Amsterdam Klezmer Band: Put a big smile on your face and take it home


If you are sad, tired, have a lot of stress or just want to have fun there will be a good recipe. Go out and visit a concert of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band. These seven guys will put a smile on your face. They will bring you on the status to dance and you can not deny it. The Amsterdam Klezmer Band is a perfect mixture of klezmer, gypsy, rap and a little bit of punk. Try the guerilla of happiness! An Interview with Job Chajes (saxophonist, singer and leader of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band)…

Interview: Anke Dreyer

What was the reason to choose the name „Amsterdam Klezmer Band“?

Job Chajes: We exist now for almost 13 years and when we started as a band we were playing mainly traditional klezmer music so we choose the name “Amsterdam Klezmer Band”.

Why did the members of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band change? Henkjan van Minnen, the accordionist, left in 2001.

Job Chajes: I met Henkjan in the streets in the City of Amsterdam. He was a piano player and he stroke me as being a very musical guy. I played with him Jazz and Funk music and asked him to join in the Amsterdam Klezmer Band because the accordion player we played with, his abilities were not far enough and I was looking for somebody else and Henkjan accepted. I borrowed him my accordion because he didn´t play accordion and we went to practise it two or three times a week until he has the songs and the structures. That was the moment when we started and feel, yeah, something is happening with the band. The record “Limonchiki” was coming out.

But in a certain moment he couldn´t stand the pressure playing all the time for big audience. And then we had to look for somebody else and we found Theo who is my alltime favourite accordion player in Holland. I played with him already in 1995 a few times in another band and I was really thinking: Wow, what a player. I always thought that he was too good for us.(Job laughing). In the moment in 2001 when we needed a new person we were already doing good shows and we had something to offer to him.

Your parents were also musicians?

Job Chajes: Most of us not. In Holland there are many people who are play amateur like fanfare or stuff like this. Some of our parents have done that but most of our parents are not musicians. The parents of ours singer Alec were butchers, my parents are entrepreneurs and the mother of our trumpet player is a cultural entrepreneur and his father is a road engineer, the father of our trombone player is a teacher and the father from our accordion player was an accordionist and a painter and funny is that Theo himself, became an accordionist and his brother became a painter. Both parents of the clarinet player are teachers.

Who am I missing, yeah, actually the parents of the bassist were musicians. His father was a very known organ player in Holland. He played a very specific organ with 31 tones called the Archiphone. He was also a journalist and organising festivals. He is a very known guy.

Are you also grown up with Jewish tradition?

Job Chajes: No, not really. Some of us grew up in Jewish families but they were secular.
You all have a Punk Rock background. How did you decide to play klezmer music?
Job Chajes: No, its not really Punk Rock. We all have different musical backgrounds: Punk definitely also some Rock. But also some people have been playing in Reggae bands, in Rap bands, in Salsa Latin bands, in Brasilian bands, in Romanian Gypsy bands, in Funk, Jazz bands. And I think this Punk Rock thing is mostly named because the way that we play. Its more like the attitude that we have when we are playing. We are not playing like a studied klezmer band which is just playing the notes and sound as jewish as possible. We are playing with the attitude of a Rock band. We are playing for people to dance and mostly in a scene where Rock and Punk bands are playing.

How would you describe your music to someone who doesn`t know it?

Job Chajes: First I name it Eastern European Jewish and Gypsy Dance music for weddings. And then we have four horns, its a little bit like a fanfare and its really dance music.
But we are also playing a lot of theatre concerts where people are just sitting down and listening to the music. This is also very special for us and also for the audience. Of course its dance music but there is so much in the music that you can either dance or either sit down and listen.

It`s the same programme in the theatres?

Job Chajes: What we usually do is that we play more subtle, more precise, more quite and not so loud. We always play a few songs that are more carried, slow, melancholic listening songs.

What should the audience take with them when they leave your concert?

Job Chajes laughs: They have to take with them a CD and a T-Shirt and a big smile on their face.What we usually do when we play is unify the people who are there. When I look into the audience I see so many smiling faces thats something that everybody is sharing. Everybody is sharing a certain happiness when they are looking. I think what we give to the people is also a little piece of happiness and the people bring this along outside.

You also made a project with a band from Turkey. How did it come to this?

Job Chajes: The Galata Gypsy Band. The mother of our trompet player is a cultural entrepreneur and she is mostly busy with Turkish musical projects in Holland. She is bringing these Turkish projects into the theatres in Holland usually together with a Dutch band or Dutch artist. The reason is to attract also Turkish people into the theatre. She has a good connection with different people in Turkey and we were playing already in Turkey since1999 and we said that we want to do a project with Turkish artists and it became the Galata Gypsy Band.

Joann Sfar, a famous French cartoonist, has painted the cover of your new CD “Zaraza”. How did you come in contact with him?

Job Chajes: Our third album “Limonchiki” has been released in France in 2001/2002. I think he had obtained one of the copies of the album and he got inspired by it. Then he contacted us that he really liked it and he also made a comic which is called “Klezmer”. When he thought about the music that the characters of the book are playing he remembered the album “Limonchiki” of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band. We got in contact with eachother and we met in Paris a few years ago. Once he told us that he would like to draw a cover of an album for us. When we made “Zaraza” we said: “Ok. Let`s ask Joann.” So things happened.

“Zaraza” is an album with very different kinds of music. For example you are singing a song on this album called: “Op een goppe” and its sounds like “Rap”.

Job Chajes: Yes, it`s funny. I feel its more than a song because I´m singing a melody but I sing it, of course, in a certain way than a normal singer would not sing it. Actually I used to be a rapper before starting to play saxophone. I already had a few Rap songs in the repertoire

What are your next projects?

Job Chajes: At the moment we are not planning anything. We are just busy with the release of our new album “Zaraza”. We released it four weeks ago in Holland. We are not looking too far ahead because we have a lot of concerts and we want to keep our heads clear about it, we keep our heads in one direction and that is playing. Of course quietly we are thinking about our next album but at the moment there are so much opportunities that we have to find out what we really want to do.