Klezmer plants roots in Malta | Jakob Lakner

Clarinetist and lead of the German-based Yxalaq Klezmer Band, Jakob Lakner, speaks exclusively to MaltaToday about his student-founded band that took over the north of Germany and the upcoming workshop in Klezmer music he’ll be giving in Malta

Jakob Lakner: “This band started as a university project about Klezmer music and we’re now working on our third album and playing concerts all over Germany!”
Jakob Lakner: “This band started as a university project about Klezmer music and we’re now working on our third album and playing concerts all over Germany!”

Although Klezmer is one of the oldest genres of music in the world dating all the way back to the first century AD, not a lot of people know what it actually is. Unfortunately, the definitions don’t help much either; it’s been around for so long and so many people have played a part in its development, that Klezmer has outgrown its traditional roots in the Jewish community as wedding and funeral music, and has now become a mainstream, folk dance music that is enjoyed the world over.

In Malta, Klezmer doesn’t have a very long history, although, in certain ways, the instruments used in ghana can also be used in Klezmer, thus making these two genres distant cousins. But the Klezmorimalta Foundation, a recently-established NGO whose aim is to safeguard the traditional modes of creating acoustic music, is now looking at creating a Klezmer culture here in Malta – and that is to include concerts, workshops and even Malta’s very first Klezmer band.

This Klezmer band, as co-founder of the Foundation Birgit Albrecht explained “would need to have a very Maltese sound and identity – after all, we want to showcase Maltese talent!” And, in order to do this, the Klezmorimalta Foundation, with the support of the Malta Arts Fund, the Malta Society of Arts, and the Arts Council Malta, is now holding the first ever Workshop in Klezmer Music that will be free of charge to all accepted participants.

This week-long training, aimed at musicians, music students and music teachers, will be tutored by three internationally-acclaimed musicians who are flying to Malta specifically for the event. These will namely be the London-based fiddler and celebrated Klezmer author, Chris Haigh, accordionist and member of the UK group Affinitee, Basil Bunelik, and the lead of the Yxalag Klezmer Band, Jakob Lakner, who last year, performed at Pjazza Teatru Rjal.

Lakner is a German clarinettist who knows no bounds between classical, jazz and Klezmer music; and his performances are often a fusion of the three, creating an individual language that entices many to get up and dance.

 “Klezmer music is a really beautiful way of expressing myself,” says Lakner. “And this is mostly due to the fact that this genre allows the musician to use a lot of effects, which are really impulsive and can be very close to your personal mood at the time of the performance.

“Whether you scream, cry and laugh on your instrument, whether you play it loudly to create a feeling of pleasure or anger, or very softly and mystically to create a sense of sadness or intimacy, you can’t get it wrong in Klezmer,” he adds.

“In fact, most songs in this genre of music are in a minor modus and, therefore, very melancholic and full of joy at the same time – and that, there is what makes Klezmer music so special to me and many others.”

Lakner has been a part of the international Klezmer music scene since 2008, when he funded the German-based Yxalag Klezmer Band in Lübeck along with fellow students. “This band started as a university project about Klezmer music and rapidly became popular in the north of Germany,” he explains. “Now, we’re working on our third album and playing concerts all over Germany!

“Nevertheless, many wonder why we chose Klezmer,” he continues, “well, today, listening to music is incredibly easy, and the choice on offer is breathtaking. Undoubtedly, there are many great musicians in the world with an incredible technical level, and every musician should work on these aspects.

“Yet music is so much more than playing fast and virtuoso. You have to find the inner message and the feeling that that music gives you... Klezmer music is not a complicated kind of music, but it helps the musician get his or her message out there, and to come closer to the original idea of what makes music so special.”

For those who attended last year’s concert at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, this statement would definitely not come as a surprise. Yxalag, with Jakob at their helm, got the whole audience on its feet to dance, sing, tap and clap along with the band. It was fun and it was emotional; and it reminded many that a concert can be both good and interactive at the same time.

“The concert in Malta was a great experience for us,” reminisces Lakner. “We are so thankful to Birgit and Roelof, the organisers, who invited us to the Klezmorimalta Nights. It was great to connect with all the other musicians of the festival in the beautiful ambience, and I think the audience really enjoyed our concert; after all, seeing people dancing is the best feedback a musician or band can get!

“Having said that, I think the aura of Valletta, with its amazing architecture, really helped set the scene for us to get our message across,” he says. “We absolutely loved Malta, particularly the food and the kindness of its people, and I’m so excited to come back in April, and I hope that we, along with the other tutors and participants of the workshop, will have a great time there!”

A Workshop in Klezmer Music is currently taking place, and will run until Apri 25 from 09:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00 daily, at the Malta Society of Arts’ Building in Valletta. This workshop is free to all accepted participants. Anyone who wishes to join is kindly requested to send a short description of their background in music and a brief explanation of why they would like to join, to [email protected]