Klezmer music may not have the center stage in the world music scene, but it does have a strong connection to Ashkenazi Jewish traditions and Yiddish culture.
One of the trailblazer bands dedicated to shining more light on klezmer music, Mames Babegenush, is coming to the Valley on Monday, Aug. 26. They will perform at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix for that night only. The show is a part of a two-week U.S. tour that will begin in California.
Although the band has been playing klezmer music for more than a decade, the genre was unknown to most of the band members at first.
Lukas Rande, the saxophone player and tenor for Mames Babegenush, had never even heard of klezmer until his friend and bandmate, Emil Goldschmidt, told him about it. Goldschmidt — who plays the clarinet — introduced the music to Rande after he was asked to play some klezmer songs for a party.
“Since he has a Jewish background and his father was a musician, he was brought up with this music,” Rande said. “So he asked his best friends, more or less, if we would be able to perform at the party. I didn’t know the music at all and as we were practicing it just swept me away.”
Rande said that he didn’t feel like there was any music quite like it, that the intensity and energy from klezmer was vastly different from that of the classical music he studied as a child.
Since that party, Rande, Goldschmidt and the four other band members of Mames Babegenush have made a career out of klezmer music. The six-piece band formed in 2004 and began performing together in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. All the members were childhood friends before becoming band mates.
In addition to Rande and Goldschmidt, the group consists of Andreas Møllerhøj on double bass, drummer Morten Ærø, Nicolai Kornerup on accordion and Bo Rande on flügelhorn. The band has made five albums since 2009; its most recent, “Mames Babegenush With Strings,” came out in 2017.
The upcoming tour will aid with the recording of a new album that is slated for release in the spring of 2020. Rande said that half of the songs played on the tour are from older albums and the other half are from their upcoming one.
Mames Babegenush started performing at smaller gigs like Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs, but also performed spontaneous, unannounced concerts for unknowing audiences in public spaces. Jokingly dubbed “klezmer attacks,” these performances helped Mames Babegenush become a major contributor to Denmark’s world music scene.
Throughout the years, the band, which plays a mix of traditional klezmer songs and original compositions, has performed in Europe, North America and South America. They’ve headlined venues such as the Royal Danish Theatre, Carnegie Hall, Ravinia Festival and several others.
“I’ve never seen us live before — I’m always onstage — but it seems like people respond very well when we perform,” Rande said. “There’s a lot of improvisation and energy into each performance that resonates with the audience, and we want them to feel uplifted for the performance.”
In addition to klezmer, the band also plays other European acoustic music styles such as Balkan and Nordic folk music, as well as some jazz, but klezmer is the heart and soul of what they do. Their sound has changed the shape of Danish music, too.
“In Denmark, klezmer really wasn’t known at first, and then after we started performing it there was a peak where we had a lot of different bands incorporate klezmer or Balkan music,” Rande said. “We’ve actually been seeing more bands who play the genre in both Europe and America. It’s a small group of musicians from what I’ve seen, but it’s on the rise for some reason.”
Phoenix has its own share of klezmer bands, such as the Rural Street Klezmer Band and Jerusafunk. Both bands performed at the East Valley JCC’s Klezmer Music Festival in January.
Rande is excited to be bringing Mames Babegenush to Phoenix.
“I’m looking forward to going to the museum. A few musician friends of mine told me it’s like a Smithsonian just for instruments,” Rande said. “So I’m looking forward to playing there. It’s not every day we get to play at such a unique venue.” JN