November 11, 2019

Jewish Bluegrass Duo’s Single ‘Homesick’ Written to Combat Anti-Semitism

Gabriela Rose and Nick Cameron of Mama Danger; Photo by Dan Johnson

“We want people of all minorities to feel heard. We want non-Jewish people to understand the experience of what it’s like being Jewish and being a minority in this country and not feeling like it’s our home.”

So says Gabriela Rose, 24, one half of the multi-instrumental bluegrass duo Mama Danger. Together with Nick Cameron, 25, their latest single, “Homesick,” draws upon the anti-Semitism and other injustices they have experienced in their southern community of Asheville, N.C.

“I felt this melancholy in the community about identity and living in the South and being Jewish,” Rose told the Journal. “I wanted to speak to that … because Judaism isn’t really talked about in the South and often having a Southern identity has a negative connotation. I want to be proud of being Southern but also be proud of being Jewish. And there is a conflict between those identities.” 

“Homesick” was written toward the end of 2018, not long after the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh. “We wrote it as a single because it was such a specific emotion regarding the whirlwind of the media,” Rose said. 

‘Homesick’s’ lyrics include: “Branches bloom in my lungs. Stealing songs left
unsung.” 

Said Rose, “I’ve always been fascinated by the imagery of trees and branches and how they mirror what our anatomy looks like on the inside. There is also that feeling like you don’t have a voice and what you are saying doesn’t have an impact.”

She added the duo is “very covert with our Judaism [in “Homesick”], because we want to bring people in to listen to the song and then fully understand it.” 

There is a line in the chorus that says: “To ignite this ever-burning flame.”

“Our theme within the song is to ignite this [flame], which is a symbol of the Jewish people prevailing through adversity,” Rose explained. “So often, the story of Judaism is that Jews have been misplaced and pushed around so there is this longing for a home that doesn’t necessarily exist and that is starting to feel that way in America.”

Born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., Rose said, “My mother is a piano teacher, my brother is a drummer, my other brother is a bassist and my father plays guitar. So we would do the whole family band thing. I always grew up around music and especially folk music.” 

Rose’s father is Israeli so a large majority of her family lives in Israel. “I grew up going to Israel, riding camels in the Negev desert and playing in the streets of Tel Aviv,” she said. “Judaism is a very core part of my life.” 

“I felt this melancholy in the community about identity and living in the South and being Jewish. Often having a Southern identity has a negative connotation.” 

— Gabriela Rose

However, growing up in the Raleigh area, Rose said, “I have been bullied for
being Jewish. I’ve been tokenized and made to feel different in a predominantly white community.”

Cameron hails from Maryland. His mother is Jewish and his father is Christian but it was important to them they celebrate the different holidays of both religions. He grew up doing theater and that turned into musical theater, which turned into just music. It wasn’t until 2014 when he moved to Asheville that his Jewish identity came into play. 

“Because the area of Maryland I grew up in had a pretty large Jewish population, I had lots of friends who were really more knowledgeable about Judaism than I was,” Cameron said. “So I never really thought about it until I came to Asheville and I became a lot of people’s one Jewish friend. I was the token Jew as it were, and it was eye opening.”

Rose moved to Asheville in 2013, to study psychology at UNC Asheville. It was in 2016 that she found her way to the music department, where she met Cameron. They were part of the university’s ambassador choir, and during a trip to perform for President Barack Obama’s final Christmas at the White House, a close friendship was forged between them. “On that trip Nick and I became friends and I felt comfortable to share with him the songs that I had been writing over the course of my life,” Rose said.

In seeking out a band name, the duo tried to create an anagram from both their names but came up short. Then they put the word “anagrammed” into an anagram generator and it came up with Mama Danger.  “It had a bluegrassy ring so we went with it,” Cameron said. 

However they do not consider themselves merely a bluegrass band. “We are pretty influenced by a band called Punch Brothers,” Cameron said “They look like a bluegrass band but when you look into their music, it is kind of like all over the map. You can hear jazz and classical and pop. So we are inspired by their disregarding of genres.” 

Aside from Mama Danger, both work at the Asheville Jewish Community Center, where Rose is a preschool teacher and Cameron works in the after-school program twice a week. 

“Living in the South and being Jewish is a core part of a lot of the Jewish population’s identity,” Rose said. “In Asheville, the community is very small (3,500 Jews in all of western North Carolina). “Our Asheville JCC has faced some anti-Semitism and in the past couple of years, we were one of the many JCC’s that had a bomb threat called in. We have had people vandalize the Jewish cemetery and post anti-Semitic flyers around town. And oftentimes, the JCC has to go on high alert. It is scary and I have to teach 4-year-olds what to do when a bad guy comes.”

Moving forward, the duo hope to be a voice for marginalized people. Said Rose, “The future for us is to continue to grow within the western N.C. community and spread our message and the acceptance of a Jewish identity through our music
and playing at Jewish events and non-Jewish events.”

‘Homesick’ is available on Spotify.