Tummel – Escaping the Francophone-Anglophone Dichotomy

Slum-based Punk Band Orkestar Kriminal Launches its Debut Album Tummel at Divan Orange next Friday on March 27th

  • Orkestar Kriminal Photo Jessica Danielle Cohen

For those unfamiliar with this Montreal-based band, Orkestar Kriminal is a group of eight diverse musicians who label themselves as “a band of punks.” They formed the band in 2012 in order to obtain free passes to the Pop Montreal Festival and have stayed together ever since.

The members are all talented improvisers who met lead singer and guitarist Giselle Webber when they worked with her to form the orchestra for Gigi French, Webber’s French jazz-diva persona, which is known for her improvisational performances.

This experience was especially important for their album Tummel – which means chaos in Yiddish – because it was recorded the way albums were created in the 1920s. This method consists of spreading the musicians throughout the room around ribbon microphones. To mix the album, you have to place the microphones and artists in the perfect locations since the recording can barely be edited afterwards.

Webber confessed that recording in this style was a lot of pressure for the band but that it was also very rewarding because it is exactly the way music was recorded in the old days. “A lot of weird sounds you might not be expecting show up” she said, “and you can’t alter it. You have to accept things that are imperfect.” According to Webber, this type of work forces one to accept flaws as an artist. “A lot of beauty comes out of that which you couldn’t hear with modern recording,” she said.

Another particularity of this album is its cultural background. It compiles criminal songs from the 1920s from countries all around the world. Webber first came up with the idea for this album when she received a scholarship from KlezKanada, a Jewish cultural organization that holds a retreat in the Laurentides every summer, which gathers the best musicians from all over the world to give workshops and teach people how to play instruments.

There, she attended a workshop on underground Yiddish music that really caught her attention. Webber says she immediately wanted to play these songs live. “They were catchy,” she said. “They talked to the funk in me; they talked about hard times, but in a really well written way. There are lots of plays on words and smart lines in them.”

Orkestar Kriminal even received a grant from the government to record this album, which is particularly ironic when you consider that most of these songs were illegal at the time of their creation. For example, the sentence in Russia during the 1920s was execution for anyone caught performing or recording “Polomany Kryla,” a song which comes from the Roma people.

Webber started looking for criminalized music from around the world. In a way, her research almost became musical anthropology. “Most of the songs I found were thanks to word-to-mouth,” she added. “At first, I was asking everyone I knew, but then people started coming to me with songs.”

Webber chose to sing in Yiddish, Greek, Spanish, Hebrew and Russian, but not in French or English, in order to escape the old Anglophone-Francophone debate that’s all too familiar in Montreal. “This [multi-lingual] album is based on Montreal and all the communities that we have here,” she said.

Performing these songs taught Webber a lot, as every song had a history that made it a sensitive subject. She explained that one has to be careful culturally and use the songs appropriately. “It’s especially important with pronunciation. For every song, I had a tutor, a teacher, a connection to the community.”

With this album, Webber hopes to bring all the communities together. Tummel has political implications: as it is in neither French nor English, it aims to recognize that Quebec is a province of immigrants. Webber advocates that “we are all on foreign soil, anyone here not a native is an immigrant and [it is important that we] recognize ourselves as an immigrant nation.” She hopes that we can “swallow the pill of colonialism, get away from the French-English debate over who owns the land [and] all join together.”

And if Tummel proves anything, it’s just that: there is a certain transformative power in music.

Orkestar Kriminal // March 27th 2015 // Divan Orange (4234 St-Laurent Blvd.) // 8:30 p.m.// tickets $12 at the door

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