Q&A: Ezra Freeman of the Vulgar Bulgars talks dream venues and “klezzin’ out”

Whether you have have Eastern European roots or not, there is no way to ignore the infectiously danceable quality of the klezmer rival band the Vulgar Bulgars. Performers at the October 24th Levitt AMP Concert Series, these bands mates have been together for over 12 years and have created a sound which plays on both traditional and modern european fusion music. Catch their show here in Charlottesville and band member Ezra Freeman’s interview with WTJU’s Chiara Brown while you can, because a wedding on the Temple Mount may be their next stop…

WJTU: It’s pretty rare to find new Klezmer bands these days, what inspired you all to choose this type of music?

Ezra Freeman: I had been playing in San Francisco in a couple of rock bands, and had found the whole experience frustrating and unsatisfying.  I actually started playing klezmer after replying to an advertisement in a weekly paper.  I found everything about it to be much more enjoyable; the venues, the audience, the music, the bandmates, it was like a whole different world.  Plus, being a musician from a not-particularly observant Jewish family, it felt like an enjoyable way to get in touch with and understand my cultural heritage.

WTJU: How did the band meet?

EZ: When I moved to Twin Oaks Community in Louisa in 2001, I continued to play music, but I had enjoyed playing klezmer so much in California that I really wanted to get another klez band together here in Virginia.  During my first couple years at Twin Oaks, we had the good fortune of having Ben–an excellent clarinet player– and Kassia–a talented Jewish fiddler– both visit the community.  I recruited them into the as-yet-unformed klezmer band, and the rest is history.

WTJU: What inspired the name of the band?

EZ: We’ve been playing this music for over 12 years now.  Originally, we were mostly inspired by old-school klezmer, Naufatale Brandwein and Dave Tarras and the like, and by klezmer revival groups.  Over the years, we have incorporated other musical styles and tried to develop more of a unique sound.  Some of the bands and styles that have inspired us over the years are Balkan/eastern Europe fusion – bands like Balkan beat box and Gogol Bordello; we are also fans of John Zorn, Csokolom, and most anything that Frank London has done.

WTJU: How strictly do you tend to stick to the traditional Klezmer form? Do your songs incorporate any other types of musical influence? If so, why? 

EZ: Again, after 12 years of playing together, we tend to view klezmer as more of a starting point than an ending point.  While we can still appreciate the tunes played in their traditional forms (and still incorporate a lot of that into our set), we are more likely these days to start with a klezmer melody, put it through our “VB filter” of funk/jazz/roma/showtune/jam band and it may sound quite different when it comes out the other end.  Which we feel like is appropriate for klezmer, which was always something of a hybrid music; even in its most traditional forms, klezmer was never an especially “pure” musical style.

WTJU: I am aware that Klezmer often has a dance aspect to it and I saw in one of the band’s videos from the Richmond Vegetarian festival that there was a dancer. Is that something that the band tends to include in performances, and if so what do you feel it adds to the show?

EZ: Klezmer is dance music; and we love it when people are stand up and dance at our shows.  When we are playing with belly dancers or other traditional dancers, we try to emphasize the traditional rhythms that work with those dancers.  It’s different when we play for a more ‘general’ audience, especially in our rhythm section.  Having grown up absorbing dance music ranging from hippie music and 70’s funk to hip hop and electronica, we create music that joins traditional melodies with grooves that aim to get a more contemporary audience up and dancing.

WTJU: If the Vulgar Bulgars could preform anywhere in the world, at any venue, where would it be?

EZ: We like it when people are dancing at our shows, when the audience is having fun and reflecting the energy we put out back at us.  We also enjoy being paid to play music– so pretty much any show where we’re making a bit of money and getting a whole crowd of people up on their feet klezzin’ out, is when I’m thinking “Yup, this is as good as it gets” or “Well, we really like playing weddings.”  So I guess the ultimate wedding gig would be the gay wedding of Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, happening at the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the Temple Mount, and the Vulgar Bulgars would play a hora that lasted for an entire day and entire night, and when it was over everyone was so moved by the music that they all decided to get along and share the land.  Something like that.


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