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 "Moving and sensual"
- Ruth Levin
Oneg Shabat, Radio Reka
Jerusalem 12.9.16
Program with Yiddish commentary
From 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."
Read English Translation

Short review 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
DP camp.

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


From http://www.musicblog.fr
Clement Dumais blogs "Regendl" ("Little Rain") and "Friling" ("Springtime")from "Transmigrations: Gilgul"


From Sunday Simcha
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 Landscape (2006)
Identifying Jewish Elements

. . . Most artists in the (Radical Jewish Culture series) catalogue with
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 Jewish sound.

--Exploring the Postmodern Landscape
by Judah M. Cohen
from You Should See Yourself: Jewish Identity in Postmodern American Culture
edited by Vincent Brook
Rutgers University Press 2006

 


"... we think of a Neil Young who would visit the synagogue."

From TZADIKOLOGY (in French May 2009)
(Translated from the French)


From pepper-zone.com (2005)
(in French)


From Flamesky.com (2005)
(in Chinese)


From Warm Warm Diary (2005)
(in Chinese)


From Amazon (USA, May 8, 2004)
Yiddish vocals and the ever-present guitar 

Wolf Krakowski's 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 CD album. 

--Midwest Book Review
 

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 and dance.

--By A Customer


From the UK Rainlore site
The Real Yidishe Blues:  "Transmigrations: Gilgul" 
"Original and highly personal, individualtic style that is both striking and wonderfully accessible."

--Richard Sharma 


From FOLKER! (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 transcultural album."
(Translated from the German)

-Matti Goldschmidt


From KLEZMER.DE (January 2002)
"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)

--Heiko


From CMJ (College Music Journal) USA

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 it all:
"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

--Chris Nickson


From The Forward (New York, NY)

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 (Springfield, MA)

WOLF KRAKOWSKI, "Transmigrations" (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 lider, 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 (Toronto, Canada)

. . . 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."

"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 "Transmigrations" 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 "Transmigrations" 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).

"Transmigrations" 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 album lie.

-- 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, Belmont, CA


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, FL


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 Angeles, CA)

This critically-acclaimed 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, August/September, 1997

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 13, 1997

On "Transmigrations," 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 "Transmigrations" 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, "Transmigrations" definitely is not a klezmer album. It is the Yiddish music of a generation raised on the blues, country and folk rock.

"Transmigrations" 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 isaac Kook.

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 Joe Williams.

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.

Ultimately, "Transmigrations" 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 were:

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 surroundings.

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 Media.

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 New.

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 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."

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 "Transmigrations" -- 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 organic.

"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: www.berkshireweb.com/rogovoy/interviews/wolf.html


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 musical medium.

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 is.

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 extraordinary congeniality.

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

 


From "Rejuvenating Heritage Website"

. . . a classic in modern Yiddish music.

-- Mike Sherman


Swedish (and English) Website for Wolf Krakowski

 


Paula Kirman reviews Transmigrations: Your Mining Co. Guide to World Music

 


From Helen's Yiddish Dance Page

"When I was in university, I had to take Basic Design...
The professor always said: 'Respect the integrity of your materials.'
Wolf and his music are for me an embodiment of this principle."

 --Helen Winkler                                                         


From "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.

 

From "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 unlikely worlds.

On Transmigrations/Gilgul, 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 meets New.

Shortly after 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 Transmigrations.

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".

The ensuing 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.

Transmigrations 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.

"My sound 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."

A transcultural 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.

Krakowski 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 me."