Musician Erran Baron Cohen

December 18, 2008

  • Audio for today’s show will be available at approx. 3:00 p.m. ET.

Erran Baron Cohen

EnlargeIan West / AP Photo/PA

Erran Baron Cohen listens to the Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra as they practice one of his pieces in central London.

Fresh Air from WHYY, December 18, 2008 – Composer Erran Baron Cohen’s latest CD Songs in the Key of Hanukkah offers a new take on traditional sounds. He talks about the album — and about collaborating with his brother Sacha Baron Cohen on the movie Borat.

Recorded in London, Berlin and Tel Aviv, the compilation of songs combines klezmer, reggae, electronica and hip hop as it reinterprets classics. The album even features New York rapper Y-Love rhyming in Yiddish.

Erran is a founding member of ZOHAR Sound System and DJ’s internationally and in London clubs.


Does this man look eerily familiar?

‘Borat’ Composer Erran Baron Cohen on His New Hanukkah Album, His Brother Sacha, and the Music of ‘Bruno’

11/18/08 at 4:15 PM

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‘Borat’ Composer Erran Baron Cohen on His New Hanukkah Album, His Brother Sacha, and the Music of ‘Bruno’

The musical force behind Da Ali G Show, Borat, and the upcoming Bruno, Erran Baron Cohen (he’s Sacha’s brother) also somehow managed to find time to remake a whole collection of holiday classics just in time for the Festival of Light. Songs in the Key of Hanukkah, out today, features collaborations from world-renowned Jewish artists, including Brooklyn’s own Y-Love. Cohen spoke with Vulture recently about Yiddish rapping, the gayest CD in his collection, and what childhood games might have inspired Borat‘s naked wrestling scene.

So, why a Hanukkah CD?
Well, the idea is sort of one of the more unusual projects I have been involved with. To take Hanukkah, which is a great festival that I always enjoyed as a kid singing all the songs. I remember we had this terrible record our parents played with children singing slightly off tune to a really old piano player. As the years went on, I realized they were all really bad tunes and all badly played. So the idea was to use story of Hanukkah and take some of the music of it and update it to make it really cool.

Who are some of these musicians on the record?
They’re not so well known in the U.S., but they were some of the interesting singers I was aware of here. Yasmin Levy is an incredible diva from the world-music scene. It was an amazing experience just to hear her sing. Idan Raichel is one of the big pop stars in Israel, sort of one of the more interesting people working there.

What’s the CD’s appeal for a recovering Catholic like myself?
I think it is aimed at Catholics actually. No, I think the hook is that it’s good music. It’s taking something that’s old and bringing it into the 21st century.

Do your kids have a favorite song?
“Oh Dreidel”; they love to dance around. And they love the rap track with Y-Love. He’s a New York–based Jewish rapper that converted to Judaism and raps in Yiddish.

Can you rap in Yiddish?
I don’t even think I could rap in English. But Y-Love can do it, and it sounds great. When we recorded that, we were in Berlin, so he’s this black, Jewish rapper in Berlin, and it was quite surreal but really powerful.

What was it like scoring for Da Ali G Show?
What was great about it was I got to remix some tracks. Like by Supergrass and Chrissy Hynde who were guests on the show; they didn’t quite know it was going to happen. They started to sing their songs and I was in the studio, and I remixed almost live and brought in ridiculous bass sounds. Eventually it turned into a completely different kind of extreme drum-and-bass hip-hop tune.

Do you and Sacha share a love of catching people off guard like that?
I think I certainly like pushing things to see how far you can take something, and Sacha has that as well. Certainly, we have a sense of humor. Well, he doesn’t have much of one. I am the funny one in the family.

How do you score something like a naked wrestling scene?
Well, the naked wrestling scene has no music. We decided that was such an extreme scene, sort of “the scene” of the film — certainly the most disgusting scene — that music would have detracted from the reality of the whole thing.

