Klezmer in the Park at 10

JMI Event Coordinator Noa Lachman recounts 5 defining moments in the festival’s history


In the year 2000, [JMI founder] Geraldine Auerbach and I applied to the National Lottery Millennium Awards Scheme and we got funding for the Jewish Music Institute, which changed the whole scene in Britain. It allowed us to fund different musicians who wanted to do Jewish music projects. A lot of UK klezmer bands were born that year, so by the first Klezmer in the Park 10 years ago, we already had a few experienced acts, including She’Koyokh, Oi Va Voi and London Klezmer Quartet.

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In 2012, we put on an exhibition with Harif [the association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa] at KITP about Sephardi communities in London. We introduced an element called Sephardi Twist, with Sephardi band Los Desterrados, Sephardi on Stilts [usually Klezmer on Stilts] and Sephardi food. By 2014 we consciously decided to tell people that KITP is not just about klezmer music. JMI is about lots of music. Although we call it KITP, we’ve moved away from solely promoting klezmer and music from the shtetl.

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In 2016 The Big Mix was born. This is when bands collaborate with an artist from another discipline especially for KITP. For the first one we had The Turbans, a UK band that plays klezmer with influences from Turkey and the Balkans, and they invited the Bulgarian London Choir to join them. That was amazing, the whole park was on their feet dancing and cheering. Then in 2017 London musician Guy Schalom performed with Yair Dalal [pictured above], who studies and plays the music of Iraqi Jews. And last year we had Shir, an Israeli dance-led wedding band, who collaborated with a London gospel choir. Imagine a gospel choir singing klezmer and traditional Israeli tunes. It was amazing.

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We decided to start the JMI Youth Big Band in 2017, led by Sam Eastmond. They did a few rehearsals during the summer course and then performed for 15 minutes at the beginning of KITP. The response was so incredible that the following year they did 20 minutes and this year they’re going to do a whole 45-minute slot. These are kids who have grown together for two years in the band, with new kids joining. It’s an incredible project that provides a Jewish context for children who want to play big band music. That’s grown out of KITP and has become a core function of JMI.

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There are young people who stay near the bandstand and dance; there are families who sit on deckchairs or blankets and watch from further away; and there are kids that run around and take part in the children’s activities. Everyone experiences the festival differently. That is what’s so fantastic about it. KITP is open to everybody in London: Jews, non-Jews, young, old, religious, nonreligious… We have such a mix. The musicians aren’t all Jewish either and that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re interested in Jewish music and doing something different and inspiring with it. Bringing this openness to the British community shows the strength of KITP and JMI. It’s an enlightened way of promoting Jewish culture in this country.

Interview by Danielle Goldstein

Klezmer in the Park: The London Mix runs Sunday 8 September. 12.30-6.30pm. FREE. Regent’s Park Bandstand, NW1 4NT. www.jmi.org.uk

This article also features in the July 2019 issue of JR.