Klemzer Music at The Dowse

Author: Rachel Healy, Communications Manager
Klezmer Rebs is an eight piece Wellington band formed in 2002 that plays (mostly) klezmer music, an engaging style of world/folk music born out of the Yiddish/Jewish culture of eastern Europe in the 1800s and 1900s. Klezmer then went to America and in the early 1900s began to fuse with jazz and swing. There has been a worldwide revival of klezmer music since the 1980s.

Klezmer Rebs instrumentation includes guitar and mandolin, clarinet, violin, accordion, keyboards, trumpet, trombone, helicon (like a tuba), recorder and vocals. About half of the group members are Jewish, 3 are ex-Yanks, half are kiwis, and we have one anarchic Swiss clarinet player.

Urs Signer features in the NZ film documentary Operation 8 as he was one of those arrested in the 2007 'terror raids'. He was described in a NZ Herald review of the Operation 8 film:

"Urs Signer, a Swiss activist anarchist clarinettist, whose woodwind stylings are clearly a danger to any decent society."

Together the Rebs capture the true klezmer spirit with songs of joy, sorrow and rebellion.

The Klezmer Rebs have been shaking 'tuchases' in Wellington and places north since 2002. Over the past few years crowds danced to klezmer music in Palmerston North, Greytown and New Plymouth, as well as at Bar Bodega in Wellington. In 2010 the Rebs where honoured to perform for the Prime Minister and other dignitaries at the opening of the Anne Frank Exhibition at Te Papa in February. Other appearances included the 2008 Parihaka Festival, the New Plymouth Festival of Lights in 2008 and 2010, the Festival of the Elements in Porirua (February 2005, 2006, 2009), the Wellington Folk Festival (October 2005 and 2007), The Newtown Festival (2008 and 2011) Te Papa for the World Music Festival (2006) and the 2006 and 2008 Wellington Fringe Festival. In 2009 The Rebs wowed a huge crowd at the Wellington City Council's Magic Gardens (Botanic Gardens Soundshell), and played at the Organic River Festival in Levin, Waitangi Park on Waitangi day and at the Newtown Festival in 2007, 2008 and headlining on the main stage in 2011. The Rebs have twice performed on Radio NZ National Programme's Friday Live with Jim Mora.

Hearing Klezmer Rebs live expect big band and vocal arrangements of genuine old klezmer tunes – from the lively genuine Yiddish wedding music (freylachs and bulgars) to the delicate slice of life stories from the east European shtetl (ghettos).

The Rebs world music appeals to everyone. While most of songs are sung in Yiddish (that mostly-Germanic and very onomatopoeic language), they also perform partisan songs from Italy, Russian folk tunes, French chansons, Latin cowboy love songs, and 1940s swing vocal songs. Their own quirky, politically charged multi-lingual originals are some of the most popular crowd tunes.

The Rebs are a performance band – full of story songs and interaction with the audience. The songs are portrayed dramatically as well as aurally.

The Klezmer Rebs has just released the CD Anarchia Total on Ode Records. The Anarchia Total title tune was written by Urs Signer following his arrest on 'terrorism' charges and is a call to action for freedom and justice. Recorded live (mostly), the Anarchia Total CD also features classic klezmer tunes, some unconventional klezmer (a Yiddish tango and a klezmer western swing song Blue Klezmer Moon) plus a rude Russian song, the classic Minnie the Moocher, and a remix by NZ DJ Cut Loose.

Just add shmaltz is a 14 track, 50 minute studio record recorded in 2008. It features an original kiwi-klezmer tune, traditional klezmer songs, and the odd French, Russian and even Latin songs. So enjoy it already! The Reb's 2nd CD, Live at the Wellington Folk Festival 2005 captures the Rebs in full flight.

All three CDs are available through the Klezmer Rebs website and on-line through their Bandcamp site

The Rebs also contributed the track Kumt Kumt Khaverim to the recently released Wellington World Music Compilation CD.

To hear what the Klezmer Rebs look and sound like, visit their website and watch videos of recent performances and listen to mp3 versions of Rebs songs. Visit their facebook site at