NYE at Club Helsinki with Golem and the Raya Brass Band

I told myself that I wasn’t going to write about my New Year’s Eve, that I just wanted to enjoy my night without thinking too hard about what I wanted to say about the two bands I saw. I wanted to have a fun evening without the self-imposed pressure of writing about the concert.

Well, here I am.

If you’re wondering what changed my mind, I’ll tell you: the music. I’m not sure I could forgive myself if I passed up the opportunity to share my thoughts about two of my new favorite bands. I cannot live without music for it sustains my soul, and I dare say my soul got a good feeding on New Year’s Eve, courtesy of the Raya Brass Band and Golem!

The Raya Brass Band opened for Golem at Club Helsinki for the venue’s New Year’s Eve celebration, entering from the back of the room by the bar and working its way through the crowd to the stage. By the time the band’s set was over I had forgotten that they weren’t the headlining act. I was floored by the Raya Brass Band’s distinctly authentic Eastern European sound, and the music was delivered with stellar musicianship and tremendous personality. The musicians play complex traditional rhythms and dances, such as the 3/8 time Hora, but have an undeniably hip energy and presence. They’re cool in a delightfully dorky kind of way, and they highly encouraged dancing during their set, with many people happily obliging. It is evident that the members of the Raya Brass Band love playing the music they do, and it is the youthful enthusiasm of musicians such as them that keeps the true spirit of traditional Eastern European music alive.

Golem is much more punk influenced than the Raya Brass Band, although the musicians of Golem draw heavily from Balkan/Klezmer/Eastern European roots as well. Aaron Diskin,  the lead male singer in Golem,  just plays tambourine, but he takes himself really seriously. He makes the audience take him seriously as well, however, and he’s not the least bit ridiculous in his antics. Okay, maybe he’s a little ridiculous… but it works. His expressions are priceless, and I could hardly take my eyes from the contortions he managed with his facial muscles. That’s just one more aspect that contributes to the circus that is Golem. The musicians play and sing really wacky, sometimes psychotic songs and are incredibly theatrical in their performance of said songs. Also, who couldn’t love a band that starts its set off with the lead female singer speaking a language that had to be translated to English by another band member?  Turns out Annette Ezekiel Kogan (who is apparently fluent in five languages) was saying “it’s not English… it’s not French… it’s not Spanish… IT’S YIDDISH!!!” With that last line passionately proclaimed in English by the translator, Aaron, the musicians excitedly burst into song and didn’t ease up until they took a break between sets. Throughout Golem’s second set the musicians continued to keep up unbelievably high energy levels, and they were the perfect group to usher in 2011 with pizazz.

After Golem finished, the Raya Brass Band played again. This time, however, the musicians took their instruments to the dance floor and played an acoustic set. The dancers in the audience formed a circle around the musicians, and the musicians busted out a move or two themselves. The band played for another forty-five minutes or so, and when the musicians wrapped up their playing they then hung out and socialized for a while. Although the Raya Brass Band and Golem both draw from similar sources for their music, the bands are both unique. It is that combination of both similarities and differences that made Golem and the Raya Brass Band perfect matches for playing a show together, and I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the beginning of a new year.

Here are a few videos from the show:

The Raya Brass Band: “Piperkovo”

The Raya Brass Band: Zvijezda Tjera Mjeseca

Golem: “Golem Hora”

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