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Tango Yona | Yiddish to the Heart

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Latin: Tango World: Yiddish Moods: Type: Acoustic
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Yiddish to the Heart

by Tango Yona

Tangos, overflowing with yearning, carry bittersweet stories of love, sorrow and hope. The evocative sounds of Yiddish and Tango Yona's richly textured collaborative arrangements create a living interpretation of these treasures.
Genre: Latin: Tango
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  Song Share Time Download
1. A Mames Harts
3:47 $0.99
2. Markovtshizne
4:47 $0.99
3. Froyen
3:57 $0.99
4. A Yidish Yingl
7:16 $0.99
5. Kadish: Der Yidisher Soldat
5:07 $0.99
6. Friling
4:47 $0.99
7. Dos Lid Fun Bialistoker Geto
3:24 $0.99
8. Es Benkt Zikh
4:39 $0.99
9. Mamale
4:41 $0.99
10. Ikh Hob Mayn Man Forloyrn
4:09 $0.99
11. Shik Mir a Shtral
5:40 $0.99
12. S'vet Geshen
3:23 $0.99
13. Shpet Bay Nakht
5:05 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Tango Yona:
Jane Enkin, vocals
Briga Dajczer, violin
Daniel Fuchs, violin
Gaël Huard, cello
Yoni Kaston, accordion
Joel Kerr, bass
Damian Nisenson, vocals on #8

Arrangements by the ensemble

Recording, Mixing, Mastering by Padraig Buttner-Schnirer
Recorded at Cardboard Studios, Montreal
Photography by Kiran Ambwani
Graphic Design by Avia Moore
Translations by Jane Enkin and Justin Jaron Lewis

Tango Yona explores the legacy of songs in tango rhythm, loved by Yiddish audiences from the 1920s to the 1960s. The evocative sounds of the lyrics with their potent layers of meaning, and the richly textured collaborative arrangements by the ensemble, create a living interpretation of these treasures.

At the heart of Tango Yona’s repertoire are songs from the Holocaust. We perform these songs as a memorial to the creators and their listeners, and to honour the place of art in a time of war. We hope to provide a window to understanding contemporary artists dealing with displacement and oppression.

Tango music originated in Argentina, and band leaders on tour in the 1920s became stars in New York and Europe. Soon Jewish composers embraced the rhythms and emotional intensity of tango, and gorgeous new tango melodies were heard in the theatres of New York’s Second Avenue and nightclubs in Germany and Poland. Before and after the war, thriving Yiddish-speaking communities in South America, North America and Israel loved tango’s bittersweet beauty.

As Jews were forced into ghettos in wartime Eastern Europe, they found in tango a musical language to express sorrow, longing, irony and love. The Holocaust era tangos are a reminder of the complexity of wartime experience – some songs are laments, some are outcries, and some inspire courage.

Shmerke Kaczerginski, important to the creation and preservation of Holocaust era tangos, wrote, “It seems unnatural when in a moment of high tragedy an actor on stage suddenly breaks into song. You would think: this does not happen in real life. But ‘real life’ has shown us otherwise.” (Collector’s Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)


Many people have contributed their time to this recording. A fuller set of acknowledgements appears on our website. We especially thank these people:

Bret Werb, Music Collection Curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for his scholarship and personal communication
The generous people who share old recordings on YouTube, most of all Bronisliva
Justin Jaron Lewis and Shlomo Jack Jaron Enkin Lewis for transcription and translation of lyrics.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.


We encourage listeners to visit Tango Yona's website for full translations of the lyrics, with notes and links.
There is still more to learn about these songs, and we welcome new information about their creators and their original contexts.


1 A Mames Harts A Mama's Heart

A gift from heaven, the greatest blessing in the world; a mama's heart.

Children! Your mother gives you her life, her youth, her best years.
And how deep is her pain when her children laugh at her!
“What does she know, the foolish, old-fashioned woman?”
Don't do it, children. Cherish a mother's tears.
Because in all the world, you have only one mama!

Tango Yona's source: As performed by Chaim Towber

2 Markovtshizne

In Poland in the 20s and 30s, tango was the pop music of the day. During the war when Jews were forced into ghettos, they borrowed the melodies they knew so well and set new lyrics to them. This song about hard times in a labour camp quotes both the lyrics and the melody of the down-and-out song Gasn Zinger, Street Singer.

I'm from Markovtshizne, and don't I know it!
Barefoot, my blood is chilled
My heart aches

“Work! Hard! But make it quick!”

The prison my only home, a rotten nest
Blows and yelling, and food fit for pigs

“Work! Hard! But make it fast!”

We all share one destiny, we must live as brothers
But when one brother is hungry, where’s your conscience then?

