The Baron Cohen trying to make Chanucah cool

The dreidel song and Ma’oz Tzur get a makeover, thanks to Borat’s brother.

By Alex Kasriel, December 4, 2008
Erran Baron Cohen: trumpeting the virtues of his album

Erran Baron Cohen: trumpeting the virtues of his album

If the droning nursery rhymes sung every year at Chanucah make you want to scorch yourself with the menorah, the alternative range of songs on a new album by Sacha Baron Cohen’s older brother might save you from third-degree burns.

Songs In The Key of Hanukah, produced by Erran Baron Cohen, will liven up any doughnuts and latkes bash this year. In the place of the traditional rendering of the dreidel song, we now have a frenetic version of the tune in a minor key, complete with Balkan beats and an accompanying video of Baron Cohen and collaborator Jules Brookes dressed as Chasidim, daubing graffiti and breakdancing.

The musician came up with the idea after composing the score for his younger brother’s hit movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

He was in Los Angeles when he met Jason Linn, head of New Line Records, who had been shopping for a Chanucah record for his father but could not find anything decent. Out of their conversation the concept of the modern Chanucah album was born.

“At first I thought it was a bit of a crazy idea,” says Baron Cohen, who was asked to compose a symphony for the Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra following his work on the Borat film.

“Most Chanucah songs are really bad with out-of-tune singing and badly recorded piano. I remember even as a kid finding it difficult to listen to. I always like a bit of a challenge musically, so the idea was really somehow to make Chanucah cool.” Other tracks include a sexy reworking of Ladino festival favourite Ochos Kandelikas, featuring Sephardi diva Yasmin Levy; and New York-based Chasidic rapper Y-Love MCing — in Yiddish — on an original reggae-style song called Hanukah oh Hanukha! There is even a slow, sultry version of Ma’oz Tzur with British singer Dana Kerstein on vocals.

“The album’s getting very good reviews in America,” says Baron Cohen. Unsurprisingly, brother Sacha is also a fan.

“Even if he wasn’t related to me, this album is so damn good that I’d want to make him my brother,” he is quoted on the album’s website.

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Last updated: 12:27pm, November 22 2010