WHY SOME MEXICANS ARE MESMERIZED BY KLEZMER
Yiddish music now is mesmer-
izing with the sounds of klezmer
Mexicans who are not Jewish,
perhaps because it sounds a little blueish,
and Mexicans who have the blues
now feel a kinship with the Jews,
which hardly is surprising since a lot
have Jewish blood, although they're not
aware of this. Conversos whose
escape from Spain as hidden Jews
may well have been the ancestors
not just of some conquistadors
but of these klezmer loving Mexicans who
to unknown ancient roots are true,
patronizinig, more than they do mariachi,
klezmedr, thanks to their patriarchy.
Robbie Whelan writes in the 1/8/17 WSJ (“That’s Jewish Folk Music You’re Hearing—in Mexico”):
On most days, weather permitting, Juan “El Maestro” Pérez packs up his clarinet and his accordion and descends to the city’s main plaza to play music for tips from tourists.
But El Maestro doesn’t look or sound like other street musicians here in Puebla—a Spanish colonial city known for its ornate pottery and dozens of churches—who mostly play mariachi guitars and sing romantic Mexican songs.
Instead, Mr. Pérez wears a long beard and dresses in the costume of a Hasidic Jew, complete with a wide-brimmed black hat, high-collared white dress shirt and a black cardigan. He quotes folksy Yiddish expressions and punctuates Romanian dance melodies by shouting “hey!” at key moments.
His band, El Colectivo Klezmorino, a rotating cast of friends and conservatory dropouts toting violins, a bass, percussion, brass and other instruments, all of whom he recruited and trained, is devoted exclusively to playing klezmer, the raucous, up-tempo Jewish folk music common to weddings and bar mitzvahs in the Yiddish-speaking shtetls of Eastern Europe in the early 20th century.
Mr. Pérez, 28 years old, isn’t Jewish, and neither is anyone else in the band. He grew up in Xicohtzinco, a tiny village in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, he doesn’t speak Yiddish, he has never set foot in a synagogue and he has never traveled outside of Mexico. He spends his days playing Jewish folk music, and dressing the part, mainly because he loves it, he says, and because it was easy to learn.
“I feel like with klezmer, for me it’s not just the music, it’s a small summary of all of life,” he says. “Here in Mexico—not just Mexico, but in many countries—we believe that life isn’t just joy or sorrow. There are difficulties, but the happy and the sad exist at the same time in life.”