Arts + Culture

Israel’s Star Vocalist Chava Alberstein Returns to UCLA Live’s Royce Hall With the Gypsy Klezmer Band, Les Yeux Noirs, Jan. 26


 UCLA Live presents versatile vocalist Chava Alberstein, one of the most accomplished singer-songwriters in Israeli history, in her return to Royce Hall. The acclaimed Alberstein offers a distinctive artistic mix ranging from tender love ballads to defiant songs about peace and oppression. The evening opens with the exhilarating sounds of the Paris-based ensemble Les Yeux Noirs, performing an irresistibly modern, gypsy-klezmer fusion. This concert takes place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus and runs approximately two hours. There will be one intermission. For tickets, call (310) 825-2101, visit or contact Ticketmaster.

Alberstein will perform at UCLA Live with Avi Agababa on percussion and Oved Efrat on guitar.

Les Yeux Noirs includes brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak on vocals and violins; Aidje Tafial on drums; Pascal Rondeau, guitar; François Anastasio, bass; and Vincent Pierani on accordion. The group will highlight material from their new CD release, "Tchorba" (Soup), out on the World Village Harmonia Mundi label.

With more than 54 recordings since the late 1960s to her credit, a dozen of which have gone gold, six platinum and one triple-platinum, Chava Alberstein is accomplished in musical styles from folk and traditional, to rock and world beat. Her voice often is compared to Joan Baez's. Her repertoire also encompasses prayerful songs celebrating the beauty of the human form and melancholy songs about loss, poverty and solitude.

Although Alberstein's development as an artist mirrors that of 's as a country — they are even the same age and share a tiny, but powerful stature — she sees herself more as a singer of the world.

"Even though I have lived in nearly my entire life, I am constantly questioning my place in the world," she said. "Maybe this searching comes from being an artist, maybe it comes from being a Jew. I'm not really sure."

This bittersweet tension between the national and the universal is evident in her work.

Since the very first time she sang in public — a four-song set which included songs in French, Spanish, Yiddish and a gospel standard in English — Alberstein has drawn inspiration from the world, but she is especially associated with Israel. She has released more than 45 albums in Hebrew, six of which have been awarded the Kinor David prize, 's Grammy. She also has released seven albums in Yiddish, and an English album of standards ranging from Gershwin to Lennon and McCartney.

"In , you would be hard-pressed to find anyone today composing and singing in Yiddish," she says. "Some people still see Yiddish as the language of soft Jews who can't protect themselves. But I believe I understand both the joy and depth of the language."

Yiddish was the mother tongue of Alberstein's family in the small town inSzczecin, , where she was born. Her family moved to when she was only four. Her early Hebrew recordings, with names like "Songs of My Beloved Country," "Beaches" and "Like a Wildflower," speak to as a fledgling country. They are external, almost frontier.

" was like a little child in those days," she recalled, "discovering all the parts of her body."

In 1998, Alberstein released "The Well," an album of Yiddish poems transformed into folk songs with the renowned klezmer group the Klezmatics. Her "Foreign Letters," produced by Ben Mink, was released in 2001 on the French label Naïve and inNorth Americaon Rounder/Universal. "Voices, A Musical Celebration," a Public Television concert special starring Alberstein, aired worldwide in 2001. In 2003, a CD box set was released in that included her earlier recordings and also more than 200 songs that were not available before. Her album "Motzai Khag" (End of the Holiday) was released in January 2004 to rave reviews in and the (Rounder Records). Her latest album, "Coconut," was released in in March 2005. This year, she is the recipient of an honorary Ph.D. fromTelAvivUniversityfor her 40-year contribution to Israeli music and culture. A new album, all in Yiddish, was recorded in theCzechRepublicand will be released early next year.

"If we have a true folk singer, it is Chava Alberstein," declared Yediot Aharonot, 's largest daily newspaper, naming her the most important female musician in 's history. With a half-century of life and song under her belt, Alberstein, like , has come to understand that good art, like good statecraft, is best achieved by looking inwards and outwards. She is a singer who accomplishes that greatest, most precious rarity of all: she speaks for a culture, a tradition.

