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Songs in the Key of Hanukkah

NPR – Erran Baron Cohen Updates Hanukkah Songs

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Publication: NPR
Article: Erran Baron Cohen Updates Hanukkah Songs
Date: December 8, 2008

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▲ To hear the full interview with Erran Baron Cohen and a guest appearance from his brother Sacha, click the audio player.

Every holiday season is the return of special traditions: stories you tell, foods you eat — or sometimes try to avoid — and the songs you sing. But who says you can’t fold in some new traditions too? That is exactly what composer and multi-instrumentalist Erran Baron Cohen sought out to do on his new eclectic collection, Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah.

If that name sounds familiar, he is the brother of Sacha Baron Cohen — known to most for his characters “Borat” and “Ali G.” If you’ve seen those films, then you have also heard Erran Baron Cohen’s compositions; he has provided music for all of his brother’s projects. As he explained to Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, he knew he wanted to write new Hanukkah music because the songs he grew up with were unsatisfying.

“I remember from my childhood,” recalls Cohen, “listening to Hanukkah songs at home and listening to these children singing slightly out of key and some wonky old piano player to make a terrible record. The idea was to create a new concept in Jewish holiday music, something that everybody would enjoy listening to.”

Cohen also decided he wanted his songs to tell the story of Hanukkah, which he believes few people think about. “It’s quite a sad story,” Cohen says, “but also quite hopeful; it’s about coming out of oppression, fighting tyranny, which [are] universal things that are very relevant for today.”

NPR – From Baron Cohen, Hanukkah Songs In A New Key

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Publication: NPR
Article: From Baron Cohen, Hanukkah Songs In A New Key
Interview with Terry Gross
Date: December 18, 2008

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Composer Erran Baron Cohen’s latest CD Songs in the Key of Hanukkah offers a new take on traditional sounds. He talks about the album — and about collaborating with his brother Sacha Baron Cohen on the movie Borat.

Recorded in London, Berlin and Tel Aviv, the compilation of songs combines klezmer, reggae, electronica and hip hop as it reinterprets classics. The album even features New York rapper Y-Love rhyming in Yiddish.

Erran is a founding member of ZOHAR Sound System and DJ’s internationally and in London clubs.

Haaretz – Borat’s brother – a.k.a. Erran Baron Cohen – releases Hanukkah CD

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Publication: Haaretz
Article: Borat’s brother – a.k.a. Erran Baron Cohen – releases Hanukkah CD
By The Forward and Nathan Burstein
Date: November 26, 2008

Traditional and original songs featured in English, Ladino and Hebrew, with collaborations by Israeli singers.

Borat’s brother has recorded a Hanukkah album.

Erran Baron Cohen, brother of British comedian and “Borat” creator Sacha Baron Cohen, released his first holiday-themed collection, “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah,” on November 18, offering up original compositions as well as new, genre-fusing updates of classics, such as “Hanukkah oh Hanukkah” and “Ma’oz Tzur.”

Recorded in London, Tel Aviv and Berlin, the album features songs in English, Ladino and Hebrew, with musical collaborations by Israeli singers Idan Raichel and Avivit Caspi, among others. “Hanukkah has always been a kid-focused holiday,” Erran Baron Cohen said in a press release, “so the challenge was how to transform the music so that it was cool and interesting for adults and yet something that the whole family could enjoy.”

The resulting album, which merges such musical styles as klezmer, reggae, hip hop and tango, is in stark contrast with Erran Baron Cohen’s less family-friendly entertainment. The London-raised composer wrote the score for the 2006 mockumentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” in which his brother’s antisemitic Central Asian protagonist toured the United States in hopes of meeting Pamela Anderson. Despite the official protests that the film drew from the Kazakh government, Erran Baron Cohen was later asked to write a symphony for the Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra, which was performed in London in May 2007.

