Kharkov Klezmer Band

Label: Frea/Music and Words

Publisher: Frea/Music and Words

Year: 2002


  • Daniel Bloom - mix/recording

I was lucky enough to be at independent Ukraine’s first klezmer festival - after an 80 year hiatus.

It was like an emotional coming-out - many small groups across the country had been playing, often in secret, and they were stunned to know that they were part of a larger community, and a larger cultural revival that, having started in the US in the late 70s, was going to give them a firm badge of cultural identity that really belonged to them.

It was a beautiful experience, not least because the quality of music was so good - from the KKB - a young, feisty band from Eastern Ukraine who played the traditional style much better than I’d ever heard before.

I managed to get them to the UK for workshops, and there we recorded their first album, the whole thing in one take. It still ranks as one of the best old-school klezmer records out there.

Liner Notes

The international klezmer “revival” takes many different paths. Indeed it is not really appropriate to refer to it as “revival”, as it suggests that klezmer died and has been “brought back to life”, but this is clearly untrue. For instance, in America, the music never died, but it did lose popularity and underwent many changes. It is only in the past three decades that musicians have repopularised and fed a need from within the culture to listen again to the music from “the old world”. But also in the old world, klezmer gained increasing popularity, even in Eastern Europe after the communist era. As it matures in Russia, klezmer begins to make the club scene. Long before the dark shadows of the 1930s, traditional Jewish celebratory music ‘klezmer’ was a thriving part of everyday life in Jewish communities across the Ukraine. Now those times are long gone, but the rebirth of Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe over the last ten years is creating a cultural impetus that is being felt far and wide across the whole region.

A video of a klezmer show altered Stanislav Raiko’s career. The Ukrainian born violinist and leader of the Kharkov Klezmer Band recalls: “I just saw this one single show and realized that this was my music and I wanted to play it”. He then began listening to old recordings of Eastern European Jewish folk music to help him master the genre. In the late 1990’s, Raiko, a classically trained musician, started his group The Kharkov Klezmer Band is something new in the international klezmer revival. Like many of the superstar klezmer groups from the USA, they are a group of conservatory educated musicians with flawless technique. But it is the spirit of their music, the profound feeling of what this music means to them and the way they convey this to their audience that makes them truly special. Remember that to perform Jewish music was effectively forbidden in the Ukraine from the 1930s until 1991, and it becomes clearer that this album is more than just a musical statement, it’s the sound of people reconnecting with their heritage, proclaiming their identity after more than half of century of silence.

Their style of klezmer is raw and beautiful, Jewish music with a deep understanding of its own roots. Traditionally, the goal of the klezmer musician was to bring out both extremes of emotion that a wedding encapsulates: the joy of starting a new family and the sadness of leaving the childhood home. The Kharkov Band can genuinely be said to be one of the few bands on the international circuit who understand this concept of ‘laughter through tears’. Not for nothing have performances across Russia, the Ukraine, Estonia, Hungary, Spain, Austria and the UK fast given them a reputation as one of the most powerful and exciting live acts in Jewish music.

Lemez Lovas, October 2002


Alles in allem ein großartiges Klezmeralbum mit weinender Geige und Klarinette, rhythmischem Akkordeon und Perkussion, und es bleibt nur noch in den Text von “A Glezele Lekhaim” einzustimmen: Let’s raise a glass of cheer now!

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