For more than a decade now, Les Yeux Noirs has been carving its own path with a torrential blend of klezmer and Gypsy styles. Supported by a growing audience, they interpret traditional songs with decidedly contemporary arrangements that retain the music's giddy energy and dance-inducing rhythms.

Les Yeux Noirs' name comes from a French translation of "Ochi Chornya" (Black Eyes) an old Russian Roma (Gypsy) tune that was an international hit for the iconic Manouche (French Roma) jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. The group was launched in the early 1990s by the Slabiak brothers. Both were classically trained violinists, who grew up as the sons of Jewish immigrants from , in Paris during the 1970s. Inspired by their uncle, a Gypsy and jazz violinist who played with Django and Joseph Reinhardt, they quit their studies at the Brussels Royal Conservatory to form the band.

The Slabiaks sought out some of the finest acoustic players available and embarked upon a journey of discovery down the road of Yiddish and Gypsy music. The group brings intense emotion, both joyous and nostalgic, to a nomadic music that perfectly reflects the lives of a persecuted people in exile, caught up in a massive diaspora, all with an unshakeable will to live.

The Slabiaks had fallen in love with their own ancestral Yiddish folkways. Further digging revealed that European Jewry and the Roma people had not only endured parallel travails at the hands of the same host cultures — including near-extinction during the Inquisition and under the Nazis, and these days increasing violence against the Roma in Eastern Europe — but had been actively influencing each other's music for centuries. Hundreds of vibrant and innovative hybrids sprang up wherever these groups intersected.

"Our culture is Eastern European, Jewish and Gypsy music, but we also grew up with Supertramp and David Bowie and rock music," Eric Slabiak said. "We wanted to include both sounds. The audience can see this is just not old music; it's evolving and maturing. I think it's necessary for this music to cross the centuries."

Six albums and numberless tours later, the group is universally acknowledged as a premier modern champion and celebrant of two inextricably intertwined, long-endangered but ultimately triumphant legacies. Les Yeux Noirs has incorporated its own compositions into the mix and reinterpreted others. The group has widened its original base out from the comfortable networks of cultural centers and theaters, conquering new venues worldwide: reggae, jazz and classic festivals; California biker clubs; churches; and smoky cellars. Meeting these different audiences, the band has fulfilled its dreams and revealed multiple facets.

The band has enriched its lineup with a consort of unexpected instruments, traditional and not so traditional: violins, cello, electric bass and guitar, double bass, accordion, keyboards, cimbalom (hammer dulcimer), drums, and percussion. A propulsive thrust comes from judiciously applied touches of cutting-edge programming and samples. Its brand new album, "Tchorba," is made up of contrasting experiences. Self-produced by the band for the first time, this album also gathers rich and various ingredients that were recorded, co-produced and mixed by the colorful Stuart Bruce (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin, Al di Meola, Amadou and Maryam, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan).

The lyrics, sung in Yiddish, Romani and French, express love not only between a man and a woman, but also that of a parent and child; bitterness in old age, estrangement, and lurking just beneath, the theme of wandering, whether in the past, looming on the morrow or running in the blood. The album, like the group, is resonantly soulful, sometimes mordantly funny and almost always compulsively danceable.

Tickets for Chava Alberstein and Les Yeux Noirs are available for $38, $30 and $22. They can be purchased at the UCLA Central Ticket Office at the southwest corner of theJamesWestAlumniCenter, online at and at all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information or to charge by phone, please call (310) 825-2101. UCLA students may buy tickets in advance for $15. Student tickets at the same price, subject to availability, are offered to all students with a valid ID one hour before show time.

This concert is supported by theDortortCenterfor the Arts at UCLA Hillel, theUCLACenterfor Jewish Studies andUCLACenterfor European and Eurasian Studies.

UCLA Live is an internationally acclaimed producer and presenter of music, dance, theater and spoken word, bringing hundreds of outstanding and provocative artists to Los Angeles each year. Lectures, residencies and extensive outreach programs expand the impact of its unparalleled performances that include a lively mix of distinguished masters and innovators from around the world.



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