Take a look back at the past 50 years of CTMD’s work assisting New York City’s immigrant communities in preserving the vitality of their distinctive performing arts traditions.
Pericles Halkias (1908 – 2005) was an Epirotik Greek clarinetist originally from the mountainous region of Pogoni in northwestern Greece bordering Albania. A virtuoso clarinetist who started playing at the age of eight, he came from a family that produced musicians going back 150 years. In the 1930s, he regularly played at the Elatos taverna, the most prestigious folk music club in pre-WWI Greece.
Halkias came to the US in 1964 and soon became a prominent figure in the Greek nightclubs on Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue that had their heyday in the 1960s. In New York, he headed the Halkias Family Orchestra, and was much in demand at weddings and other celebrations in the Epirot community. Other regular members of the orchestra are Halkias’s brother-in-law Lazaros Charasiades, who played laoutu (pear-shaped lute) and daire (large tambourine), and John Roussos, who plays the santouri (hammered dulcimer). He was also frequently joined by his sons Achilleas (violin) and Petros (clarinet), who both moved back to Greece.
Halkias received a NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1985. In 1984, CTMD released an audio cassette titled “The Halkias Family Orchestra: Songs and Dances of Epiros” that was produced by Martin Koenig and Ethel Raim. Halkias was the subject of a subsequent CTMD audio documentary cassette entitled “Fragile Traditions.” Halkias was also featured on two albums produced by Folkways. We are grateful to director John Cohen for allowing us to use excerpts from his 1988 film “Pericles in America” for this video.
The Women of Shashmaqam
The Queens-based Ensemble Shashmaqam features a group of leading Bukharian Jewish performers from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They perform a wide repertoire of the musical traditions of Central Asia, including wedding/folk music and the classical suites known as “Shashmaqam” (literally, “six maqams/modes”). Over the past thirty years, much of the Bukharian Jewish community has emigrated to Israel and the United States, with a local hub in Rego Park, Queens.
This video celebrates the artistry of three leading women performers who have performed with the Shashmaqam Ensemble over the years: Tohfaxan Pinkhasova, Firuza Yagudaeva and Fatima Kuinova (one of the first Bukharian Jews in New York, Kuinova received a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992). Doire (hand drum) player Shumiel Kuyenov has played an important role as the ensemble’s manager since the early 1980s.
Dave Tarras (1897-1989) was the individual most responsible for the development of a uniquely American style of Jewish klezmer music. Born into a large klezmer family in Podolia, central Ukraine, Tarras immigrated to New York in 1921. In New York, his talent was immediately recognized and he was quickly conscripted into the local music scene. He would go on to make hundreds of recordings, frequently playing for radio and theater as well as weddings and other jewish communal events. Over time, Tarras evolved as a player and composer, and would introduce a new corpus of repertoire as well as a refined style that reflected musically the aesthetic of an upwardly-mobile and assimilating American Jewish community.
Tarras was “rediscovered” in the 1970s by musicians/researchers Andy Statman and Walter Zev Feldman. By the time they met him, klezmer was on life support. The music’s long decline occurred for a number of reasons. In 1924 a change in immigration laws greatly restricted the replenishment of Yiddish speakers from Eastern Europe. The trauma of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 caused American Jews to look toward a new modern Israeli culture rather than that of Europe as a source of inspiration for their peoplehood. And Jews had long been suburbanized and assimilated into the American mainstream. Tarras would take the young musicians under his wing, and Statman became his protege.
In 1978, Statman and Feldman worked with the Balkan Arts Center (now Center for Traditional Music and Dance) to create a tour featuring Tarras’s trio, Statman and Feldman, as well as Yiddish singers Feigl Yudin and Ethel Raim (Raim was the Center’s co-founder and prominent as a vocalist for her work with the Pennywhistlers). The project (which was funded by the NEA) also produced a studio recording of Tarras’s trio (which included Sammy Beckerman on accordion and Irving Gratz on drums). Titled “Music for the Traditional Jewish Wedding,” this would be Tarras’s last studio effort.
