Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dance Music: Hava Nagila

Boban Marković Orkestar: Hava Nagila

I was raised a secular Jew, and my fiancée was raised a secular Protestant, but we both knew that when we were planning our wedding, we wanted to have a hora, a traditional Jewish circle dance. In fact, someone involved in the planning, the exact identity of whom has been lost in the mists of history, referred to this as “ethnic circle dancing,” a generic term that has continued to be used ironically in our family since then.

I do not like to dance. I am not good at it, and am generally not graceful. But I am usually willing to participate in the hora at a bar mitzvah or wedding, because you just hold hands with people, make a circle and kind of whip around, and nobody seems to care if you actually do the steps. The most common song for a hora is “Hava Nagila.” I always assumed that it was an ancient song of my people, but one of the joys of contributing to this blog has been researching the bands and songs that I post about and finding out interesting things.

As it turns out, the melody of the song is from a Ukrainian folk song, and the lyrics are from 1918, written to commemorate the British victory in Palestine during World War I and the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government indicated support for a Jewish state in Palestine. It is a song of rejoicing and happiness, and is thus fitting for use at fun, life cycle celebrations such as weddings or bat mitzvahs.

This exuberant version is by the Boban Marković Orkestar, a Balkan brass band led by trumpeter/flugelhorn player Boban Marković, a Serbian of Roma (Gypsy) ancestry, from the Live in Belgrade album. Fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Drive-By Truckers might love their three guitar attack, but check out the three flugelhorns of the Boban Marković Orkestar. Their version of “Hava Nagila” starts slowly, and builds speed. I would love to have these guys at my family’s next hora event, because I can envision my relatives dancing to them like dervishes, leaving the dance floor sweating and exhausted.

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