Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Odessa Mama

Chicago-based Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, whose song "Ach! Odessa" I posted from Youtube yesterday, included recent Russian immigrants. Singing in Russian rather than Yiddish they represent a rather different tradition from the old New York klezmer bands. Mostly, klezmer as it became popular a few decades ago focused on songs that hark back to the pre-Soviet-era Jewish immigrant music. Odessa developed Yiddish culture into a new and special thing, Russian tinged with Yiddish, and never very known to Americans. So here's a taste.

Odessa definitely had its own klezmer music before the Revolution. As Odessa humor and culture spilled over into twentieth century Russia, klezmer was part of the mix (as I read in City of Rogues and Schnorrers by Jarrod Tanny). As a legacy of Soviet Odessa, the song has lots of interesting things about it: the CD notes say it is "drawn from that same colorful period in Odessa's history when the new conditions of Socialism were infused into the thriving Jewish world of trade, talent, and the underworld."  Further, according to the notes, the spoken introduction is based on a story by Isaac Babel, who wrote quite a lot about Odessa, his native city.

"Odessa Mama, dear old town of mine," say the lyrics. "Ach! Odessa -- a pearl upon the sea... you have known so much grief... Ach! Odessa -- not just a town -- a bride! ... barges full of gray mullet ... Kostya delivered to Odessa ... And the lowlife would rise from their seats. When he would enter the tavern."

A real combination of nostalgia and crime from Odessa.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I'm the author of of City of Rogues and Schnorrers. I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and I'm sorry the Kindle edition is sub par. I didn't even know they had produced a Kindle edition until I read your review.
    I would have emailed you directly, but I could not find contact info on your blog.