran away with the circus, sharing a room
with a sideshow pinhead named Schlitzie
and his keeper, a
hard-drinking French-Canadian Gypsy prone to outbursts about the
"Jew" Roosevelt (b. Rosenfeld). "I took it all in stride," says Krakowski, "It beat the hell out of high school".
years were a blend of Kerouac-inspired, cross-country
travel, all-night jam sessions with pickup bands, stints on a
commune and with a Cambridge street theater, and jobs as a
carpenter, sheetrocker and guitar maker. In 1981 the
Yiddish-speaking Krakowski began documenting Holocaust survivors
on audio and videotape, years before Steven Spielberg's
Survivors of the Shoah project for which Krakowski worked in
1994-5. Krakowski's own videos include Vilna, which he
calls "the first post-World War II Yiddish music video," and
My Name is Stella: An Oral History, the firsthand testimony
of a Polish-Jewish nursing student's survival.
contains a dozen Yiddish folk, theater, and popular
tunes written by the likes of Benzion Witler, Mordkhe Gebirtig,
Max Perlman, and Shmerke Kaczerginski, rearranged by Krakowski
variously as rootsy country-, blues-, and reggae-influenced
tunes. "My life did not include music lessons or the New England
Conservatory," says the self-taught guitarist. It did however
include playing with Canadian folk legends Mendelson Joe and
Daisy DeBolt and all-night jams with bluesmaster Big Joe
Williams. "It started even before then--with my mom's Yiddish
folk songs and Hebrew liturgy, mixed with the sounds of Fats
Domino and the Everly Brothers on the radio."
What is perhaps
most susrprising about Transmigrations is how
effortlessly the Old World -- the melodies, phrasing, indeed,
the Yiddish language itself--blends with the New World, the
sinuous electric guitar leads, the chunky Rastafarian-styled
rhythms, the gospel-style choruses, the Latin dance beats, the
honking, blues-drenched saxophone solos. In Krakowski's hands,
the combination seems logical and downright organic.
represents what is best, and more importantly, honest, about
the whole folk and pop experience as filtered
through my experience and sensibilities," says Krakowski. "Not
as mere 'pine-reproduction furniture' music. It is not a studied
thing. It is a thing of the heart and soul. . . . I dig
blues-based music above anything else. And it took a lifetime to
have it all come together to the point where my experience and
evolution both as a person and musician enabled me to find the
bridges in the songs and the melodies without messing with them
or turning it all into a novelty or a joke."
person, as at home in the world of I. B. Singer as he is
in the world of Willie Nelson and Bob Marley, Wolf Krakowski
builds a musical bridge between the two on Transmigrations.
His music is also suggestive of the possibilities that might
have occurred had Yiddish, and the Yiddish world, not been
destroyed by the Germans. For better or worse, American popular
music has pervaded all corners of the globe, so that everywhere
indigenous styles of music are combined with American popular
forms to create contemporary hybrids. Thus, you have Russian
folk-rock bands influenced by the Velvet Underground and R. E.
M. It isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination to think
that had the Eastern European Yiddish civilization survived, it
may have on its own produced music remarkably like that found on
Wolf Krakowski's Transmigrations.
himself is aware of this dynamic. "Without being corny, I
sing through them and those that were silenced
sing through me," he says. "It is as if all the people who I
left behind somehow 'transmigrated' over here, and their stilled
voices, cloaked in the raiment of R&B blues, country-rock and
reggae, act as a bridge from the Old World to the New, through