Contemporary Face of the Past

27 June 2022

We talk to Liraz and Jeremiah Lockwood, performers at the 31st Jewish Culture Festival, about women’s voices, musical roots and artistic expression.

Eta Hox: You are proud to admit that your career has been strongly influenced by women. What kind of world did you grow up in?

Liraz: I grew up in an Iranian household. My parents emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, before the Islamic revolution. When I was growing up, I tried to reconcile two worlds – the Israeli and the Iranian. The first was open and modern, the latter traditional and conservative. There were many important women in my family, for example my grandmother – she was engaged at 11 and married a few years later. She and my grandfather had a difficult life, although they remained positive. They were a real inspiration when I was growing up. My mother’s mother is a singer, but she was never able to sing in Iran, even if it had been a free country. In any case, my grandfather smothered her passion even after they moved to Israel. In a sense all us women were being silenced. I grew up in a world filled with contrasts, and I had to figure out which path I was going to follow.

I know you’re a fan of the Iranian artists Googoosh. What role has she played in your life?

When I flew to Los Angeles to play in Hollywood productions, I discovered a large Iranian community. It’s so numerous, LA is sometimes known as Tehrangeles! When I came back to Israel three years later, I brought heavy suitcases filled with CDs. When you watch Iranian women perform, you get the impression that they all have very similar attitudes. They are polite, docile and somewhat submissive. In Farsi, this is known as naz. I laugh about it, but I think the Kardashians also have a certain naz. In Googoosh, you also find confidence, anger and courage. When I got back from LA, I looked into her history, and I realised I’d found my own path. It was a revelation. After the revolution, Googoosh couldn’t carry on as a singer, even though she had been a star. She spent 21 years waiting to make a comeback. She made me realise that since the revolution, Iranian women haven’t been able to engage even in the simple, innocent act of singing. I understood that that we share a similar history – although I live in a free country and I am able to sing, my family doesn’t support me. My mother accepted my choice, but my father was strongly opposed. Googoosh gave me the strength to make music for the silenced women in Iran, which is why I decided to sing in Farsi. I needed this for myself, too – I wanted to feel that as an Iranian woman I can be free anywhere in the world.

How has this “personal” revolution affected your career?

When I came back to Israel, I told my manager that I don’t want to sing in Hebrew any more. I feel these emotions as powerfully now as I did at the time. I knew I had a mission: to fight for women’s emancipation. I strongly believe that as people, we are able to love and respect one another, even if political situations build walls between us. In any case I have never really been into politics as such. I focus my thoughts and emotions on my art which brings me closer to fellow Iranians. It took me a decade to rebuild my career. It was a long process – I had to find the right producers, managers and labels. The birth of my first daughter Joon was also a huge event. It made me realise that the change must happen right now. I wanted it for her, for other women, for my husband, for the whole world. My second daughter brought me the courage to follow my dream and record an album with Iranian artists.

Your album Zan demands women’s equality, as well as breaking down political and geographic barriers.

When I recorded my first album Naz, I made several online friends in Iran, and we’re still in touch. We were like a big family, and I was incredibly grateful. When I invited them to record an album with me, most were paralysed by fear. They accepted in the end, but they wished to remain anonymous. It took a long time to record Zan – some people ended up backing out, although others had faith in our success. The album was brought to life by a group of courageous artists. Zan means woman in Farsi. It is a symbolic title, and I dedicate my entire career to women. We must support one another, especially because the world keeps putting obstacles in our way.

We will see you performing at the Tempel Synagogue on 3 July. You are visiting Poland for the first time to join the Jewish Culture Festival. What kind of concert are you preparing?

I played in Spain for the first time recently. I felt that although the audience didn’t understand my lyrics, they felt the same emotions as me. They understood that the music had a long journey before reaching them. I am preparing a very special concert, but I can’t reveal any more than that just yet. All I can say that I will be joined by very important guests. I have waited a long time for this moment, and it will be my message for the world.

