On the whole, Israelis aren’t that into Jewish music. Apart from the language—and even that isn’t always the case—Israeli pop/rock doesn’t concern itself much with questions of Jewishness. But the pattern doesn’t hold for Tel Aviv band Jewish Monkeys, probably because two of the band’s three singers and founders are German-Jews who made Aliyah as adults.
Entrepreneur and author Jossi Reich and veterinarian Roni Boiko actually met as kids, singing together in the Frankfurt Synagogue’s boys’ choir in the 1970s. Years later, in Israel, they met psychotherapist Gael Zaidner and together decided to pursue their love of music—and satire.
The Jewish Monkeys aren’t your standard rock band. The band’s core members—51-year-old Reich, 49-year-old Boiko, and 49-year-old Zaidner—are quite a bit older than your average rockers, considering they didn’t start their band, or even making music, in the 1970s or 80s. The Jewish Monkeys initially formed a little over a decade ago as an outlet for the threesome’s artistic and comic aspirations, sporadically performing while taking long breathers in between. Their distinctive mishmash of rock, klezmer, funk, and Balkan music, sung in English, Spanish, Esperanto and Yiddish, consists of covers as well as original songs. They started out as a “project,” employing session musicians to help them out, but the whole thing became much more serious last year, when they turned into an actual band—an eight-piece no less—beginning to harbor dreams of turning this into a full-time gig.
So far they’ve played live in Israel and in Germany and plan to tour the U.S. in 2015 for their brand new debut album, Mania Regressia. The album, which was recorded with Mediterranean surf rock trio Boom Pam—before the Jewish Monkeys became an actual band themselves—and produced by RanBagno, who is known mainly as a composer for dance and theater, is available on iTunes. The Jewish Monkeys launched their album this week with a live show at the annual Days of Jewish Culture festival in Berlin.
Although they’re a bit of a comedy band, Reich prefers to think of his Monkeys as a rock band. “We see ourselves as a rock band, infusing all our Jewish influences like klezmer music and singing in Yiddish,” he told me. “The fact that Roni and I grew up in Germany made us interested in rock and New Wave and all the popular music we grew up on, as well as our Jewish roots. We make contemporary Jewish music. I think this is the kind of music that would have been made by Jews in Europe nowadays had the Holocaust not happened. And what’s unique about us is our satirical lyrics. We’re very much influenced by Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers.”
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.