In collaboration with Dr. Nathan Wolski and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, we are thrilled to announce a new album – Soul Joy • 1727
Beloved Melbourne Yiddish band The Bashevis Singers (Evie Gawenda, Husky Gawenda and Gideon Preiss) are thrilled to announce the release of their third Yiddish album, Soul Joy • 1727. Featuring eight new all-Yiddish tracks, Soul Joy 1727 is a contemporary reimagining of the oldest Yiddish song book: Simkhes ha-Nefesh part 2 by Elkhonen Henele son of Rabbi Binyomin Wolf Kirkhhan, first published in Furth in 1727.
Although not a household name today, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Elkhonen Kirkhhan’s Simkhes ha-Nefesh שמחת הנפש (Joy of the Soul, part 1) was a best-seller. His Yiddish classic (first published in 1707 in Frankfurt) was printed nearly twenty times throughout Europe, and of all the musar works (morality-guides) of the time attained a special place in the hearts of the Yiddish-reading masses. Part anthology, part moral guide, part inspirational, Simkhes ha-Nefesh comprises Yiddish paraphrases and folkloristic retellings of stories from the Talmud and medieval sources informed by his core message—niks zorgen zol / don’t worry; instead serve God with the simple joy of your divine soul. Despite the great popularity of his work, Kirkhhan felt that his Yiddish tales weren’t accomplishing their goal, and so in 1727 he published a second volume—this time comprising songs. It is here that we find what may well be the oldest extant Yiddish musical notation with accompanying lyrics, and the inspiration for the songs you will soon hear.
Creating contemporary songs that might appeal to modern sensibilities while simultaneously integrating the original line of melody and the original lyrics was not always straightforward. First, Nathan created something that “looked” like a modern song from Kirkhhan’s long lyrics—omitting sections, re-ordering, finding a refrain etc. Gideon would then play the single line of melody from the 1727 edition. A discussion between Nathan, Gideon and Husky would follow: what genre might best fit the lyrics and melodic line? Clearly Purim would be joyous and cheeky and Yom Kippur would be sombre and contemplative, but what genre suits Shavuot and the account of revelation at Sinai? What style should one employ for a song about our inevitable death? Once agreement on the desired “vibe” and “feel” was reached, Husky and Gideon then worked their magic, creating a contemporary alt-nay/new-old sound (here Leonard Cohen, there Pink Floyd, here Nirvana, there Beastie Boys), making sure to integrate the original melodic line. Then Gideon, Husky and Evie disappeared into studio land for a couple of months, and emerged with something ripped straight from the bowels of the 18th century, that sounds at once familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Three hundred years in the making, we hope Henele approves!
More details on the project at https://www.difarborgenekhalyastre.com/soul-joy-1727