The tour was a surprising success, finding capacity crowds of seniors who had came to hear a man that had played many of their weddings. There was also a smaller crowd of young musicians who came out to these concerts; along with Statman and Feldman, they would form the nucleus of a revival of Yiddish culture. Tarras was honored by the NEA with a National Heritage Fellowship in 1984, for his contribution to the nation’s cultural heritage (his apprentice, Statman, would also be recognized with a Heritage Fellowship in 2012).
The concert footage presented here is from the groundbreaking first concert of the project, held on Sunday, November 19, 1978 at Casa Galicia (now Webster Hall) in Manhattan. The band features Sam Beckerman on accordion and Max Goldberg on drums (Tarras would occasionally use Goldberg rather than Gratz in his trio because Goldberg could also sing). Though Tarras was no longer the technician he had been in his prime, this video is incredibly important as it is the only known footage of him performing publicly.
Keba Bobo Cissoko (1962-2003) was a master of the kora (gourd harp), and major exponent of the jaliya (hereditary singers/bard) tradition from Guinea Bissau. He was noted for an emphatic singing style and florid kora playing.
Cissoko was born in the Bafata region of Guinea-Bissau and began learning kora at an early age from family members, including his grandfather, Bouly Gelissa. in 1981, he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where he joined the National Instrumental Ensemble. He also formed his own band, Le Tamalalou (“The Traveler”). In 1986 he met Kemoko Sano, the choreographer of Les Ballets Africains, who widened his musical practice from the jaliya repertoire to the more diverse styles of performance required of a national repertory ensemble, in which performers play several instruments and take dramatic roles from different regions. Cissoko learned to play other instruments, including the dundun bass drum, the djembe (goblet drum) and the bala (xylophone), and in 1989, he joined Les Ballets Africains.
After six years in the company he toured Europe and the United States. In 1996, he settled in New York, where he rejoined Les Merveilles d’ Afrique. In 1998, he founded a New York-based version of his Le Tamalalou. The band joined jalilu and North American musicians in a combination that translated the western Manden repertoire into an interculturally accessible music.
Cissoko was a featured artist in CTMD’s Badenya West African Community Cultural Initiative in the late 1990s, and appears on the recording Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City produced by CTMD for Smithsonian Folkways.
Festival Shqiptar (Albanian Festival)
Beginning in 1991, CTMD worked with a number of community members to found the annual Festival Shqiptar (Albanian Festival) at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx, as well as a number of smaller concerts of music and dance around the metropolitan area. The Festival, which still occurs annually at Lehman, is now produced independently by community members. Each year Festival Shqiptar presents an incredible diversity of performers of rural and urban Albanian music and dance and continues to be a centerpiece of the community’s cultural calendar. Here we present rare footage from the early 1990s.
Albanians began to immigrate to the US shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The first to come were Christian Tosk men from southern Albania who took jobs in factories and restaurants, intending to return to the home country. Following WWI, Tosk families, both Christian and Muslim, from southern Albania and Slavic Macedonia, began to emigrate with the intent of staying in North America. The majority of immigrant Tosks originally settled in Manhattan, and later moved out to Queens, Long Island and Paterson, NJ.
Ethnic Gegs from northern Albania and Montenegro began to settle in New York after WWII. Some were political refugees from Albania, and others were Catholics from the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro. More recently, in response to political and economic developments at home, Muslim Gegs from Kosova have come in large numbers, creating community hubs in Paterson, Staten Island, Yonkers, the Bronx (along Arthur Avenue) and Westchester County.
The video includes performances on a few different types of Albanian lutes: çifteli is a high-pitched, two-stringed lute (the name means “two strings”) that is strummed rapidly, with the lower string normally acting as a drone; lahutë is the bowed lute used in accompanying epic songs; šargija is the lower-pitched plucked lute related to Turkish saz/baglama.
