Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, a multi-year KlezKanada scholarship recipient, specializes in Yiddish song, Hasidic nigunim, and chazones.
“KlezKanada helped me figure out what the constellations of the Jewish music world are; the people who founded the institutions that we’re all benefiting from, and the up-and-comers who are creating the institutions of tomorrow.”
Eager to tell others about KlezKanada, especially young musicians, Anthony relates, “Knowing a place like KlezKanada exists, knowing those things happen every year, gives me an immense amount of freedom about the possibilities what I could do musically – not only to be creative but to collaborate with others, to be part of a creative movement. When I meet someone who is even remotely interested in any of those things, especially younger people, I want to give them that experience. I encourage them to go to KlezKanada because it opens up all these horizons, both internal and external.”
Though he is a singer, he has also enjoyed participating in vocals-adjacent programming at KlezKanada, experiencing music as a dancer in dance classes, and connecting to the instrumentalists’ perspective in ensemble workshops.
After his first experience at KlezKanada, Anthony wished connect with the folk music from his own African-American tradition. “As I began to learn more about it and about Ashkenazi folk and religious music, it just felt natural to try and combine them where the texts and melodies seemed to interact and have dialogue with each other.”
Following this theme, Anthony has collaborated to create an album, “Convergence”, with Jewish band Veretski Pass, whose members he got to know better over the course of their work at KlezKanada. “Convergence” combines over a hundred years of African-American and Ashkenazi Jewish music to explore themes of exile, spirituality, hope and redemption.
In November, Anthony will be performing in Berlin at a Yiddish culture festival, telling his story as a singer of Yiddish through monologue and wordless nigunim. “The wordless melody is one of the most direct, approachable, emotional parts of Jewish music – a way to tell a story.” At KlezKanada, nigunim are shared at Shabbes Tisch (led by Sruli Dresdner, Lisa Mayer, Jeff Warschauer, and Deborah Strauss); Anthony, among many others, highlights this as a particularly beloved experience.
Anthony eagerly anticipates being reunited with distant friends at KlezKanada. “A whole part of the KlezKanada experience is getting off the bus and seeing someone you haven’t seen the entire year, running towards them screaming. When you actually see them… It’s magical.”
This post is part of a new series of interview-articles by Ari Lewis-Weigens.