I think it was 1996. AOL was brand new and all of a sudden we could communicate with people around the world. Readers today can hardly believe it, but it was an amazing window on life outside of where you lived. One of the first people I found online was Bob Cohen, a Jewish musician and bon vivant living in Budapest working with his group Di Naye Kapele. I mentioned that I had little access to the Balkan musics that influenced what is called "Klezmer" music. What I was hearing from modern bands just didn't ring true to me, it sounded "dead" frankly. Having lived in worked in living musical cultures I hard a hard time working with academics and school trained musicians who had never, ever, played a live music for live dancers. There must be a living music of today. And where are the recordings of the living masters and why are they so hard to find? I was perplexed as Mamonidies would say.
He said no problem, and look to mails.
Maybe two months later, a battered square box arrived at my home in Austin TX. He sent me literally every recording of Yiddish music he had, many of the recordings either collected by himself or ethnographers he encountered. Home recorded gems of fiddler Moische Nussbaum and vocalist Bronya Sakina. Belf 78's and Lautari classics, Moldovan brass bands and 1961 field recordings of Rroma fiddlers playing half remembered Jewish melodies. Bukovinan and Hutsul bands and Maramures singers. It was, and still is, my personal Yiddish Rosetta Stone. And all of it given freely, even enthusiastically, the absolute opposite of my experience with the Yiddishist I had encountered up to that point (which will get its own essay soon enough.)
I still go back and listen to them today. And if you're looking for the amazing Yiddish singer Bronya Sakina, I digitized that tape and put it up for all to hear. Along with video recorded around the same time. (Why was this so hard to find?)
Thank you Mr. Cohen. I am forever grateful.
Check out Bob's blog, always entertaining.