Montreal-based 10-piece band Orkestar Kriminal plays the White Room on July 16. (Photo courtesy Joachim Magdalena)

Band brings multilingual interwar-era gangster songs to Nanaimo

Orkestar Kriminal’s newest CD has songs in Yiddish, Russian, Greek, Spanish and Pashto

Montreal-based 10-piece band Orkestar Kriminal plays interwar-era gangster songs from Eastern Europe and other parts of the non-English-speaking world, and polyglot vocalist Giselle Claudia Webber said finding material is “kind of like a musical anthropological project.”

Webber, who was raised on the Lower Mainland, said some songs she found as sheet music, if they had been transcribed. In the case of songs from the Soviet Union, Webber said the authorities outlawed their distribution, forcing her to rely on audio recordings of seniors singing from memory.

“I would find these old field recordings and I have a lot of archivist friends that are very into sharing what they’ve recorded and found because it’s music that would have died out with this older population,” she said. “Especially we’ve lost so much of the Yiddish stuff because of the Holocaust and it’s important that this music doesn’t die. The stories they’re telling are true and real and very, very beautiful and poignant.”

The band’s most recent album, Ryobra, named after the slang term for Soviet-era bootleg phonograph recordings, sees Webber sing in Yiddish, Russian, Greek, Spanish and Pashto.

This month Orkestar Kriminal tours Western Canada for the first time, with a show at Nanaimo’s White Room on July 16. The tour also has stops in Yellowknife and Dawson City, Yukon.

“I’ve never spent any time in the Canadian arctic, so I’m really excited because I speak Greenlandic, which has a lot of similarities with Inuktitut,” Webber said. “So I’m really excited to practise my Inuktitut a little bit.”

Webber said the concept for Orkestar Kriminal came to her after attending a klezmer music workshop on Yiddish criminal underworld songs. She said the band also allows her to indulge her linguistic interests.

“I already loved Greek rembetika music and Mexican narcocorrido songs,” she said. “And I realized in the interwar period everybody was singing about this because everyone was incredibly destitute financially and it led to often a life of crime … and this happened so much that it all kind of seeped into folk music.”

Webber said that although it may be hard to track down 90-year-old foreign crime ballads, there’s no shortage. “You just have to talk to the right people.”

“It’s fascinating. It’s kind of like the layers of an onion, you know? The more you peel back, the more it stinks,” Webber said. “I keep finding more and more things, especially in Russian. Jeez, there must be about 1,000 old gangster tunes in Russian, so it’s exciting. I love it.”

WHAT’S ON … Orkestar Kriminal performs at the White Room, 4 Church St., on Tuesday, July 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets $15, available here.



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19 brings curbside ‘parklet’ patios back to downtown Nanaimo

Nanaimo city council votes for restaurant service area expansions to meet social distancing measures

Nanaimo council votes 5-4 to change covenant to allow for north-end condo building

Neighbours express opposition to six-storey, 66-unit building on McRobb Avenue

Nanaimo man scores viral hit with stop-motion tribute to ‘Schitt’s Creek’

Todd Cameron used vintage Fisher Price toys to create one-minute music video

RDN Transit will start collecting bus fare again next week

Passenger limits will remain in effect on buses

Inquest into 2016 shooting death of Nanaimo man postponed due to pandemic

Craig Andrew Ford death inquest was to be held July 27

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Tahsis opens its gates to visitors to save local economy

Seasonal local businesses that rely on tourism hope to survive despite drop in tourist numbers

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

Study looks at feasibility of Vancouver Island abattoir

South Island Prosperity Partnership funds study looking at local meat processing

Island city cancels plan for homeless camp; exploring alternative option

The plan heard strong objection from neighbouring residents and businesses

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

Most Read