The Notorious R.A.V.’s DJ Journal – #1

I grew up in a time in which every male believed he was going to be a rock star, even if he had little or no musical talent. My mother, born and raised in the old Jewish west side of Chicago was the kind of typical first generation American, who insisted that I take piano lessons as a child because playing piano was cool when she was a kid [all this was decades before Billy Joel would come along and make it cool again]. And while the piano teacher insisted that I had talent [a good way to keep my parents shelling out money to him], that was not the direction I was going to go [nor did I believe him].

The next step was to get a guitar. I never took lessons, but learned a few chords from books and from friends and was able to occasionally strum a song. But I wasn’t on the way to becoming Clapton.

Time went by, the rabbinate, Jewish communal service and Jewish education beckoned and my musical aspirations went to the back burner.

Fast forward 30 years. My musical tastes had changed numerous times, as had the tastes of the world. And of all things, hip hop music had conquered the world, including the worlds of Jewish and Israeli music. Turntables were back, not to play phonograph records at home on, but to use as a musical instrument to actually create musical blends and fusions.

At age 54 it was time to make a move. Inspired by watching Grandmaster Flash in concert, seeing a display at the concert for Scratch DJ Academy – the school founded by the late Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, and encouraged by a team of personal enablers who believe that it is their role to encourage every lame-brained idea that pops into my head, I decided that it was time to learn the art of DJ’ing and scratching.

I have only a limited idea of what I want to do with the new skill I will be attaining, but have some beginning ideas. For one, watching Matisyahu and Y-Love, I realize that hip hop and other musical forms have suddenly become important vehicles for transmitting Jewish messages and values to a young generation. Perhaps they, or Miri Ben Ari, the Israeli-born hip-hop violinist, will need a rabbinic DJ. Besides, in today’s economy, what Jewish educator doesn’t need a Plan B? And besides the Jewish connection, spinning records just seems like good fun.

At a wedding, a friend asks me “what are you planning to do with the DJ’ing?” She clearly expects some completely bizarre answer and seems genuinely disappointed when I reply that I would love to use DJ’ing to bring the sounds of old Israeli folk music from the Halutz [pioneer] era to this generation, with some good beats behind it. The fact that I’ve mostly made up my response on the fly doesn’t deter me from deciding that this really could be the way that I fuse my rabbi/Jewish educator identity and my new interest. We’ll see if I can actually do this.

More to follow.

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One response

  1. I love middle eastern beats and hip hop mixed! I have a playlist on my computer/phone called "Gypsy Grooves", but it is mostly middle eastern stuff…what i mentioned in my FB post to you. At our shul we are really into the old school chants and tunes, especially the Ladino, Moroccan, etc. I've started playing Doumbek as well, and our 9 yo, Natan, plays doumbek and a regular kit. If you ever get any of yo' stuff "on wax" I'd love to hear it!Shalom out…Stu

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