Golem’s Back, With A Bang

The klez-punk returns after a five-year hiatus with a set of originals, thanks to a noted world music label.

05/20/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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Recent events in Ukraine color new album by Golem. Pascal Perich
Recent events in Ukraine color new album by Golem. Pascal Perich

The new album by Golem, “Tanz,” opens with a veritable explosion of energy, a burst of rocket-fuel-fed klez-punk that reminds listeners that the band hasn’t released an album since 2009. That’s five years’ worth of frustration you hear being blown away in those opening bars of the title cut.

“Our label folded,” Annette Ezekiel Kogan said ruefully, sipping a cup of tea on a sunny spring afternoon on the Upper West Side. “That was pretty depressing.”

The band had released two excellent albums with JDub, and when that estimable project foundered, she admits, “we didn’t know what to do.”

She shakes her head, smiling all the while.

Kogan founded Golem 14 years ago, and despite that setback, it has retained its original core membership and continued performing on the simcha circuit, in clubs and around the globe. Indeed, it was one of Golem’s more unusual gigs that led it to Corasón Digital, the label that is releasing the new album this week.

“Two years ago we were invited to play in Mexico,” she explained. “[Corasón Digital] had heard about us. When we played in Mexico City again last year, we had 2,000 people — none of whom were Jewish, I suspect — singing along with us in Yiddish. Corasón was interested; we had finished recording the album and they agreed to release it digitally.”

She laughs and adds, “It’s perfect — it brings together all our crazy connections.”

In truth, Corasón Digital is a highly respected world music label whose clients include the Buena Vista Social Club, Balkan music maestro Goran Bregovic and Malian singer Kasse Mady Diabate, a Grammy nominee, so Golem is as logical a fit as any.

You might as well raise an eyebrow at the band’s choice of producer, Tony Malmone of the legendary band Pere Ubu, but Kogan is emphatic in her endorsement of him.

“One of the reasons it took us so long to do another album is that we were always looking for the perfect producer,” she says. “We found him. He ‘got’ us right away.”

The real departure from Golem’s past came when the set list was assembled. On its previous recordings, the band explored the Yiddish musical past, reimagining standards in wildly imaginative ways. “Tanz,” by contrast, features nine original compositions out of the 11 tunes on the CD.

“I wasn’t that interested in songwriting before,” Kogan says. “I thought I had nothing to add and that it was more important to keep alive the memories of what was lost. Gradually, though, it didn’t feel fake anymore. And there is a contemporary [Jewish] story that needs to have its own songs.”

For Kogan, whose husband is Ukrainian-born, that contemporary story inevitably includes current events in Ukraine. She has her own connections to the region as well.

“My grandfather was from Dnepropetrovsk; he came here in 1910 when he was 10 years old,” she says. “He lived with us when I was growing up and he was my male role model. And when I was a teenager I was a dancer with a Ukrainian troupe. We went on tour there. I remember visiting Babi Yar — there were no plaques, nothing to indicate that Jews were massacred there. So I have to admit some conflicting feelings.”

The Kogans have been following events through Twitter and the Internet and Annette states in no uncertain terms that the tragic events in Ukraine have an impact on the band.

“We have all these Odessa songs in our repertoire, there’s one on the new CD, and it will never be the same singing them again,” she says. “It was bad enough when we were singing them about the past, but now it’s happening all over again.”

On a happier note, Golem’s audience has a couple of newer members: Kogan’s children, ages 3 and 5.

“I played the early demos [for the new album] for them,” she explains. “If they like the song and dance to it that means a lot. I used to work more slowly but now I have to cram all the work in there, so it’s been positive for me.”

And it should be positive for Golem’s fans, too. Their long wait is over.

“Tanz” is available on Corasón Digital (www.corason.com) and from Golem’s website (www.golemrocks.com). Golem will be playing a CD launch party Thursday, May 29 at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St.; [212] 539-8778 or www.publictheater.org/en/Joes-Pub-at-The-Public
 

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