Not Another Musty Klezmer Cover Band
by Lori Finkel
Klezmer Juice is not another musty klezmer cover band.
With the help of digital samplers, Gustavo Bulgach spins a new age Sephardic rhythm with a dusty Ashkenazi tradition in order to appeal to a broader and younger audience, and also, to liven things up.
Klezmer Juice is the second-wave revival of klezmer music, a style associated with secular Ashkenazi Judaism and the Yiddish language. It’s beautiful, but also sad and nostalgic. The music of Bubbe and Zaidy (“Ah, I remember nostalgia…”) that moans, kvetches and groans.
Bulgach, the 41-year-old clarinet player and sole member of Klezmer Juice blends bongo drum beats and tambourines into his saucy Juice. So his clarinet doesn’t whine and kvetch— it flirts, shimmies and bats its eyelashes.
You’ll gulp down Klezmer Juice like you would a glass of Manechewitz — it warms your insides just the same and is so sultry and heartbreakingly sweet, your teeth will ache.
Raised on the klezmer music played in his grandfather’s synagogue in Buenos Aires, Bulgach will tinker in the territory of tango but never, ever salsa.
“I hate that shit,” Bulgach said. “I would club my own balls before I play salsa.”
Aside from playing with Little Richard, So-Called and Ben Harper, he was offered to play in the house band for the House of Blues in Hollywood, which he turned down.
“I don’t want to be a rock star,” Bulgach said. “I never wanted to be a rock star.”
Speaking of not being a rock star, he recently composed music for a movie, “A Beautiful Life,” starring the Chinese actress Bai Ling (you’ll remember her as the evil bitch from “The Crow”), who he recorded music with. He said she had a beautiful voice.
But honestly, this guy is surprisingly genuine and down-to-earth. I practically had to beg Bulgach to talk about his Klezmer Juice’s tribute album to Hassidic reggae artist Matisyahu.
Country Music Heritage Records in Los Angeles asked him to make a tribute album to Matisyahu, so that’s what he did. He transcribed the music, studied the songs and figured out how to recreate the music in his style, without any words.
He’s not even sure if Matisyahu knows about the tribute album, “The Klezmer Tribute to Matisyahu,” but Bulgach said he believes there’s a link between the old world Judaism and the new, and that link is found in klezmer music.
“You know, 5,760 years should be addressed,” Bulgach said. “I believe klezmer is the soundtrack of the new generation of Jewish people who are the Jewish-America.”
But Bulgach really wants people to know why he does what he does and grasp the message.
“Yiddish became a victim’s language and Hebrew became the strong, hopeful language,” Bulgach said, who’s an Ashkenazi Jew himself.
He’s trying to connect a Jewish past and the present through music, but he said that non-Jewish audiences are also attracted to Klezmer Juice.
“When I play for a non-Jewish audience, I hear, ‘I felt Jewish today.’”