SOCALLED (4:30 pm) with THE NARCICYST OF EUPHRATES (3 pm) as part of GLOBAL HIP HOP: THE FOUR ELEMENTS on Harbourfront Centre's Concert Stage (235 Queens Quay West), Sunday (July 29). Free. www.harbourfrontcentre.com. Rating: NNNNN
As tempting as it may be to toss off witty lines like "Ain't nuthin' but a Jew thing," that's not really the way Montreal hiphop innovator Josh Dolgin, aka SoCalled, rolls.
Okay, so the guy may have carved out his own fascinating niche in left-field hiphop by fusing backpacker-friendly rhymes with samples cribbed from old klezmer records and looped gems created by old-school Hebraic heavies like Irving Fields (the Catskills king of pioneering piano schmaltz albums like Bagels And Bongos) and Theodore Bikel (the co-founder of the Newport folk fest who played Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof 2,094 times).
Semitic scribes seem eager to spill ink on how SoCalled is yet another shining example of Gen X and Y Jews reconnecting with their heritage. They group him in with Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu and the lethargic liberals at Heeb mag, viewing 'em all as chosen peeps speaking to and for North American Judaic youth, potential fighters for the Zionist cause and readily co-optable by the United Jewish Appeal.
The truth? Dolgin says the tribe isn't so down with SoCalled's style.
"I don't think Jewish hipsters give a shit about what I'm doing," he snorts on the line from his home base in Montreal. He's barely had time to settle back into the city after a crazy European tour with klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer. "Y'know, Krakky and I played in these small towns in Eastern Europe, places where they don't get much Jewish music, and they were freaking out. It's heavy. And when I play in France there's an audience of people who've heard a song or two of mine on the radio.
"But over here? I don't feel like I get any support from that community at all. Backing from the UJA? Show me the money! I mean, I'm also not courting that audience at all. Yeah, I may be on a label (JDub, also home to Matisyahu) in the States that targets that demographic, but whenever they put out an e-mail blast to their list, nobody comes to my shows. I don't give a shit - I'm still just trying to build up a core audience."
The tricky thing is that as much as Dolgin's building bridges between generations by "rediscovering" old-timers like Bikel and Fields, the point of his music isn't to shove his culture all up in your face.
His songs are true-school hiphop in a classic cut-and-paste mixtape sense, a "mushing together" (as he puts it) of sounds and ideas that thrill him. Dolgin's style really is a pure expression of his zany, fractured identity - an Anglo Montrealer who can kick it in French, a bent b-boy who discovered hiphop through his love of old P-Funk records, then connected with klezmer while crate-digging.
Even more than his charming 05 release, The SoCalled Seder: A Hip Hop Haggadah (JDub), Dolgin's brand new Ghettoblaster album epitomizes that vibe. A surreal trip through scratchy Yiddish folk songs layered with lightning-speed rhymes from Dolgin, C-Rayz Walz and more, funk snippets and smoky soul vocals, it's a disc that couldn't have come from any ghetto except maybe Montreal's student one.
You'd think making Ghettoblaster, which was recorded in a slew of locations across the globe and features over 40 guest artists (including SoCalled "sideman" and fab Montreal country-soul chanteuse Katie Moore, who plays her own T.O. date Friday at the Silver Dollar) would've been a total clusterfuck of craziness.
But Dolgin says the process was actually pretty normal. Well, except for the time the world's best Hasidic cantor decided C-Rayz Walz was his new best friend. Oh, and a couple of moments of hero worship.
"If anything was surreal, it was working with Fred Wesley in South Carolina. Getting picked up by his wife at the airport and hangin' out at the guy's house," he sighs.
Apparently, the legendary funk trombonist, best known for his oft-sampled work as the bandleader and musical director of James Brown's J.B.'s crew, hooked up with Dolgin when he played a show with clarinet blower Krakauer at Carnegie Hall.
"I called Fred and said I was making this track for the American version of my album, and he was really nice and so open to ideas. The first day he was like, 'Yeah, man, make a beat,' and just started blowing on top. That was it. Aaah! This is Fred Wesley, one of the founders of funk... one of the funkiest cats in the world!
"Now he's asked me to help produce his next record, which is nuts," Dolgin raves. "His last two albums have been more jazz, but I want to bring back those funk elements and mush the two together."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Josh "SoCalled" Dolgin explains how he, a wacky home-recording sample-crazy experimenter, ended up making an album of proper songs
A brief breakdown of Ghettoblaster's Yiddish content
SoCalled spills on the stranger-than-fiction tale of how C-Rayz Walz won over a Polish Hasidic cantor
Music from SoCalled
Heart Attack Feeling
(These Are The) Good Old Days