‘Mostly Kosher’ to Make East Coast Debut

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Mostly Kosher performs in Manayunk and Swarthmore this weekend. | Photo provided

What do you call yourself when you have a band made up of some Jews and some non-Jews?

Mostly Kosher.

The seven-member L.A.-based klezmer band infused with roots of jazz, Latin, rock, hip-hop and folk influence will hit the East Coast for the first time this week.


After performances in New York and New Jersey — including at the Cantors Assembly Convention in Voorhees — they’ll make area stops May 26 at 9 p.m. at the Grape Room in Manayunk and May 27 at 9 p.m. at WaR3house 3 in Swarthmore.

While the band — including a violinist, drummer, bassist, accordion/trumpet (“Yes, he can do both at the same time,” noted bandleader Leeav Sofer), trombonist and guitarist — infuses the music with the sounds of their own backgrounds, the klezmer element is central.

And it came about accidentally.

After a wedding gig during college, a fateful conversation occurred.

“I talked to a wonderful lady who said, ‘You’re a clarinet player and you’re Jewish — you must play klezmer,’” he recalled, “and I never played klezmer in my life, but like a good starting out musician, I lied and said, ‘Of course I play klezmer!’”

She wanted to book his (at this point nonexistent) klezmer band to play for her synagogue’s sisterhood’s gala, to which he agreed — and then called everyone he knew to form a klezmer band.

“Once I ran out of Jews, I started calling my goyish friends and said, ‘Want to play klezmer?’ and they said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘We’ll find out together,’” he laughed.

From that, the early iteration of Mostly Kosher — the name representing the mix of the group as well as the “little bit of this, little bit of that” element of their music itself — learned the music, the history and the language. They started booking gigs to play their unique mix of klezmer and world influences.

There was one moment in particular that stood out to violinist Janice Mautner Markham when they realized how meaningful the music was.

Playing for a retirement community during a downpour in which no one showed up at first, they began playing “My Yiddishe Mama,” as they had done in previous gigs, when a man started to weep, overcome by feeling and nostalgia.

“It was kind of an extraordinary situation for us to be in because we realized at that moment … there were two huge goals we had,” said Mautner Markham, who studied at the University of the Arts. “We needed to honor the traditions that brought us to where we were with those older people who had such strong connections. And then the other part of it … we find this responsibility to the music and also to ourselves as artists to take those traditions and grow them into what is truly us musically.”

The band has fun with the music. A browse through their videos on YouTube offers everything from covers of classic tunes to the Pokemon theme song to “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

While they work on original music for their second album, the goal is try to make klezmer appealing to a new audience.

“We’re trying to reinvent and revive klezmer in many different ways and constantly trying to find the next drawbridge that we can lay down and invite the listener in,” Sofer said.

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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