Meet the JamJews November Artist of the Month: Eitan Kantor!
JJ: What is your Jewish background like?
I grew up attending a Conservative synagogue, and I went to Jewish day school until 5th grade. I was a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and have worked for Ramah camps in Wisconsin, Colorado and the berkshires. So I was pretty rooted in Conservative institutions. But for a long time, I wanted to be orthodox. I kept kosher more strictly than the rest of my family and I tried to keep shabbos. I wore a yarmulke all the time. I was obsessed with the rules, and I would get very upset if I accidentally broke the rules. I have come to understand this as an early manifestation of my OCD.
JJ: How has your music been inspired (or not) by Judaism and Jewish music?
Much of my work features dense multitrack harmony and lots of ornamentation, either in the Ashkenazi style or sometimes in a style influenced by Mizrahi Jewish singers like Ofra Haza or Shlomi Shabat. I think my love of melismatic ornamentation definitely comes from the Jewish music I heard at home and in the synagogue growing up. My mom’s side of the family was very involved in the synagogue choir when they were younger, and those folks have excellent voices. Family gatherings often feature spirited song sessions with beautiful harmonies and lots of riffs and runs by my uncle. So I had the sounds of fancy ornamentation and choral harmony in my ears from a young age. And on the other side of the family, I have two cousins who are cantors. Hanging out with them brings even more Ashkenazi cantorial style into my music. And Cantor Sharon Nathanson, the musical leader of the synagogue that my family attends, taught me a huge amount about Jewish music during middle school and high school. That tradition takes up so much of my brain that I would need to try very hard to write music that doesn’t have a noticeable influence from synagogue music.
JJ: What is your current Jewish practice and identity like?
I am very involved in Jewish communal life (having socially-distanced outdoor shabbat dinner with my immediate family every week, attending some zoom services, taking a class from Victoria Hanna about the hebrew alphabet), but I do not consider myself to be religious. I seldom pray when I am not leading a service. When I do pray, I think of it as an opportunity to increase my empathy and my presence in the moment. I identify with the folks who are part of the secular Jewish organization The Workers Circle because so much of their Jewish communal practice involves pursuing social justice and enriching Jewish culture. I’m certain that my Jewish practice will change over time, as it has already changed quite a bit over the years.
JJ: What musical projects have you been involved in, and where do you see yourself going musically?
I recently spent 9 months as an Artist in Residence at Hadar’s Rising Song Institute (RSI), where I studied with Joey Weisenberg, Rabbi Yosef Goldman and Deborah Sacks Mintz. The residency was a deep dive into the concept of nigun (communal spiritual melody) - we explored history, music theory, creative process and songleading. During my time at RSI I had the opportunity to sing on Batya Levine’s album Karov and Deborah Sacks Mintz’ album The Narrow and the Expanse.
This past summer I composed and recorded a bunch of music for a film, but I can’t tell you anything about the film yet! Stay tuned!
Before starting at RSI I played for four years with the Colorado Klezmer Fusion band, Hadgaba. I miss playing with those folks! You can check out the E.P. I recorded with Hadgaba on Spotify.
Like many artists trying to adapt to the pandemic, I think my new path involves working on my home recording and home production skills. I’ve been experimenting with trance-inducing repetitive patterns and incorporating strange videos to go with my music. I have also been exploring making super silly songs because I see a lot of very serious online music programs these days and not enough silly ones.
JJ: How would you describe your genre?
I dip into a lot of genres but I’m not an expert in any genre. On any given day you might hear me making traditional cantorial music, slow klezmer fiddle, fast balkan dance or terrible punk music.
JJ: If you were to create a themed tefillah (prayer) service in any genre, what would you choose and why?
Compassion. Compassion is a muscle that we need to work out to keep strong, and to me one of the main purposes of tefillah and religion in general should be to increase our ability to feel and act on compassion.
JJ: Where can people learn more about your music, and support you as an artist?
Check out my facebook page! I post all of my music there, and importantly I post new music by talented friends and colleagues. I am totally inspired by the amount of creative new music being produced in the egalitarian Jewish world these days. You can also check out eitankantor.com, and I’ve got a few things on Spotify as well.
JJ: Anything else you'd like JamJews to know?
Since I’m used to performing with a band, preparing for three hours of solo livestreaming with JamJews has been an awesome and difficult challenge. Thank you for the opportunity!