Zalmen Mlotek/Adrienne Cooper/Dan Rous
The Jewish Labor Bund was a socialist movement with roots in Poland and Russia. But after the failure of the 1905 revolution in Russia, the Bund came to represent the Jewish radical experience for the first generation of Jews who came to this country. Rooted in the reality of an immigrant working class, the Bund represented a vision of a new society, trade unionism and a coherent secular Yiddish culture. The Bundist view of culture was wide. They established theater, cultural circles, children's schools, vocal choruses, mandolin orchestras, summer camps and a publishing house-all of this in the Yiddish language.
Their particular vision is expressed in the words of a song written by James Oppenheim. "Yes, of course it's bread we fight for/But we fight for roses too." "Bread And Roses" is part of the musical legacy of the Jewish Labor Bund captured on this CD. Featured performers are Zalmen Mlotek, Adrienne Cooper and Dan Rous, fluent Yiddish speakers, active in Yiddish culture and the children of Bundist parents. These are insiders and musicians, not academics visiting an exotic music in its native setting. In keeping with the collective tradition of this musical legacy, vocal choruses accompanied by piano perform many of the songs. On this album, these performers are the Workmen's Circle Chorus and The New Yiddish Chorale.
Though performed by vocal choruses, this is more accurately folk music or political music. The composers of these songs were not Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths but were often factory workers. David Edelshtat, writer of several songs on this CD, never made it in vaudeville or Broadway. He died after contracting tuberculosis from working 14 hours a day in a Lower East Side sweatshop. A vaudeville performer wouldn't come up with lyrics like: "How long will you stand with your backs bent/Humiliated, homeless and weak?/It's daybreak, awake, open your eyes /Recognize your own iron strength." ("Vakht Oyf"/"Wake Up")
To whom will this album appeal? Political music is a function of its time, performer and audience. In terms of time reference and audience, the optimism of a bright socialist future with its vision of freedom for those enslaved in poverty, brotherhood, equality and joy no longer has an impact for most audiences.
And yet this musical legacy tells us a lot about the worldview of those who performed it, sung along with it and appreciated it. These songs created solidarity and reinforced value structures. They expressed resistance to economic and social injustice. Perhaps we can understand this legacy in the way author Irving Howe expresses: "(with) a sentiment tended with affection and respect but no longer from the premise that the will or even the heroism of an immigrant generation could change the world".- Aaron Howard
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