KING DJANGO - Roots and Culture
CD - 1998 Triple Crown Records
review by megan
As bizarre ideas in 1998 go, the concept of an album fusing klezmer, ska, Yiddish, and religion takes the cake. Yet Django pulls it off on Roots & Culture, fusing the similar elements of ska and klezmer and adding a very personal voice on top of it all.
For those unfamiliar with klezmer (like me), it's a form of music developed by Yiddish musicians that came to the U.S. in the late 1800's. The ska tradition that Django is drawing on is that of first wave, '60's Jamaica. Quoted in the press release, Django notes that both klezmer and ska share "a religious content with a strong emphasis on the old testament" and this influence is apparent throughout all of Roots & Culture. "You buy your bread with pieces of my life/But all that I have, I was given by God" sings Django in Yiddish in "Shtiklakh", and "A Single Thread" plays out a beautiful metaphor about life with highly Biblical overtones. Some of the tracks, like "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem" and "Lomir Alle Zinegen", are reworkings of traditional songs, while others, like "Shtiklakh" and "Seventh Day" are originals. But, interestingly, Django chooses to also include covers of Madness's "Night Boat to Cairo", here called "Nakht Shifl Ken Kayro" and the Specials's "Do Nothing" a.k.a. "Tu Gornisht". Here are two songs specific to a time and place (1970's Britain) transposed to another, just as specific culture (Yiddish). While "Night Boat to Cairo" loses a lot in the translation (it's dark texture, it's overtones of British Imperialism, Suggs's vocals), "Do Nothing" makes the transition nicely. Placed in Roots & Culture's context of the religious and the downtrodden, "Tu Gornisht" fits perfectly and emphasizes these same qualities in the original song nicely.
But for all the novelty of Roots & Culture, the question is, can the album stand alone as good music? Yes. Ranging from good, traditional style music ("Seventh Day", "Ska Mitzvah") that would be just as appropriate on a Skinnerbox or Stubborn All-Stars album, to touching songs specific to the album's spirituality ("Slaughter"), Roots & Culture stands as both a personalized and specific interaction with ska and a highly accessible album.
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