How a Jewish folk song became a chart-topping rap hit – The Forward

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Notes from the summer camp office don’t usually bode well, especially when they begin with the words “from your mother.” But for a 16-year-old music producer Aviad PoznanskyLast summer at camp was anything but business as usual – and the note was no exception.

“Please take plenty of time to think things through and write everything down correctly,” said the note, which was handwritten outside an envelope containing legal documents. “It is very important not to omit anything. After completing and signing both forms, please return to the office as soon as possible to return (scan) them to your mother, preferably today. »

Aviad had to deal with the paperwork for “Dance Now,” the second single from Atlanta rapper JID’s third album.The Eternal Story, which he helped produce and which samples the work of the Jewish folk group Zusha. It was a step that few teenagers took. But in many ways, he was like the rest of his peers at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire: since he didn’t have a phone, the summer camp office had to mediate between him and his mother.

“The Forever Story,” which received critical acclaim on August 26, is an introspective and autobiographical album. “Dance Now,” which tries to reconcile JID’s difficult childhood in Atlanta with the experience of having succeeded in the music world, samples Zusha’s song “Yoel’s Niggun,” and draws on the religious underpinnings of music. sample throughout, especially in the chorus: “You dance with the devil, you’ll never dance again.

A nigun (sometimes spelled “niggun”) is a prayer tradition of chanting syllables like “yai lai lai” or “bum bidi bum” in place of words.

“I think JID appreciated the essence of what a nigun is,” said Elisha Mlotek, founding member of Zusha and co-writer of the track. It is “a musical prayer. It is a way of connecting to life in a way of connecting to one’s faith.

Mlotek, who is now working on a new album away from Zusha, is delighted with the crossover success and is quite proud of the young Jewish producer behind it. “I think he’s going far,” added Mlotek.

Part of what drives Aviad’s success is its meticulous nature, which showed throughout our conversation. The producer carefully timed his interview around driver’s education lessons and deftly – if slightly impatient – corrected a question that compared “Yoel’s Niggun” to klezmer music.

When it comes to musical collaborators, Aviad is just as picky. He wants to work with other artists who have both a distinctive vision and a strong taste for samples with Middle Eastern influences.

Classically trained on the piano and a former violinist in his school orchestra — performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony “was my favorite musical experience,” he said — Aviad turned to music production during the pandemic. He downloaded FL Studio, music-making software popular among hip-hop and pop producers, and started creating his own beats. Connecting with other artists, he eventually started doing whole songs, a project that culminated in a self-produced album in 2021 titled “To believe.”

But Aviad knew that to grow, he would need to network. That’s why he hooked up with Christo, the executive producer of “The Forever Story.”

Compared to other top producers, Aviad noted, Christo was surprisingly approachable. At the time, Christo’s Instagram profile included his email and a private Discord server, or chat room, where young producers could share their work with him and improve. There were a few hundred people on the server, but only a handful were active. Aviad knew it was his.

For a young producer, Aviad explained, the best way to stand out is to create “loops,” which are essentially “chopped samples without drums or your own melodies.” The key to a great curl is finding something catchy, something that will stick in your head. Something like a nigun.

And Aviad only knew nigun. Long after he had finished camp the previous summer, Aviad found himself humming a tune that one of his counselors often played on their way to activities. “I was like, ‘You know what it’s called? I want to taste it,'” Aviad recalled. It was “Yoel’s Niggun.” Aviad “chopped” the song and sent the samples to Christo.

Although Aviad has no way of knowing that his sample would be part of “Dance Now”, he sees a deep structural and thematic connection between the concept of nigun and the way Christo and JID have done with his work. A nigun, Aviad explained, is “something amazing that can uplift the whole community. Everyone, no matter where they come from, can participate because there are no words. When a group sings a nigun, everyone can find their own interpretation of the music. For JID, this particular nigun led him to “Dance Now”.

In a strange twist of fate, this is the second time that “Yoel’s Niggun” has been a single before an album. Eight years ago, ahead of Zusha’s self-titled debut EP, “Yoel’s Niggun” was Zusha’s first song ever released. “Zusha’s vision was to connect with everyone,” says Mlotek, echoing Aviad’s analysis of what a nigun is. “So this collaboration does that, and it’s cool that they also think it’s the single.” (Current Zusha members Shlomo Gaisin and Zachariah Goldshmiedt declined to comment for this story.)

Aviad also shared this view. Seeing a “Jewish song sampled in hip hop, which is my favorite genre, is not something I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “I want Jewish kids, in particular, who don’t see themselves represented in the music they listen to… feel like they’re in it.”

If the reception of “Dance Now” at Camp Yavneh is any indication, the Jewish children are really enjoying the performance. The night the single was released, the campers stayed up until midnight.

“We had the whole bunk around the speaker and went crazy with every line,” Aviad said. “And in the morning we went down and played it on the huge speakers at breakfast for everyone.”



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