Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast

The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast interviews the latest Israeli and Jewish artists and covers a wide range of styles from Carlebach, cantorial, klezmer, Israeli trance, Mizrachi, rock, Sephardic, hasidic and everything in between. Past interviews have included Matisyahu, Avraham Fried, and Miri Ben-Ari. IsraelBeat broadcasts live every Sunday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Israel time on

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

King Django interview

King Django interview
by Benyamin Bresky
originally aired on Jewish Community Radio, 88.7FM WJCU on Jan. 9, 2004
Replayed on The Beat, Israel National Radio on August 22, 2004

QUESTION: Okay, now your name is Jeff Baker, and you're from Brooklyn, New York.

King Django: That's right. I live in New Brunswick, New Jersey now.

QUESTION: The song Slaughter, is that really about your grandfather?

King Django: Yeah. It absolutely is. He was in three concentration camps. I grew up with him. He was like a second Dad to me. We grew up with him telling us those stories. So all the details in there are from stuff he actually told me.

QUESTION: Is that the only song you're written about that kind of thing?

King Django: Specifically about the Holocaust, yes.

QUESTION: What about in the end where you're talking about "KKK turned senator"?

King Django: Well that song is from about 1998. That's when it was recorded but it was written even earlier then that. So at the time that's when David Duke was getting in the national scene.

QUESTION: Let's talk about how you got into music and this genre of music specifically.

King Django: I got into ska and reggae music just living in Brooklyn and going to school in Manhattan. Ska music was really popular at the time. From the ska I got into the reggae music. Living in Brooklyn was a really good place to explore reggae. There's a lot of Jamaican neighborhoods there.

QUESTION: What neighborhood did you grow up in?

King Django: I was born in and grew up in Canarsie. As soon as I was able to drive I would go over to Flatbush and hang out at Jamaican record stores over there. Listening to records and buying records and talking to people over there.

QUESTION: About how many King Django records do you have out?

King Django: There's four out under my name, King Django. There's Roots and Culture. There is a record called Reason which came out in 2000. There's one called King Django Meets the Scrulialists which came out in Switzerland and Germany early this year and just came out in the States. And there's another one, A Single Thread which just came out last month, which is a compilation from all the different bands I've had over the years. I had a band called Stubborn All Stars from about '94 to '99 or 2000. I had a band called Skinnerbox. That came about '89 to '96 or '97.

QUESTION: So you've been doing this a long time. The other albums aren't Jewish oriented, and then suddenly you came out with an all-Jewish album.

King Django: Right. I would say that they're not overtly Jewish but I but in retrospect I noticed that a lot of the themes and music are really Jewish and actually my parents and friends of the family have always said that a lot of the songs sort of had a Jewish feeling to them. But the way that the Roots and Culture record came about was that when Stubborn All Stars were signed to Profile Records, the guy that signed us had asked me if I wanted to make a Stubborn All Stars Christmas record. And I just told him, naa, I can't make a Christmas record because I'm Jewish. About a week later I was in the office doing some stuff and he came over to me and he said "I've got it!" And I was like what do you mean? He said, "Ska-Mitzvah!" I was looking at him like, what are you talking about? And he said, you know, remember I asked you to do that Christmas record? Well why don't you make a Jewish ska record instead. And I said, "that's an awesome idea". And that's basically how that record was born.

QUESTION: Do you get your musical influence, not just from the ska and reggae but from Jewishness, from your grandfather?

King Django: You know, I grew up around that stuff and my grandparents were big fans of the cantorial stuff, Yosselle Rosenblatt, Moshe Oysher and stuff like this. So I heard that stuff when I was growing up but I really didn't know that much about Jewish music. So when Fred proposed the idea of doing Roots and Culture it was just a really good opportunity. I made him take me to the record store and buy me all these Jewish records. Actually my Dad had gotten into Jewish music a few years before that. He was all into klezmer, modern klezmer stuff and modern Jewish music. So it was always around. I grew up with it but not with such direct contact to the music.

QUESTION: Speaking of klezmer you performed with The Klezmatics?

King Django: Yeah, actually the Roots and Culture record was a studio record. I go to this thing every year called Klez-Camp, the Yiddish cultural arts festival, which takes place in the Catskills. They have Yiddish language, art, theater, dance and music classes up there and all the heavyweights of the modern klezmer scene are the staff. So I started going there about five years ago. About there years ago, Frank London from Klezmatics was like, "when are you gonna play this stuff out? I have a bunch of friend that have been calling me, from all Jewish traditions that want to play the stuff." But we really never had, we really never got it together. And Frank was like, "well why don't you do this Purim carnival with us Klezmatics?" So it was the perfect opportunity to put a band together to do the stuff live. The record came out in '98 but we really didn't play a live show until about two years ago, two and half years ago on Purim.

