By Michael Aushenker
There are many English spellings of Chanukah. Music lovers may choose to spell it with a “K” — for “Klezmatics,” that is.
The Grammy-winning sextet, recording and touring since 1986, performs Saturday at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica while on a on a whistle-stop tour of the West Coast.
The Klezmatics have recorded and toured behind about 15 albums featuring their special fusion style of klezmer, best known as a type of clarinet-goosed, Eastern European Jewish music. Not just for the holidays, the band plays year-round and all over the world, said founding member Frank London, the group’s keyboardist and trumpet-player.
London promises a fun time at The Broad, where the Klezmatics will dip into their extensive catalogue and play highlights from their pair of Woody Guthrie Chanukah albums, once of which, “Wonder Wheel,” won the group a Grammy.
But the band will also perform new material from an upcoming album they plan to record this coming spring.
“We’ve done things we’ve never done before,” London said. “When we started off, we didn’t know what we were doing or where we were heading. All we cared about was to learn the tradition of Yiddish music and play it as well as we could. Now that we’ve done it and have had success with it, the great fun is that we get to keep on growing and pushing ourselves further.”
Earlier this year, the Klezmatics collaborated with video artist Peter Forgacs at the Museum of the History of Jews in Poland (also called the New Jewish Museum), which opened in May in Warsaw, Poland. They recorded five hours of music for an intense video installation titled “Letters to Afar,” which features home movies of Polish Jews in the 1920s and ‘30s that are made all the more poignant by the knowledge of their fate after the rise of Adolf Hitler.
“That’s what’s profound about it. You look at these films and these people don’t know what’s about to happen. So it’s joyous, but we all know what’s about to happen,” London said.
The collaboration was a challenge for the Klezmatics, whose manic musical energy had to be slowed up and toned down.
The Klezmatics also have an upcoming collaboration with practitioners of Cuban-Jewish music called “Havana Nagila.”
London said that the best thing about being a Klezmatic, other than simultaneously preserving and advancing the tradition of Yiddish music, is that “things happen that you can’t predict.” For instance, the band was together only four years when they toured with their first album just as the Iron Curtain fell.
“Here we are playing our Eastern European Jewish music,” he said, “when the Soviet Empire falls and all of these people are looking at their history and Jewish history in a way that they haven’t been able to for 50 years. A guy in Budapest came up to me and said, ‘This is the first time in my life that being Jewish was simply something that you could feel good about.’”
The Klezmatics perform on Saturday at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $69 to $108. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit thebroadstage.com