Members of Dengue Fever: Jews’ Night Out

December 10th, 2011 | Marc Weidenbaum | 3 Comments | Categories: Blog, Events, Tikva Records

  • Christmas Eve is, Zac Holtzman jokes, “Jews’ night out.” The joke lends a title to a song he and members of his band, Dengue Fever, will be playing at Tikva Records tonight. (There are two shows: one at 7:00pm and the other at 8:30pm.)

    In many ways, the Tikva concert also serves as a “Jews’ night out” occasion. The band is known for its Cambodian-influenced music, thanks in large part to its singer, Chhom Nimol. The Tikva show is an opportunity, as Holtzman put it, “to appreciate the other religions and nationalities of the other members of the band.” (Four of the six members, including Nimol, will be performing at Tikva.)

    On the phone from his home in Los Angeles in advance of their trip north, he talked about playing for Cambodian school children, his brother’s education on the accordion, and the melodic overlaps between Jewish and Cambodian music, among other things. Of any deeper associations, though, he said, “No, I haven’t met any Jews in Cambodia. No lost tribes there.”

    Tikva Records: Who form the band will be playing?

    Zac Holtzman: Nimol, and my brother, [organist] Ethan, and [bassist] Senon Williams and myself, so it’s the four of us. The only we’re missing are the drummer, Paul Smith, and the saxophonist, David Ralicke.

    Tikva: Does not having a drummer force you to change the arrangements of songs?

    Holtzman: Yeah, drastically. Our approach and our sound — but we’ve done it a few times in the past, for smaller gigs. It’s pretty cool. You don’t only lose stuff. You gain sensitivity, and notice other things within songs.

    Tikva: Various bands and musicians playing at Tikva have mixed cultural heritages. Your band is unqiue, in that it’s firmly associated with Cambodian music. What does it mean to shift that to Hanukkah, to Judaism, for even a brief period of time?

    Holtzman: It’s good. You know, the Cambodian aspect of our band is generally what gets most of the attention and makes us stand out, so it’s nice to appreciate the other religions and nationalities of the other members of the band. It’s cool. My brother is bringing his accordion. He studied accordion for a number of years, and we’re going to play some more traditional Jewish songs, and some songs we wrote. One of the songs is titled “Jews’ Night Out,” which is Christmas Eve. [laughs] It was a friend of mine, a Jewish friend, he said, “You could own the town, it’s such a quiet time.”

    Tikva: The melodies that have marked your music are especially exciting to an American listener because they’re less familiar. Are there modal or melodic patterns, peculiar overlaps, you’ve noticed, as you’ve worked on the more Jewish side of things in advance of this concert?

    Holtzman: Maybe the Sephardic scale. Maybe that one might — yeah, that one kind of overlaps in both styles. But, some of the stuff, like one of the songs we’re going to do, was written by my brother’s accordion teacher Milton Mann, who was a very well-known accordion teacher. He was, like, the teacher of teachers. He taught accordion teacher across the country, and played on lots of famous albums. He wrote this one song we’re going to do.

    Tikva: You have not yet been to the Tikva space.

    Holtzman: Not yet.

    Tikva: It’s pretty small. Have you played in small spaces recently?

    Holtzman: On this last tour we did workshops with kids who were learning arts and how to play traditional Cambodian music, and we’d go to their schools, and some of their rooms were smaller. But at night we’d play out in the street to 5,000 or 6,000 people

    Tikva: Any specific Hanukkah memory? My strongest one is simply of the wax of the candles collecting on tin foil underneath the menorah.

    Holtzman: My parents had their old menorah, that we still use. It’s this really cool metal, square-shaped thing. I remember singing the songs with my dad, and holding the candle and lighting them, and stuff. Guess they trusted me a little more with fire.

    Photos courtesy of by Marc Walker Photography (marcwalker.com). Walker explained: “The shot of Zac was taken in Vientiane Laos at the Japanese Budo Center where their concert was held. The shot of children was at Wat Ang Seung Pagoda in Takeo, Cambodia, on November 20, 2011.”

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3 Responses and Counting...

  • Caroline Bracco 12.10.2011

    I can’t wait for tonight. Should be a whirlwind of cultural resonance.

  • Visited the store for the third time for the Dengue Fever night, and it was everything anyone could have wanted. Pop, psychedelic, surfish ska, along with great lyrics in Khmer AND what may be the world’s only Asian/American cross-cultural love song (the Spanish phrase comes to mind: “Amor de lejos es amor de pendejos” but that is another story some of us know well). And to boot, one of the most beautiful accordeon waltzes ever heard. Plus vegetarian “duck” banh mi sandwiches prepared by dancing chefs, keeping themselves warm at the food table outside. Might I also add that usually the only place with a food table is the Central American born-again Evangelical church, almost next door. My Jew Pride shined,,,,and it was shown. Mazel tov, Dengue Fever and Tikva.

  • What an interesting event, conversation and amazing band! Congratulations, David and Zac, for opening another incredible experience for SF! I wish I could have been there… Thanks, Zac, for meeting the kids from the M.A.P. in Phnom Phen. They were thrilled!

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