A History of the Jewish Music Festival Through its Promotional Materials (Berkeley, California 1987-2009)

The collection of the promotional materials of the Jewish Music Festival is the first Magnes archival collection to be acquired only in digital form. 

The Jewish Music Festival is an integral part of the history of the Jews in the Bay Area, and it continues to inspire Jewish musical creativity worldwide. All promotional materials collected by the Festival's director, Ellie Shapiro, were digitized (resulting in over five hundred digital images) and processed by Magnes staff and thanks to volunteer extraordinaire Yoel Clark, who also helped in creating initial metadata descriptions. We are particularly grateful to Paul Hamburg, Librarian for the Judaica Collection at UC Berkeley, for his assistance in launching the project. Further processing was carried out by curators, as part of the Jewish Digital Narratives project of the Magnes. 

The online presentation includes about fifty documents (circa 10% of the entire archive, also available online), which help tracing the history of the Jewish Music Festival since its inception in 1986 and to the present. All images are described and "tagged" to reveal names (and faces) of the participants who contributed to the festival year after year. The documents, organized chronologically, are available in two formats: an interactive web page, where viewers can search names of performers and obtain links to share information with others; and narrative sequence on the popular image sharing application, Flickr, in which users worldwide can contribute their comments and their knowledge. This approach, which the Magnes has established as an innovative way to share its collections documenting the history, arts and cultures of the Global Jewish Diaspora, is very appropriate to the history of the Jewish Music Festival as well: a history of global sounds, of mingling cultures, and of open collaboration among artists. 

The result is not only a searchable online archive available to all: it is also a truly collaborative forum, open to Festival participants, to the audience, and to the worldwide community of Jewish music makers and lovers, enabling them to collectively "write" this history together. 

Francesco Spagnolo, PhD, Director of Research and Collections


A note from the director of the Jewish Music Festival

In April, 1976, the Berkeley Public Library hosted four young men and one woman who unpacked a handful of acoustic instruments, introduced themselves as the Klezmorim, and launched a movement. What began in part through research in the audio archives of the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, and through the work of East Coast pioneers, is known today as the Klezmer revival: a movement that continues to reverberate from Berlin to Tel Aviv, Moscow to London, Cracow to New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

It is no coincidence that the oldest major festival of Jewish music in the U.S. also began in Berkeley. In 1986, the newly established Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center (now known as the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay) launched its first "Festival of Jewish Musical Traditions" under the guidance of Ursula Sherman, a founder of the center and longtime community activist. Dedicated from its inception to using music to bring people together, the Festival has grown from a weekend event at the JCC attracting a few hundred, to events that now introduce thousands to the ever expanding universe of Jewish music, at San Francisco Bay Area venues and schools throughout the year. 

Several of the Jewish Music Festival's projects have taken on a life of their own, and have influenced other arts organizations. Our 2008 artist residency, the Ark Project, brought nine artists together from Israel, Europe and the US, and directly inspired Hornucopia, a San Francisco festival of young indie bands of various musical traditions. The Festival also introduced Roberto Rodriguez, a Cuban American percussionist, to the legendary Irving Fields, and their collaboration became an album on the Tzadik label. A 2007 filmed program of two Bay Area ensembles, Kitka and Davka, has been broadcast on more than forty PBS stations nationwide. The Festival also produced and distributes a CD of  the songs of Arkady Gendler, an octogenarian Ukrainian performer whose rare Yiddish repertoire predates the Holocaust and who is perhaps the last of his generation in Eastern Europe still composing. While the Jewish Music Festival preserves and sustains Jewish music rooted in the past, it also incubates new work as well, commissioning seven projects since 2006.

Ellie Shapiro

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