Beats, Rhymes, and Nigguns
A co-interview by Juez and Matthue Roth

Juez is a klezmer-breakbeat-jazz band of Modern Orthodox kids from Washington DC. The four-member ensemble's influences range from Yemenite jazz to John Zorn to hip-hop. Onstage, they resemble a punk band, with manic solos, frenzied interplay, audience call-and-responses and stage-diving. Erez plays turntables and drums, and runs the bandıs Modular Moods record label. Yoshie plays bass. Gilad, the actual Yemenite of the group, plays saxophone; and Matt Wetstein plays trumpet and, occasionally, vocals.

Matthue is an Orthodox Jewish performance poet and novelist who has most recently appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and in the National Queer Arts Festival. He's written for Central Europe Review, Farbrengen, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and is poetry and arts editor at Zeek. His stage show is a frantic, calculated mess of poetry in action, as he drops rhymes, stories, and Hasidic niggun songs at the drop of a hat.

Matthue and Erez, Yoshie, and Matt of Juez completed an east coast tour together in February. This interview was conducted in early April, after tensions has mostly cooled off.

Matthue: What's on your mind right now?

Erez: I've been thinking about Jews and experimentation and I know, historically, there's been a lot in the literary world...and in the jazz world now, Jews are paving the way for new genres, and new takes on traditional genres. The other night we heard John Zorn and electric Masada--

Yoshie: Thereıs so much new music coming from the Yidden. It's like, I can hear Jewish melody that was written years ago, and find the same thing today, being played in a completely different way with a completely different motive, and I think itıs such a reflection of who we are as Jews right now.

Matt: Just like Judaism as a whole, this musical movement is about taking tradition and making it your own. It makes for a genre where people with different musical and religious backgrounds can feel like the music was created for them personally. Thatıs what Juez is all about. When we play, we express the excitement that our influences express in their music, but we are expressing our excitement about their excitement. It's a blast.

Matthue: A friend who's a rabbinical student was talking about how some places and magazines have this particular version of hip that they subscribe to -- how their take on cool is "we're hip even though we're Jewish." What strikes me is, what you're doing, it's the Jewish version of a geek-hipster -- you're not cool in spite of being Jewishly-connected. The whole essence of your coolness is because of that.

Erez: It's dangerous to use your tradition in art because of that danger of becoming a novelty act. I think minimalism is best...Not to say that playing it up is bad. With tradition and popular culture, you have to do it genuine.

Matthue: Like staying true to all your roots at once?

Erez: I got a call from the DC JCC to see if I would head a Jewish Hip-Hop series. They wanted Jewish hip-hop bands and I told them that I wasn't interested in doing a showcase of Jewish hip-hop bands unless it was Jews expressing themselves, and because they were Jewish IT was Jewish. What I mean is, Paul Barman is not a Jewish rapper. He's a Jew who does hip-hop and makes Jewish allusions, even though it is novelty-esque. He's dropping rhymes for the love of hip-hop, and the Jewish references are for fun. They're not in there to reach a wider audience. Then there's musicians who think they can't garner attention based solely on their art, and so they use Judaism in a way that's forced just because that's the only way that anyone will listen to them.

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Image: Juez (by Erez)

May 2003

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

Shtupping in the Shadow
of the Bomb

Marissa Pareles

The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Dan Friedman

Beats, Rhymes & Nigguns
Matthue Roth & Juez

Fish Rain
Susan H. Case

Anti-fada Paratrooper
Michael Kuratin

Josh Gets his Checkup
Josh Ring

Plague Cookies
Mica Scalin

The Ritual of Family Photography
Amy Datsko

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