(New York Jewish Week) — On the evening of Dec. 25 — yes, Christmas — influential aughties Yiddish rock band Yiddish Princess will take the stage in Manhattan for a one-night-only reunion show.
Billing itself “the world’s favorite Yiddish rock band,” Yiddish Princess was founded in New York City circa 2006 by vocalist Sarah Mina Gordon and Michael Winograd, who is best known as a klezmer clarinetist but plays synthesizer in this band. Over the course of a few years, Yiddish Princess played numerous gigs in the city and abroad and released one eponymous EP in 2010 before going on, as Gordon calls it, “a semi-permanent hiatus.”
Now, for the first time in more than a decade, the group — which also features guitarists Avi Fox-Rosen and Yoshie Fruchter and bassist Ari Folman-Cohen — will reunite for a show at Bowery Electric (327 Bowery) as part of the wide-ranging Yiddish New York festival taking place throughout the city from from Saturday, Dec. 23 through Thursday, Dec. 28.
“They’re a supergroup,” said Aaron Bendich, the founder of Borscht Beat, an independent Jewish cultural project focused on Yiddish music, who was instrumental in booking the reunion show. “Each of them, in their own right, and in sub-configurations, are super-active in the Yiddish music scene or klezmer music scene and have their own other albums and projects.”
Gordon, whom Bendich describes as a “major figure” in New York’s Yiddish music scene, is a native New Yorker who grew up steeped in Yiddish culture — her mother, Adrienne Cooper, who died in 2011, was considered “the mother of the Yiddish revival movement.” Gordon appeared on her mother’s albums, and she also collaborates with modern-day klezmer greats like Frank London and Daniel Kahn. But she initially formed Yiddish Princess — with its raucous, ’80s glam-rock style — as a way to forge her own path.
“It was really kind of a playful thing,” Gordon, 44, told the New York Jewish Week about the band’s origins. “I was really trying to find something that was mine. It really came out of a sense of play and fun.”
Gordon, who resides in Brooklyn near the “klezmer shtetl” of Midwood and is also a teacher at Brooklyn Friends School, describes Yiddish Princess as having “big rock sounds that are very influenced by the music of our childhoods in the 80s and 90s,” citing personal heroes like Kate Bush, Pat Benatar and Cyndi Lauper.
“Real powerhouses,” she added.
Yiddish Princess’ website, which was last updated in 2013, describes the band’s sound this way: “Double guitar onslaught. Drums beating you into submission. Precious analog synths beckoning. And a voice that can shatter ice and coo you into mellifluous bliss.”
For Gordon, who sings in Yiddish, the band “was a way of inviting people into Yiddish in a different way,” she said. “There was real freedom in being like, ‘This is a rock show, we’re not going to translate.’ It’s unapologetic. If you don’t get this, that’s OK, this is for us.”
Many fans, of course, “get” what Yiddish Princess is doing — and what sets the band apart from other Jewish “fusion” acts out there isn’t just their musicianship.
“You can’t do genre-melding without genuine investment in both genres being melded,” Bendich said. “And it is an all-too-common, particularly in Jewish music, phenomenon where people only really buy into the Jewish half of the puzzle, and then they make a disingenuous rock album or something. But Yiddish Princess is pretty much all-in on both halves. That’s the magic of it.”
The reunion, said Gordon, is intended to be a one-time thing. Though there was no official breakup of the band — nor scandals or huge dramas a la VH1’s “Behind the Music” — its members, while remaining close friends and collaborators, have simply grown up and moved on to other things.
“I feel very honored to continue to be part of that [Yiddish music] tradition,” Gordon said. “I think that there’s a lot of space to play, and I think that Yiddish Princess is an exercise in that. And it’s really nice that it has brought joy to people and continues to.”
As for Monday night’s show, Gordon said the audience can expect to hear all the songs on Yiddish Princess’ EP and more. “I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” she said. “And loud.”
Yiddish Princess will play Dec. 25 at 9 p.m. at Bowery Electric (327 Bowery). For additional information on Yiddish New York, click here.