His next undertaking is another nonreligious affair: the score to his brother’s latest film, an as-yet untitled comedy about a gay Austrian fashion reporter named Bruno.

New York Magazine – ‘Borat’ Composer Erran Baron Cohen on His New Hanukkah Album, His Brother Sacha, and the Music of ‘Bruno’

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Publication: New York Magazine
Article: ‘Borat’ Composer Erran Baron Cohen on His New Hanukkah Album, His Brother Sacha, and the Music of ‘Bruno’
By Lauren Salazar
Date: November 18, 2008

The musical force behind Da Ali G Show, Borat, and the upcoming Bruno, Erran Baron Cohen (he’s Sacha’s brother) also somehow managed to find time to remake a whole collection of holiday classics just in time for the Festival of Light. Songs in the Key of Hanukkah, out today, features collaborations from world-renowned Jewish artists, including Brooklyn’s own Y-Love. Cohen spoke with Vulture recently about Yiddish rapping, the gayest CD in his collection, and what childhood games might have inspired Borat’s naked wrestling scene.

So, why a Hanukkah CD?
Well, the idea is sort of one of the more unusual projects I have been involved with. To take Hanukkah, which is a great festival that I always enjoyed as a kid singing all the songs. I remember we had this terrible record our parents played with children singing slightly off tune to a really old piano player. As the years went on, I realized they were all really bad tunes and all badly played. So the idea was to use story of Hanukkah and take some of the music of it and update it to make it really cool.

Who are some of these musicians on the record?
They’re not so well known in the U.S., but they were some of the interesting singers I was aware of here. Yasmin Levy is an incredible diva from the world-music scene. It was an amazing experience just to hear her sing. Idan Raichel is one of the big pop stars in Israel, sort of one of the more interesting people working there.

What’s the CD’s appeal for a recovering Catholic like myself?
I think it is aimed at Catholics actually. No, I think the hook is that it’s good music. It’s taking something that’s old and bringing it into the 21st century.

Do your kids have a favorite song?
“Oh Dreidel”; they love to dance around. And they love the rap track with Y-Love. He’s a New York–based Jewish rapper that converted to Judaism and raps in Yiddish.

Can you rap in Yiddish?
I don’t even think I could rap in English. But Y-Love can do it, and it sounds great. When we recorded that, we were in Berlin, so he’s this black, Jewish rapper in Berlin, and it was quite surreal but really powerful.

What was it like scoring for Da Ali G Show?
What was great about it was I got to remix some tracks. Like by Supergrass and Chrissy Hynde who were guests on the show; they didn’t quite know it was going to happen. They started to sing their songs and I was in the studio, and I remixed almost live and brought in ridiculous bass sounds. Eventually it turned into a completely different kind of extreme drum-and-bass hip-hop tune.

Do you and Sacha share a love of catching people off guard like that?
I think I certainly like pushing things to see how far you can take something, and Sacha has that as well. Certainly, we have a sense of humor. Well, he doesn’t have much of one. I am the funny one in the family.

How do you score something like a naked wrestling scene?
Well, the naked wrestling scene has no music. We decided that was such an extreme scene, sort of “the scene” of the film — certainly the most disgusting scene — that music would have detracted from the reality of the whole thing.

Was that scene based on any of your real-life experiences?
Do you mean did Sacha and I do any nude wrestling around the house? That’s interesting, I can’t remember being nude when wrestling with Sacha. I may have been wearing underpants at certain times, but they remained firmly on during our wrestling moments.

Can you tell me about the Bruno score? How different is it from the score for Borat?
It’s a lot gayer. That’s the key thing, I think. There’s a lot of gay influence in the music. I am investigating a lot of gay things at the moment. I just bought the CD called Gayfest 2008, and that’s my main influence.

What is on that CD?
It’s got a guy with a sort of muscle-y bare-chested look on the front. It’s got Jackie ‘O,’ “Before He Cheats.” It’s contemporary gay club, dance pop.