Was that scene based on any of your real-life experiences?
Do you mean did Sacha and I do any nude wrestling around the house? That’s interesting, I can’t remember being nude when wrestling with Sacha. I may have been wearing underpants at certain times, but they remained firmly on during our wrestling moments.

Can you tell me about the Bruno score? How different is it from the score for Borat?
It’s a lot gayer. That’s the key thing, I think. There’s a lot of gay influence in the music. I am investigating a lot of gay things at the moment. I just bought the CD called Gayfest 2008, and that’s my main influence.

What is on that CD?
It’s got a guy with a sort of muscle-y bare-chested look on the front. It’s got Jackie ‘O,’ “Before He Cheats.” It’s contemporary gay club, dance pop.

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The musician Erran Baron Cohen has used the coming holiday as an occasion to release his album “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah,” which offers 21st century takes on the holiday’s familiar tunes. (For example it includes a hip-hop version of “Dreidel” performed by the Orthodox Jewish rapper Y-Love.)

Mr. Baron Cohen, the frontman of the world-beat band Zohar (and a brother of the “Borat” comedian Sacha Baron Cohen), said that it was no coincidence that so many of these musical projects are promoted around Hanukkah, a holiday that often arrives hand in hand with Christmas. “With the record industry,” he said, “that’s their key time to sell anything.”

But Mr. Baron Cohen added that Hanukkah was more mirthful than the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “The big, serious festivals have great music, but they’re also very heavy,” he said. “They are about repentance and atoning for sins, so maybe doing a light-hearted album is not the most proper thing.”


Jews of the world unite (Yes, Hasidic and Non) as ERRAN BARON COHEN the composer for BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN and brother of the titular BORAT character SACHA BARON COHEN has “upped the ante” for Holiday music world round with his NEW LINE RECORDS release of SONGS IN THE KEY OF HANUKKAH which is available NOW!!!!

Keep reading on for more information about this momentous release as well to check out the official “DREIDEL” music video featuring JULES BROOKES and Y-LOVE!

SONGS IN THE KEY OF HANNUKAH:

Who:
New Line Records is excited to announce the recent release of Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah. The album was created and produced by composer and multi-instrumentalist Erran Baron Cohen, brother of Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen.  Baron Cohen scored the original music for his brother’s film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (in which he rewrote the Kazakhstani national anthem), as well as his hit TV series, Da Ali G Show, where he collaborated with the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Travis, and Supergrass among others. He has also released two internationally acclaimed records as part of his band ZOHAR, which fuses Hebrew and Arabic samples, electronic soundscapes, dub and drum and bass rhythms.

What:
“Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah is a record that takes Hanukkah music to a place it’s never been before. It’s a musical voyage that bears repeated listening both for adults and kids who will love to hear the re-workings of the songs they already know as well as the new, original tracks,” says Baron Cohen. “Hanukkah has always been a kid-focused holiday so the challenge was how to transform the music so that it was cool and interesting for adults and yet something that the whole family could enjoy.”  Recorded in London, Berlin and Tel Aviv, the songs combine klezmer, reggae, electronica, hip hop, tango, pop and other genres, all fluently woven into something uniquely Baron Cohen’s. The album contains five reinterpretations of classic favorites as well as five original tunes created exclusively for this project, all sung in English, Hebrew or Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish). They are performed by some world-class Jewish singers, including Israeli superstar Idan Raichel, world-music diva Yasmin Levy and New York City-based rapper Y-Love (who actually rhymes in Yiddish!) to name but a few. The result is a record that is both meaningful AND fun.

When:
The seed for Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah was planted a year ago when New Line Records president Jason Linn went shopping for a Hanukkah record for his father. As his shopping process began, Linn quickly noticed how many Christmas records existed, yet how few there were that celebrated the Jewish holiday. He soon met Baron Cohen at the Borat premiere party and on November 18th, Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah was released on New Line Records.

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