Lyrics: H. Goldshtayn
Lyrics and music based on Gasn Zinger by Peysekhke Burstein
Tango Yona's source: Song of the Bialystok Ghetto in Songs of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song by Eleanor and Joseph Mlotek

3 Froyen Women

I had a good dream
Radiant and clear
And my dream was modest
Just a corner, a home, just a roof
How long has it been – nu, I am asking you all –
Since I was equal to other people?

Women, terror lies in ambush at every step
And you no longer have comfort and joy
Even from your own child.
Sisters! You bear the greatest burden
Then when you return in fatigue and pain
Still you must be always a mother

Lyrics: Kasriel Broydo
Music: credited to Misha Veksler, or to Volf (Vladimir) Durmashkin.
Tango Yona's source: We Are Here: Songs of the Holocaust edited by Eleanor Mlotek and Malke Gottlieb

4 A Yidish Yingl A Nice Jewish Boy

My grandmother said to my mother, “Be good, my child
If you grow up to be a fine lady, everyone will envy me”
My mother, from those words, nebekh, suffered so much
And everywhere she searched quietly for ...

A Jewish boy, sweeter than wine
A Jewish boy, with a thousand charms
His eyes are like black coals
They burn through your heart

And I'm just like my Mama; I have good taste
There sits a young man, a beauty
Only you can be my kavalir, my beau
Follow me, my own
Because I love beyond measure

Lyrics and music: Dovid Beigelman
Tango Yona's source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Henry Baigelman Collection
Interlude: Mayn Yidishe Meydele/My Jewish Girl by Sholom Secunda
Tango Yona's source: Great Songs of the Yiddish Theatre selected by Norman H. Warembud

5 Kadish – Der Yidisher Soldat The Kadish Prayer – The Jewish Soldier

We first heard this song in a recent anthology of Jewish recordings made in 1930s Germany on the Semer label. The Yiddish recording of the song is lovely, but we were especially moved by the fiery German rendition.

It is announced – all the Jewish men are drafted
Yankl kisses his wife and says “Learn every night with our son”

“My son pray for your father, for our God is great”

The rabbi comes one day and says
“Ester, you must go to synagogue for the first kadish prayer tomorrow morning”
“Kadish for whom, great God?”
“Ester, be strong, your husband is dead”
She presses her son – his son – to her heart

“My son say kadish for your father, for our God is great”

German lyrics: Kurt Robitschek
Yiddish translation: Unknown
Music: Otto Stransky
Tango Yona's source: CD collection Beyond Recall: A Record of Jewish Musical Life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938 (Bear Family, Hambergen, 2000)

6 Friling Spring

We find this a startling work of art, disquieting and exquisite.
Writer, activist and partisan Shmerke Kaczerginski’s wife Barbara Kaufman died in the Vilna ghetto. Soon after, he wrote this song. It was performed in a ghetto revue, and soon, he notes in his anthology Songs from the Ghettos and Camps, the song was sung in other ghettos, camps and among partisans.
“In ordinary times each song would probably have travelled a long road to popularity. But in the ghetto we observed a marvelous phenomenon: individual works transformed into folklore before our eyes.” (Collector's Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)

I wander the ghetto from street to street
The sky is blue over my home, but what good is that to me?
I stand like a beggar and beg a bit of sunshine

Spring has arrived early this year
What’s blooming is longing for you
I see you now as I did then, laden with flowers
So joyful, walking toward me

Springtime, on your blue wings
Take my heart with you
And give it back my happiness

Lyrics: Shmerke Kaczerginski
Music: Avraham Brudno
Tango Yona's source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

7 Dos Lid Fun Bialistoker Geto The Song of the Bialystok Ghetto

The names of some of the creators of the wartime tangos are known, and in some cases it is clear whether the melodies are borrowed or original. We have not found any background information about this song, but thanks to the generosity and fierce attachment of broken, spirited individuals, the song was passed on, documented by collector Shmerke Kaczerginski. “Just as we cherish every stray leaf of a sacred book discovered in the ruins or found atop the ashes of our homes, so must we treasure the voices of our predecessors, whose simple, clear words tell us of their lives and of their destruction.” (Collector's Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)

A wail, a cry in the Jewish quarter
They are making a ghetto in Bialystok, and it's no joke.

We sit and wonder what will become of us
Beaten and mistreated
With a new yellow patch on our jackets

In the ghetto market it's a Garden of Eden
You can buy anything you like, the finest delicacies
But where do you get the money?

Lyrics and music: Unknown
Tango Yona's source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

8 Es Benkt Zikh Yearning

This was the first tango Jane learned – an eye-opening, heart-opening gift.

