Another black-Jewish link will be exposed in spirituals sung by Lloyd Reshard, based on a program Reshard created for his job as director of Arts at St. Johns, a Miami Beach arts series. A number of popular spirituals, such as Wade in the Water and By the Waters of Babylon, are inspired by the story of Exodus, the biblical tale of liberation from slavery in Egypt celebrated in Passover.
“There’s a lot of thanking God for deliverance and freedom and redemption,” Person says. The trading of inspiration goes both ways, she says. “In progressive congregations spirituals are sometimes used in place of liturgy, because they’re often the same.”
Kula’s klezmer orchestra will play original tunes with another surprising musical connection — between Latin and klezmer music — that Kula says also arose from an American immigrant mix. In this case it’s Jews picking up from Cuban and Latin musicians and the rise of mambo in the late ’40s and early ’50s. One famous example is Irving Fields’ Miami Beach Rhumba, made famous by Xavier Cugat, which opens with the lines “I started out to go to Cuba/Soon I was at Miami Beach/There not so very far from Cuba/Oh, what a rumba they teach!”
Kula has taken the connection further with songs such as Second Avenue Mambo, Klezmerengue and Tumbaolalaika. In the last one he puts a Cuban style tumbao rhythm into an old Russian klezmer song. “When we tour, people get up and dance salsa,” he says. “Whether we play for Jews or non-Jews, everybody thinks there’s something in it for them. It’s very American. They don’t know why they want to dance to it, they just want to dance.”