I’ve known the musician Paul Brody longer than Paul Brody, the man. Twenty years ago, I was fascinated by the New York record company Tzadik Records’ series of albums entitled Radical Jewish Culture, which also included the CDs by Paul’s band Sadawi. I wasn’t aware at the time that Paul lived in Berlin. To my great surprise, we met at a children’s birthday party – we both brought our children there and started talking.
Paul told me the story of his family, who had to flee Vienna in the 1930s, and his search for his own musical language last year for my book “Richard Wagner & the Klezmerband”. After this long interview in the windy park at the Gleisdreieck, we only met again yesterday, in the backstage area of the Zughafen in Erfurt, where we both took part in the final concert of the Jewish-Israeli Culture Days.
Mein Hund Sirko
“How do you say ‘the dog’ in Ukrainian?” Paul Brody wanted to know when he saw me. He then laughed and tried to recite the opening lines of the 1995 Ukrainian hip-hop hit “Sirko miy sobaka” (“My Dog Sirko”).
As it turned out, two refugee mothers from my hometown of Kharkiv have been living with him for a few weeks with their children and cats. They all get along well, Paul said, except for the cats – the two Ukrainian ones are stressed out with his three Berlin cats. And one of the Kharkiv ladies teaches Paul Ukrainian songs.
The Berlin clarinettist Christian Dawid, who shared the stage with all three acts at the concert that evening, said that people from Kharkiv were staying in his apartment in Prenzlauer Berg.
It’s very useful that he knows a bit of Russian and Ukrainian: since 2006 he has been playing with Konsonans Retro, a Ukrainian family brass band from the city of Kodyma in the Odessa region. Their last album together was released twelve years ago. In the past few weeks, however, there have been invitations again. They want the band to play in Europe again, Christian tells us.
I am currently putting together a digital compilation of music by Jewish artists against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Would Paul Brody have a track for me? But of course, he says, he would be happy and would even like to record something new for it! I get such enthusiastic answers every time I ask my Jewish colleagues.
Music in Yiddish
With my friends I think about what this compilation should be called. Since the beginning of the war I’ve had a hard time being creative. “Russian warship, fuck you!”… how about this? It’s not particularly imaginative, but it makes a strong statement. Short and sweet. How would it sound in Yiddish, I ask the Yiddishists among my Facebook friends, triggering a linguistic discussion.
Translating “Russian warship” seems easy, the other half of the sentence has different opinions. They agree on “rusishe krigshif, gey kakn in yam!”, but then Sasha Lurje, the singer of my favorite band Forshpil, who sounds like Pink Floyd or The Doors, just texts me in Yiddish. Sasha talked about it with the well-known Yiddish scholar Michael Wex. Its variant is “rusishe krigshif, shif zikh in dr’erd”.
When the concert in Erfurt is over, I get a notification from YouTube that a few minutes ago Pink Floyd released their first new song in 28 years. This is their version of a Ukrainian folk song “Oy u luzi chervona kalina”, which they recorded with Andriy Khlyvnyuk, the singer of the Kiev band Boombox. I have to read it several times to make sure I got it right. Pink Floyd. boom box. Ukrainian folk song. Okay, now it’s the Beatles turn.