Our room is tight, cramped
And the yearning sadness draws us outdoors
The month of May reminds us of freedom
And there is yearning, such longing
For all that is gone

Come out to me, my girl, into the street
My before-your-time wilted little flower
The moon shines for us stingy and pale
But stars look lovingly upon us from the sky

I'm coming out, my love, I'm coming out to you
A spring night enchants us both
So let's stand by the wall and dream a while
And with the dream, never be parted

Lyrics: Kasriel Broydo
Music: Most likely by Broydo's music director Yankl Trupianski
Arrangement: Ron Paley, adapted by the ensemble
Guest vocals: Damian Nisenson
Tango Yona's source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, Volume Four compiled by Aharon Vinkovetsky, edited by Abba Kovner and Sinai Leichter

9 Mamele Dear Mama

An old mama watches for her child
It seems like an eternity
You must hope, you brave Jewish people!
O Fate, tell me, where is my child?
Mama, you have no rest, is pain breaking your heart?
Just have courage, the day will come, you will be free!

Lyrics and music: Percy Haid
Tango Yona's source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Percy Haid and Sonja Haid Greene Collection
Interlude: Dos Elnte Kind/The Lonely Child by Yankl Krimski
Tango Yona's source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, Volume Four compiled by Aharon Vinkovetsky, edited by Abba Kovner and Sinai Leichter

10 Ikh Hob Mayn Man Farloyrn I Lost My Husband

This disturbing text was set to the melody of a much-recorded, gentle Polish song, Serce Matki, Mother's Heart.

The author begins his poem in the voice of a woman, a scream of pain:

I have no more tears, and no one wants to hear
Shot! Oy, my mother, my father also
I lost my husband on the day my child was born
And then the child, too, barely saw the light of day and was gone

The bullets seemed to pass through me as I ran
I can't escape the sound of my child's cry

The poet then shifts to language that is Biblical in tone:

O God of vengeance, Where are you now?
Do you see my neshome, my soul, or perhaps are you blind?
I weep and lament
Enough, your crying in the tents. Sadism alone rules the world

Lyrics: Tzvi Garmiza
Music based on the tango Serce Matki/Mother's Heart by Szymon Kataszek and Zygmunt Karasiński
Tango Yona's source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

11 Shik Mir a Shtral Send Me a Ray of Sunshine

We have learned many songs from books and old recordings, but sometimes our musical heritage is passed on more directly. Arkady Gendler z"l recorded this tango in 2001 with the Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley, accompanied by Jeanette Lewicki. Jane learned the song from this recording, My Hometown Soroke; she also heard her friend Sam Knacker z"l sing the song in Winnipeg, MB. Both of them recalled the song from before the war. The third verse of our rendition comes from Sam. Jane imagines each verse sung by a different character.

I stand under huge balconies
The sound of a piano echoes
Around me stand millions who suffer
From all sides
You can hear this tango:
Send me a ray of sunshine to light my way...

He said he’d be back
He gave me a bunch of flowers and said “Wait!”
So I stand here, for days and years, holding the flowers
Anyone I see, I run after them, and each sings me this tango:
Send me a ray of sunshine...Drive away the wind that roars against me...

Bustling streets, noise from cabarets
Gold and jewels beyond measure
Champagne, wine, smoke from cigarettes
These enchant me too

I know the policeman can't stand it
The way I snuggle that park bench all night
With his stick, he wakes me up
And I sing him this tango:
Send me a ray of sunshine... to dry up the tears
These many years, they flow silently
And cannot cease, and cannot cease

Lyrics and music: Unknown
Tango Yona's source: My Hometown Soroke: Yiddish Songs of the Ukraine sung by Arkady Gendler and personal transmission from Sam Knacker

12 S’Vet Geshen It Will Happen

This is Shmerke Kaczerginski’s response to the story of the Exodus 1947, a ship full of refugees that attempted to dock in British Mandate Palestine.

O storm-wind, bring mother and child
Quickly to the longed-for shore
Enough waiting!

The sea was angry
But when we saw the shore we became younger
And although I was exhausted
I was like a waving flag
“Shalom!” we shout
But suddenly warships attack
They are sending us back

But it will happen!
It must happen!
Our holy wish, to return to the land of the Prophets
Will be fulfilled
I already hear the songs
How they bless us
“Brukhim haba'im!”

Lyrics: Shmerke Kaczerginski
Music: Sigmunt Berland
Tango Yona's source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and field recording of Shmerke Kaczerginski singing the song on the Yad Vashem website Heartstrings: Music of the Holocaust

13 Shpet BaNakht Late at Night

Even in this playful song, you can hear a sense of yearning.

Girls, do you hear?
Somewhere there’s lovely music playing
The moonlight in the Carpathian mountains, the shooting stars
Do you hear the trees whisper secrets?

Late at night, hearts dream of happiness
By the light of the moon, they have just one kavone, one thought
Where can you find that bit of joy?

Lyrics and music: Miriam Kressyn and Sam Medoff
Tango Yona's source: As performed by Seymour Rechtzeit

Copyright Jane Enkin, 2018



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