Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Nu! A daygeh? About couplets and Pesach Burstein

UPDATE: I'm reposting to add the 60-second video I just made for Instagram, my new social media addiction. Only about a dozen people on Instagram seem interested in Yiddish but it's so much fun to make square videos I'll probably do more. So here it is, go ahead, click:


Many artists in the Yiddish theater called themselves "coupletists" - this meant they prided themselves for improvising brief verses, usually funny or topical, on the spot - though I'm sure they often repeated their verses at show after show, pretending to be extemporaneous...

Evidently even in mit'n drinen (right in the middle of things), even during a serious or sad operetta, these performers came right up to the front of the stage and started to sing about whatever struck their fancy: they'd sometimes mock audience members, sometimes make daring rhymes about politics and politicious of the day...

Pesach Burstein (1896–1986) was a coupletist and his song "Nu, a Daygeh," is a lovely example of the form. It doesn't have, shall we say, a coherent narrative, but it's funny.

Click this picture to listen to and/or buy our recording of the song:


Burstein (pictured), born in Warsaw but known as the Vilner Komiker, in this song makes up ridiculous verses about people around town, then says, Nu, a daygeh!? which I've translated for the video as "what, me worry?" but which might more properly be "What, you think I should worry about this?" or "How is this my problem?"

The rest of the band, a Greek chorus, answers: Staytsh vos heyst!? which I translate as "What's the meaning of this? What're you talking about!?"

If you buy the digital album it comes with all the texts and translations for the songs.

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