Rising performing duo to explore Jewish and Black musical traditions at Roswell concert

Tsvey Brider’s show is at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Roughly seven years ago, Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell and Dmitri Gaskin both occupied the niche space of performing klezmer music, a type of Eastern European Jewish folk music, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was only a matter of time before they’d start working together.

The group officially formed their musical act Tsvey Brider, which is Yiddish for “Two Brothers,” in 2017. With Russell on vocals and Gaskin playing accordion and piano, the duo has performed their original musical compositions, inspired by 20th century Jewish writers, around the world.

“I think what I was really impressed by was Dmitri’s skill and talent as a musician, and I knew I wanted to do more with the music that I was performing than I was doing at the time, and I think he wanted the same as well,” said Russell, 42. “We started collaborating with each other — first by creating our own arrangements of music in the Yiddish language and then by starting to write our own original songs based on poetry in the Yiddish language.”

But now they’re ready to bring their modern take on Jewish musical traditions to an Atlanta-area audience for the first time. Tsvey Brider’s upcoming performance at Roswell synagogue Temple Beth Tikvah marks the duo’s first full-length concert in the area.

Russell moved to Summerhill with his husband this year. Born in Texas, he was raised Christian and converted to Judaism nearly a decade ago. Russell, who’s Black, uses his work as a performer to further explore the parallels between Black and Jewish communities. The singer said being in the creative space made that quest more palatable.

In 2018, he released a project titled “Convergence,” which combines 100 years of Black and Jewish musical traditions. Russell said attendees can expect to hear pieces from the EP during Saturday’s concert.

“I would take a lullaby that was in Yiddish about a mother rocking to her child to sleep and telling that child the father was gone and that when he’d come back he’d bring the child a little bird or a little flower as a way of comforting the child in the absence of a parent,” Russell said about how he approached the album. “Then, I’d purposefully match that with a 19th century Black lullaby where the same thing is happening, but in this lullaby, the mother is the departed party. I think if you look at the respective histories of Jewish and Black people, there are any number of reasons, many of them very tragic, as to why there would be an absent parent in a home.”

In doing so, Russell was able to learn about and celebrate the similarities between the two communities, which is something he’s reminded of amid recent antisemitic views from popular figures.

“There are Black Jewish people who exist. It’s not this sort of thing where it’s like one can only be one and one can only be another,” Russell said. “There’s an immense amount of diversity within the Jewish community already. ... I think Black people and Jewish people have a long history of solidarity between them, and I think that should be what people harken back to as opposed to the ridiculous statements of random celebrities, which do not in any way represent a majority opinion of Black people in the United States.”

Tsvey Brider will also perform “Kosmopolitn,” (Yiddish for “Cosmopolites”) the group’s debut album, during the concert. Released in August, the 15-track album includes original music set to Yiddish poetry from the first half of 20th century. Russell said the album mainly highlights the nuances of Yiddish music that counter stereotypical perceptions of it.

“Oftentimes when people think of Yiddish music, they think of “Fiddler on the Roof” — a lot of Jewish folks living in a very rural village in the 19th century somewhere in Russia where it’s very cold and everyone eats potatoes,” he said. “I’ve been to Eastern Europe and there are a lot of those places, so it got that part right, but as the Yiddish language began to move into the 20th century, poets and writers began to express themselves in ways that were distinctly modern.”

Credit: Adam Wiseman

Credit: Adam Wiseman

Gaskin, who’s based in Watsonville, California, said writing and recording the album took about two years to complete. In turn, the music — anchored by dramatic instrumentation and the emotion in Russell’s voice — is lush and soothing for those familiar with Yiddish music and neophytes.

Gaskin arranges all of Tsvey Brider’s music and co-composes it with Russell. Baymele, a klezmer trio that includes Gaskin, is also featured on the album.

“To a musical audience, I would call it Yiddish art song, and to a non-musical audience, I’d call it what would’ve happened to Yiddish music if it hadn’t got cut off by the Holocaust, basically, (and) if it continued to evolve past the the 1930′s and 40′s. ... If it had been influenced by what was going on in the rest of the world in the ‘50′s and ‘60′s, what would it have sounded like?” Gaskin said.

Still, the 27-year-old said the pair prioritizes making music that everyone can enjoy, which is what they hope to do during the concert.

“Although this music is in a language that almost nobody speaks, we try our best to make it accessible to everybody,” Gaskin said. “We make it accessible because it’s somewhere between a poetry reading and a concert. We start every song by explaining what the song means in English, and even if you don’t know the words in Yiddish, the music always illustrates the emotions during the poem that you just heard.”

“This is the beginning of our performing and recording career,” Gaskin said. “For me, the biggest takeaway from this process of putting together the album, writing the songs and performing is that this has been a lot of fun both to do it and see how people respond. I only want more (of that). I think we have something excellent, and I think that excellent can only get better.”


CONCERT PREVIEW

Tsvey Brider

8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10. $18; synagogue members free. Copies of “Kosmopolitn” will be available for $15. Temple Beth Tikvah, 9955 Coleman Road, Roswell. bethtikvah.com/event/tzvey-brider.