Socalled Sings Yiddish With Zephyr Quartet @ The Quartet Bar, Adelaide 16/6/2019

There are four stories that accompany the Yiddish songs of Joshua Dolgin aka Socalled, that I would like to recount to give a perspective into this truly enchanting, intelligent and uplifting performance Socalled Sings Yiddish with Zephyr Quartet.

Allow me to set the scene first – a beautiful wintry Sunday, The Cabaret Festival in The Quartet Bar of The Festival Theatre. On stage there is the talented Zephyr String Quartet and Socalled dressed formally in suit and bow tie.

Socalled is a Canadian arts prodigy. He’s a pianist, rapper, producer, film and theatre director, doll maker, photographer, cartoonist and magician. And he has just released an album of Yiddish songs, Di Frosh (The Frog). These songs form the core of this Cabaret Festival Performance and they are delightful, introspective, playful and uplifting; as Dolgin says, they are a celebration of “the riches of this extraordinary culture.” The scope is broad, covering songs from Yiddish Theatre, Hassidic melodies, Klezmer, folksongs and songs from The Holocaust.

I won’t give a song by song account, so I will start with Di Milner’s Trern or The Milner’s Tears, a song about facing one’s mortality taught to him by Theodore Bikel who played Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. As it turns out Bikel was a collector of Yiddish folklore and folksongs and performer of these songs. As luck would have it, Joshua Dolgin (aka Socalled) was asked to fill in as Bikel’s piano player for a concert tour and the rest is the groundwork for this wonderful Cabaret Festival Performance.

Di Frosh or “The Frog” is basically a children’s song and probably the most playful song you will hear at this festival with all of the “kwa kwa kwas” or the sound that fogs make in German and Yiddish. Apparently, frogs don’t go “ribbit” in Germany. This song has Dolgin at his most animated waving his arms at the quartet partly conducting, partly encouraging, but mostly having a lot of fun on stage.

Tsum Shtam is a tribute to the land of his grandfather, Zaporizhya in Ukraine, and the backstory to the song is a Yiddish culture cruise along the Dnipro River. The song was written by Arkady Gemler a cabaret artist and Holocaust survivor. The uplifting thought you are left with listening to the song is just how enduring and resilient humanity is, where a land that was scourged by the Nazis and the Soviets, that witnessed The Holocaust and the Gulags can be the scene for a revival of Yiddish folklore and culture.

And finally, my favourite, The Hannukah song, written by a Jewish Soviet political prisoner that spoke so powerfully about the revival of Yiddish culture after it was repressed in the Soviet Union. As Dolgin bravely said in his introduction, “this song is an anthem for all oppressed people everywhere in the world, maybe even in Israel” Powerful stuff and a powerful way to finish this enchanting cabaret performance.

Socalled, or Joshua Dolgin is clearly very talented but has a charming unassuming and self-effacing stage presence which warmed the hearts of this capacity appreciative audience. Although this is Dolgin’s first trip down under, I am sure that he won the hearts of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival audience who will want to see more in the future.

And the Zephyr Quartet? Two words. Musical Geniuses. Given less than a week to pull a repertoire together, they were tight, playful and evocative.
A really nice concert. A great way to spend a wintry Sunday afternoon.

Cabaret Festival Review By Bob Becker