QUESTION: And it was well received?

King Django: Yeah and we've been playing ever since.

QUESTION: So you're still performing this material?

King Django: Yeah, I do perform that material with the Roots and Culture band. We're probably going to make a new record this year.

QUESTION: A new Roots and Culture record?

King Django: Yep.

QUESTION: Now for people who don't know really what ska and reggae is maybe you could let us know.

King Django: Okay, I'll try and give the short version. Ska is the predecessor to reggae music. It started in the late '50s early '60s in Jamaica. Pretty much as a take-off of American rhythm and blues. It's basically up-tempo Jamaican dance music. Reggae developed out of that at the end of the '60s'. Reggae is also Jamaican dance music but of a later period.

QUESTION: Now when you listen to reggae, like Bob Marley, they talk about. Zion and Babylon and there's a lot of Jewish references in there.

King Django: That's one segment of reggae music, which would be Rasta reggae. The Rastafarian religion, they feel a strong kinship to the Old Testament, with the Old Testament people. A lot of their iconography comes from the Old Testament.

QUESTION: What did the Rastafarian people say when, here you are, a Jewish guy, like a real Old Testament guy, coming out combining the two?

King Django: I work with a lot of Jamaicans and we don't usually talk about it. But everything is really cool usually. They're into it when they see somebody that comes from America that really knows the history and the music. So it's been really cool actually working with Jamaican reggae artists.

QUESTION: Your song Shtickele is all in Yiddish. Did you have to learn Yiddish?

King Django: I actually grew up speaking it with my grandparents and my Mom. My Yiddish is very street. It's just household Yiddish. I'm not educated in it. So I had the assistance of a very great Yiddishist and writer named Michael Wex. He's from Toronto, Canada. He's brilliant, actually. I was lucky enough to have him help me with the tunes on the record.

QUESTION: Where does that particular song come from?

King Django: Stickele? That was just an original that I wrote for this record.

QUESTION: Really? I thought for sure that was some old Yiddish melody. What do the lyrics mean?

King Django: It's talking about being exploited. It's kind of like a worker's song. It's a song from a worker to a boss.

QUESTION: Have you heard of the Reggae Passover album and some of the others? I guess I see them as novelty records.

King Django: I think the Reggae Passover record isn't very reggae. It seems like the people that did it don't really know reggae music. It's technically really, really well done. I can't criticize it technically on any level. But like you said it is kind of a novelty thing.

QUESTION: Have you heard of any guys in Israel? Have you heard of Mookie D?

King Django: No. I haven't. I know that reggae is very big over there. I'm in contact with a guy called Dr. Reggae who has a radio show.

# # #

by King Django
Roots and Culture
1998 Stubborn Records

I want to tell you something about my grandfather
My grandfather was a concentration camp survivor
Taken from his home during the Second World War
Separated from his family wo the Nazi's murdered
Herded like an animal into a cattle car
What do they give them to eat, not even bread and water
Well quick to lick a shot pon a complainer
Little children taken away, separated from momma
Forced to live inna condition that would breed Cholera
How many of us dead in the gas chamber
Dead from Zyclon B or machine gun fire
Sufferi pain at the hands of an evil "doctor"
Through vivisection and torture with no anesthesia
Not as if an anaesthesia could have made better
Six million of us dead through this rein of terror
Make us dig our own graves and a kill we deh ya

Yes a demon army led by the devil Hitler
Want the "Aryan" race to rise and be the master
And they think to annihilate every other
They want to wipe us from the earth, in other words slaughter

Slaughter slaughter they want to slaughter us
Slaughter slaughter they tried to slaughter us
Slaughter slaughter watch how murderous

Ninety pounds, six foot, that a well maga
But a so my grandpa in 1944
Him just skin and bone when him sight the liberator
Troops sent from England, Russia and America
But still today the have the KKK
And the Nazi party in the US of A
The Aryan Nation, The White Aryan Resistance
And in Europe and in England
You've got the National Front and the British Movement
They're evil, insane and very violent
We have to mash them down or we go down silent

So all around the world you see the racial slaughter
All around the world you see the tribal war
That's why the whole a we, we've got to stick together
Because divided we fall but united we conquer
Don't think that this couldn't happen in America
KKK devil nowadays turn senator
We're got to rise up and fight the oppressor
Don't let the evil ones come into power

I could never forget
I could never forget
We must never forget
I will never forget

Never again
Never again
Never again
Never again