Liraz
Singer, lyricist and actress. She was born in Israel to a family with Iranian roots. Her music boldly intertwines contemporary sounds with traditional Persian music. She performs at the Tempel Synagogue on 3 July.

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Eta Hox: Let’s start from the beginning. I know you have some great mentors in your father and grandfather. Tell us about your musical roots.

Jeremiah Lockwood: For me, making music means reconciling myself with my memories. I have many important recollections from my childhood. Some situations were too complex for me to understand at the time. I grew up in a musical family: my dad was a classical composer, and my grandfather an acclaimed cantor. In a way, being a cantor is something of a family tradition – my uncle and my cousins have also been cantors. Whenever we get together as a family, music always plays a central role. When I was a teenager, I immersed myself in 1920s and 1930s blues. That’s how I found my artistic identity.

Young people tend to be rebellious. We generally turn against traditions or rules. Have you experienced this yourself?

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything which would shock my family. Even becoming a musician wasn’t exactly unexpected. In any case, my family had been rebels for generations. My grandfather opposed the orthodox order he grew up in. My mum had an almost revolutionary approach – she abandoned the orthodox world for a secular identity. I have been looking for my own space I could occupy free from the baggage of traditions. My family is filled with intellectual tension, and I wanted to distance myself from that as well. I found idols in the blues world, for example Carolina Slim – I really immersed myself in his music as a teenager.

How do you reconcile your need for artistic expression with exploration of past forms?

The very nature of the past means we perceive it as static. But if you examine the lives of past musicians, you immediately see that they also struggled to deal with changes. My grandfather’s life was highly modern for its time. Cantorial music I grew up with has a kind of formal radicalism. I wanted to reach for it to speak with my heart and to feel a sense of belonging to a community. We are becoming increasingly alienated these days and express ourselves with musical dissidence, but we still need to feel bonds with others including our ancestors. For Jews, but also broadly for everyone, music is a call for community. When people hear a voice, they may feel it represents them. I must admit that I’m a bit envious of my grandfather’s strength. He was widely respected by the community at synagogues and Jewish institutions. For those of us who are working with Jewish music today, things are a lot more muddled. The music I love and call Jewish is incredibly complex. It originates from a different era, and many people my age simply don’t understand it. One of my goals is to put a contemporary face on the past.

What do you seek in your work?

My ambition is to be an artist, and I also realise I’m not getting any younger. I feel responsible for past generations as well as my peers and younger people. I also continue my research and I’m involve with cultural activism. There are people who work with Jewish sacral music, and I believe I understand their dialogue with the present day. Writing about them brings me joy and bolsters the image of this movement. I am working on a publication which will be launched by the Jewish Culture Festival. We are also preparing a concert with Shimmy Miller as one of the guests. I know his family well – I sing in his father’s choir at the orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn. I think that the existence of a scene created by people interested in the roots of their music is interesting and also unusual in the Jewish community. Groups with different outlooks seek their own identity, from Hasidic Jews to people on the radical left. Cantors and their music play an important role in this search.

We will hear you at the Jewish Culture Festival once again on 30 June. Tell us about your concert.

I will perform alongside the Airis String Quartet – I compose music for them. We will be joined by cantors, which is an exciting challenge. The orthodox music world has a tradition of huge concerts with an orchestra, such as those held during the Jewish Culture Festival. I have to admit I’m not a fan of such bloated Hollywood-style orchestrations. My arrangements will be completely different. We will play three or four parts with the Airis String Quartet, and then the cantors will let their imaginations run free. I am trying to create a space where they can open up their creativity. It will be like listening to recordings made in the 1920s but performed live by musicians fully engaged with the performance.

Jeremiah Lockwood
Vocalist, guitarist, composer, scholar and raconteur. Founder and leader of the New York ensemble The Sway Machinery. He has expansive knowledge of musical traditions and techniques that range from cantorial sacred music to Piedmont blues.

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Eta Hox
DJ, promoter of electronic music and radio journalist. She is a deputy editor-in-chief at OFF Radio Kraków and presents two shows at the station. She is interested in everything which is unusual, unique and rule-breaking in art and culture.

 

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