Tonight, Jews around the world celebrate the dawn of year 5770. Tomorrow night, a lucky few will get to rock out to "Hidden Melodies Revealed," a free, live remix of traditional cantoral music by an indie-rock dream team.
Jewish religious music, like the religion, is notoriously change-averse, and very few have successfully introduced new tunes to the litergy. The Sway Machinery—consisting of members of Arcade Fire, Balkan Beat Box, Antibalas, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—doesn't hope to do that, exactly, but the musicians are planning to introduce the crowd to a radical reimagining of High Holiday cantoral music. The supergroup chose Temple Emanu El in San Francisco, erstwhile home of famed singing rabbi Shlomo Carelbach, to reinvent the sacred music of the past, transforming a purely vocal tradition into a thumping, instrumental celebration of Judiasm's venerated back catalogue. Sway frontman Jeremiah Lockwood of Balkan Beat Box gave us the inside dirt.
Mother Jones: Saturday is the second night of Rosh Hashanah. What's the significance of playing then?
Jeremiah Lockwood: It's the center of the spiritual cycle of the year. Rosh Hashanah is the big show for the cantor, the time they get to shine, and the whole community gets together. Growing up, my grandfather was a great cantor, and for the last 30 years of his career, he only sang for the High Holy Days. It always seemed to me to be the nexis of all the culture of cantoral music was going towards this one moment. Part of my musical concept for the band is that I was going to take this vocal music tradition and work with the melodies and create instrumental music and rhythmic accompaniment to it.