November 12, 2019

Now hear this: cool Jewish music

The second annual Jewish Music Awards were given out on Sept. 11, before a sparse but enthusiastic crowd at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

It was a big night for Pharoah’s Daughter, with the band winning awards as Best Middle Eastern Blend and Best World Music Group. Local label Modular Moods also had a great night as its founder, DJ Handler, was pronounced Best DJ while his label mate Y-Love received the Best Hip-Hop act nod. JDub Records also enjoyed the evening, with victories for Golem (Best Rock Band) and SoCalled (who tied with Idan Raichel in the Best New Approach category). Ironically, JDub’s former star, Matisyahu, won the Best Cross-Over artist award, but wasn’t present to receive it.

Chasidic rapper wasn’t the only famous absentee. Bob Dylan (Best Singer/Songwriter) and John Zorn (Best Jazz and Heritage Blend) weren’t around to pick up their awards, either. But Lorin Sklamberg was happy to accept the Best Klezmer Band award on behalf of the Klezmatics, joking,

“It took 20 years for a Jewish organization to give us an award. We won a gay and lesbian music award 10 years ago already.”

Although the evening was sparked by the high-energy, irreverent wit of hostess Jackie Hoffman and live performances by Rachel Sage, Soulfarm, Y-Love and Benny Bwoy (who threw down the reggae-rapper gauntlet to Matisyahu during his act), a more somber note was struck by Steve Reich, whose remarks in accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award made pointed reference to the malicious Internet-fed rumor that “no Jews died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.”

He noted that in 2001, that day fell during the Selichot period and “Jews who were saying penitential prayers were late [to work] and they lived.”

The Jewish Music Awards are part of the Oyhoo Jewish Music and Heritage Festival, produced by Michael Dorf. The nominees were selected by a panel of 25 journalists (including this reporter) and then voted on by that panel.


George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses,” will be published by Shocken Books in October.