Los Pleneros de la 21
Los Pleneros de la 21 is a group that performs the Afro-Puerto Rican traditions of bomba and plena. The group features Juan Gutiérrez, a recipient of a NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1996.
Plena music originates in Puerto Rico’s coastal cities. Plena features a driving rhythm provided by a group of panderetas (round-frame drums), as well as alternating solo and group refrains that are often improvised on contemporary topics. Los Pleneros also performs bomba – a centuries-old form rooted in traditions brought to the plantations from West Africa. Bomba features a lead drum (requinto) that engages in an improvized dialog with a solo dancer. Bomba songs often have mystical connotations.
Juan Gutiérrez was born in 1951 in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and grew up in the San Juan suburbs. He came to New York and continued to study plena with master Marcial Reyes Avelo. Gutiérrez later found teachers who could help him to master bomba. Los Pleneros de la 21 was founded in New York by Gutiérrez and Reyes in 1983; the name literally means “the plena musicians of bus stop 21.” For thirty years the ensemble has been recognized as ambassadors of Puerto Rican bomba and plena, with extensive international tours to their credit. This rare video is from 1991.
Born in 1956, Liz Carroll is a master Irish fiddler from Chicago. Her family hails from the counties of Offaly and Limerick in Ireland, and her father Kevin Carroll was a button accordion (box) player. At only 18 years old she won the prestigious All-Ireland senior division competition on fiddle. Carroll was featured in a 1980’s CTMD program with folklorist/musician Mick Moloney that created Cherish The Ladies, an ensemble that has gone on to become international ambassadors for the participation of women in Irish music. Carroll received a NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1994, and was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. This rare footage is from a 1986 performance; Carroll is accompanied by her father on box and Mark Simos on guitar.
Ilias Kementzides (1926-2006) was a Pontic Greek lyra player. He was born in Kazakhstan, of Greek parents from Sampsunda, Pontos. The Pontic Greeks lived from ancient times in the Pontos area of Asia Minor (Turkey), on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea. The community resettled in Greece as part of the compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in the early 1920s, but some families also relocated into areas under Russian rule. In 1940, Kementzides moved with his family to Greece and settled in a small town near Thessaloniki, an area heavily populated by Pontic Greeks, and in 1974 he immigrated to the US. During his 32 years living in the United States, Kementzides played at scores of community weddings and christenings, concerts and festivals, and a presidential inauguration. He was a favorite at Pontic Greek clubs, whether in Astoria, Queens or in Norwalk, Connecticut, informally making music for others to sing and dance to and regularly accompanying the vibrant performing groups in the Pontic community. Kementzides received a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989.
The Popovich Brothers
The Popovich Brothers were a Serbian-American tamburitza band from South Chicago. The ensemble featured brothers Ted and Adam Popovich. Adam Popovich (1909-2001) was a recipient of a NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1982. Footage is from CTMD’s 1977 film, The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago, directed by Jill Godmilow, produced by Martin Koenig, Ethel Raim and Godmilow.
Banat Romanian Orchestra
The Banat is a historical region that stretches between the borders of Serbia and Romania. Prior to World War II, the area was home to a large mixture of cultures – Serbians, Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, Russians, Roma (Gypsies) and Jews. In New York City, a sizeable population of Banat Serbians and Romanians settled in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, later joined by immigrants from other regions of Romania and the former Yugoslavia. We have been honored to have worked with several generations of musicians from this community.
German Goldenshteyn (1934-2006) was born in 1934 in Otaci, Romania (Yiddish: Otek or Notek), directly across the Dniester from Mogilev-Podilsky, Ukraine, and was raised in a Yiddish-speaking home, the youngest of four brothers. When World War II broke out, he escaped with his family across the Dniester River to Soviet Ukraine and went to stay with an aunt in the town of Bershad. After the Romanian and Nazi invasion of the USSR, he was interned from 1941-43 in the Romanian/Nazi ghetto in Bershad, and orphaned by starvation and illness. In 1943, he and his three brothers were taken with other local Jewish children to orphanages in Romania by the Romanian Red Cross, thus surviving the Holocaust.
