“Ich bin un Mentsch mit chutzpah und gelt,” sings Daniel Kahn in a raspy, Tom Waits-like Yiddish in the song “Rakhmones afn Tayvl.” He might be the first to sing this sentence in that particular language. Translate the song into English, however, and many more people will recognize it–it’s the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.” (The original line, of course, is “I’m a man of wealth and grace.”)
Kahn is an accordionist, a Yiddishist, and a member of several bands–among them The Painted Bird and Oy Division, with whom he performed “Rakhmones.” He has a habit of choosing songs with a certain edge or bite. For instance, he sings the Russian Revolution-era song “Tsionistn” which makes fun of Zionists, who, the song claims, have lost touch with their socialist roots. In English translation: “Oh, you foolish Zionists/with your cat’s brains/Come out to the working-man/and learn some common sense from him.”
Kahn was born in Detroit, but currently lives in Berlin. There, he’s a member of a radical Jewish arts scene, and some of his crowd are responsible for Medinat Weimar–a proposal to make a Jewish state inside Germany. In fact, Kahn wrote the theme song for the would-be-country. Kahn and his co-conspirators can be controversial–but, coming from young Jewish artists living in the heart of Germany, would you expect anything less?