Who would a guess that such an inane and somewhat annoying song such as Hava Nagila would have such a wealth of history, and more face lifts than Joan Rivers? Well filmmaker Roberta Grossman
, and in her amusing and fascinating documentary she traces how this staple of Barmitzvahs and Weddings went from Ukraine to YouTube over the course of a few generations.
Over a century ago it started life out as a simple nigron : a musical Jewish prayer without words, in a Ukrainian Synagogue. Two competing families now claim that it was their grandfather who later added words to make it become this happy song that seems to connect tradition with community, and is like a defiant rebuttal to oppression.
Goldman unearths a some staggering archival footage of the impressive amount of some of the many times that the song has popped up in popular culture over the decades. Sometimes in movies like ‘Wedding Day Crashers’, ‘Private Benjamin,’ ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie, ‘Wedding Crashers’, ‘Daddy Day Care’ ‘The Jazz Singer’ etc. Often as soundtracks for Olympic Skating Competitions. But it was the staggering array of major recording stars …. very few of them Jewish ….. who made this song their very own.
The two most notable ones being Connie Francis , who needed another hit in 1959 after her smash ‘Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites’ (in the charts 91 weeks) so her Jewish Manager suggest ‘Jewish Favorites’. And Harry Belafonte recorded it a couple of times, and is still the one American singer who is still most associated with it today.
Chubby Checker made his version a Twist, Josephine Baker recorded her take in Havana, Glen Campbell gave his a country twang, Lena Horne turned into a civil rights anthem, Frank Slay made it a rock’ n roll instrumental hit, Celia Cruz samba-ed to her record, Bruce Springsteen’s rocked to it, Elvis Presley shook his hips to it, Allen Sherman made his a parody, anti-folk singer Regina Spektor gave hers a contemporary edge. The best/worse was Bob Dylan who totally murdered it and took every trace of joy out of his version.
Goldman has a great deal fun in her search for interviewing countless learned Jews to try and and find why this of all songs should be so universally popular. In a Delicatessen very tongue in cheek the question is posed … what is more Jewish, Hava Nagila or gefilte fish? No-one can answer.
A great deal of fun : although I don’t think I ever need/want to hear the song again at least for a very long time.
Posted by queerguru at 02:29
Labels: 2013, documentary, history, Jewish, music