December 18, 2018

Music a unifying force for two Jewish singer-songwriters

It could have been anyone playing on a recent weeknight at the Black Rose Tavern in Pico-Robertson — the folksy melodies were as contemporary as they come. But the spirit behind the music was pure frum. 

Chanie Kravitz, the daughter of Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, a local Chabad rabbi, kicked off the evening on Jan. 20. She grew up with an ultra-Orthodox upbringing and said she’s still “deeply connected to my Chasidic roots.” 

But she’s still coming to terms with kol isha, the Chasidic law prohibiting men from hearing women sing.

“I’m doing something that isn’t the cultural norm, and it’s not easy, that’s for sure,” she admitted to the Journal. “But when something’s in your soul, it’s greater than cultural and societal pressures.”

Later, she was followed by Yael Meyer, a former Angeleno and current resident of Santiago, Chile, who also performs for mixed audiences.

“When I get onstage, I try to forget about me and myself, and speak from the heart to the heart,” she said.

She referred to the Talmud: “Words written from the heart, go to the heart.” 

“So that’s what I try to do,” Meyer said, wearing a black prima ballerina tulle skirt that fell below her knees, as well as a wide-brim fedora. During one of the songs, she fingerpicked her acoustic-electric guitar, the capo clasped onto the sixth fret.

“I don’t think it’s Jewish music, in the word ‘Jewish.’ I am very connected to my Jewish roots and it’s a very important part of who I am, but when I make music, I try to make it universal, a common language that everybody speaks,” she said.

Meyer and Kravitz, who are good friends, performed their own respective sets of gentle songs featuring acoustic guitar at the well-attended showcase that drew many from the Pico-Robertson community, as well as the up-and-coming band Distant Cousins.

While regulars perched at the bar, in perfect view of four HDTV screens projecting sports — not to mention one playing a black-and-white film — fans and friends sprinkled in, situating themselves on stools and in booths at the sit-down venue. The tavern, once a heavy-metal bar that has seen its fair share of acts over the years, including Bruce Springsteen, proved to be an eclectic setting perfect for the diverse performers onstage. 

Pico-Robertson resident Odelia Mordecai brought her 15-year-old daughter, Shira, to the concert.

“We’re big fans of Chanie,” she said, minutes before the show started. 

“Shira,” the mother added, “is also a singer-songwriter,” to which her daughter blushed. (“She’s very shy,” she whispered to the Journal.)

The night began around 8 p.m., with singer and guitarist Kravitz and Distant Cousins’ Dov Rosenblatt sharing the stage of the intimate dive-bar venue. The two performed original songs by Kravitz, 33, an alumna of Bais Yaakov School for Girls in Los Angeles, with Rosenblatt playing percussion and backup guitar.

Sporting corkscrew curls and an above-the-knee skirt over black leggings, Kravitz did a handful of songs before beckoning the rest of Distant Cousins — Ami Kozak and Duvid Swirsky — to the stage for the final song of her set.

Meyer, meanwhile, began her half-hour performance at 9 p.m., following a one-song performance by Distant Cousins.

“I’m always traveling, I tour and travel to write songs with different people in different places,” Meyer said later in an interview with the Journal. The acoustic guitar-slinging vagabond will go home to Chile for a few months before embarking to Europe midyear; she hopes to make it to Israel by August. 

Showing off the culture of her current home, her native home, Meyer performed a song in Spanish titled, “Yo Soy,” which is Spanish for “I Am.” And reinforcing the communal vibe of the night, she welcomed all the musicians onto the stage for the final song.

After the show, the musicians lingered and schmoozed with one another, basking in the aftermath of a successful night. By 11 p.m., Black Rose Tavern was nearly empty as final salutations were being exchanged. 

One Tavern regular, who came to watch the Lakers game (but got more than he bargained for), remained at the bar, though.

“Now, that was fun!” he said while sipping on his icy brew.