One day, a Soviet military bandleader came to the orphanage and took German to the “Voinskaya Chast” (Regiment) number 43170, stationed in nearby Romania. In 1946, German was accepted into a military music school in Odessa, and remained there three years. Upon graduation, he was sent to an army band in Beltsy, Moldavia, and later to Kishinev. In 1953 he was officially drafted into the army. Meeting a number of Jewish klezmorim who played in Red Army bands, Goldenshteyn began learning some Jewish repertoire and playing Jewish weddings in Moldavia.
Upon his release from the Red Army in 1956, he returned to the Ukrainian town of Mogilev Podolski. He soon met and married his wife Mina, the grandaughter of a well-known local klezmer. German worked as a machinist in a farm machinery factory, and on weekends as a professional musician, performing at Jewish and non-Jewish weddings in Moldavia and Ukraine in a band led by the older Jewish klezmorim Moyshe Dzekser (drum) and Dovid Mayzler (violin), and including several non-Jewish musicians — Ukrainian, Moldavian, and Rom — on accordion, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. German eventually pursued additional study at a technical instiute in Kiev, becoming an engineer and technical writer in the factory, but continued his professional musical career in the region until emigrating to Brooklyn with Mina in 1994, to join their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.
The Dniester River that divides German’s Moldavian hometown of Otaci from the Ukrainian town of Mogilev-Podolski has for centuries constitued both a political and cultural frontier between neighboring worlds: Balkan and East Slavic, Romanian and Ukrainian, Ottoman and Russian. Since the 17th century, a varied population of Moldavians, Ukrainians, Russians, Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, Greeks, Roma (Gypsies), influences are evident in local architecture, cuisine and music, including the Jewish klezmer tradition that thrived in Bessarabia and became one of the most vital tributaries of Jewish wedding and theater music in North America.
Goldenshteyn performed in towns like Mogilev that were predominantly Jewish before WWII and still had sizable Jewish populations into the 1990s. Other such communities included the smaller shtetlekh (towns) of Ozarintsy, Kopaigorod, Shargorod and Yedintsy, locales where old Jewish wedding traditions like the summoning of guests in a pre-dawn procession by the musicans through the streets of the town, or the “oysrifns” — the intoned Yiddish announcement of tunes played as a salute to members of the wedding party – were still very much alive.
In the course of his musical career Goldenshteyn compiled a handwritten notebook of 569 dance tunes & songs, including rare and otherwise undocumented examples and variants of the pre-war Jewish repertoire of the region. He arrived in the US with this unique document as well as other handwritten notebooks of tunes, bringing the total number of melodies he compiled in Ukraine closer to 1000. His collection, which grew by over 200 entries after his arrival in the U.S., constitutes one of the largest hand-notated repertoire collections of any East European Jewish musician ever, and is an invaluable resource for both performers and scholars of klezmer in its European context.
Goldenshteyn became a significant figure and resource in the world of contemporary Jewish klezmer music. Upon his arrival in the United States, Goldenshteyn began to perform in New York, often with accordionist Hersh Rikelman, one of his musical partners from Mogilev. In April 1995, Goldenshteyn came to the attention of Michael Alpert, and later Jeffrey Wollock, who worked to present him at concerts and workshops throughout North America and Europe. A CD, “German Goldenshteyn: A Living Tradition” was produced by clarinetist Alex Kontorovich for Living Traditions in 2006, and several manuscript books have been published by Goldenshteyn himself as well as by Living Traditions. Goldenshteyn died in 2006 of a heart attack. He is survived by his wife, MIna, their daughter Klava Rozentul, and a grandson, Alex, who live in Brooklyn. His nephew, Arkady Goldenshteyn is a klezmer clarinetist in Israel, and Arkady’s son Naum (also a clarinetist) has recently moved to New York City and worked with CTMD to found a project to disseminate and perform the Goldenshteyn-family repertoire.