Lenka Lichtenberg: Yiddish Journey

April 30, 2017

Bridge Over Time

Listening Post 97. Yiddish is often discussed in before-and-after terms. As a language of daily life it barely survived the Holocaust, and postwar Jewish migrations led to further decline. So when the Czech-born Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg decided she wanted to perform in a language that hadn’t been spoken in her family for generations, it was less an exercise in adult education than in resurrection. There are other Yiddish singers today, but arguably no one has done more than she has to bring the language from nostalgia into the present by combining fresh influences—jazz, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, Indian—new compositions and her hypnotic, angelic voice. Yiddish Journey, Lichtenberg’s tenth album, is a captivating 18-track compilation from a career that has cultivated the sounds of an interdependent world. She chants Zum Gali Gali (in Yiddish, Hebrew and English) as a song of concord—“In the whole world there shall be peace”—adapting a kibbutz song about working the land, which was itself a recycled medieval folk song (video 1). In Eybik (Eternal), she opens Yiddish to a warm Arabic embrace: “Eternal, great, powerful is the yearning for happiness,” she sings, “bright, splendid is life’s music” (video 2). Zing (Sing) connects the music with Lichtenberg’s own journey: “Sing of those who have already turned to dust… to generations who’ll again sound the golden horn” (video 3). More traditional is Ver hot aza yingele (Who Has Such a Boy?) featuring a Jewish mother kvelling about her son (video 4). And who has such a gift? Lichtenberg—who sings in six languages and serves as a cantorial soloist and composer in a Toronto synagogue—has used Yiddish to fashion a bridge from before to after, showing not only what might have been but also bringing “might have” to reality. (ARC Music)







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