It’s the Motorhead of klezmer (with jokes)
The Jewish music scene is not known for its sense of humour. Max Pashm and his group aim to inject a little laughter when they play at Simcha on the Square
The culmination of this Sunday's Simcha on the Square, "London's largest public celebration of British Jewish Culture", will be a performance by the Max Pashm Band, who mix the old - klezmer, Balkan, Greek and gypsy music - with the new electro beats to powerful effect. "We're last on, the climax," says group leader Max Pashm, real name Max Chekonova, who explains that "Pashm" is Tibetan for "fluffy underbelly of a mammal". "We're going to be the loudest band on all day. We're the Motorhead of klezmer!"
Pashm, whose family on his father's side are Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic on his mother's, was born in the Home Counties but now lives in Brighton. He has been called "the king of falafel techno", while his lively, colourful multi-instrumental band have been described as "the Monty Python of Balkan music".
"We use a lot of humour," he explains, "because the scene we're part of can be a bit up itself. It's a real Jewish trait, to puncture pretension."
His latest album, Never Mind The Balkans... Here's Max Pashm, is a play on the title of the notorious debut LP by The Sex Pistols. It is as radical a fusion of traditional world music, punky energy and dance grooves as any in his 15-year career, some of it programmed, much of it played by his varied line-up - George Kypreos on Greek bouzouki and baglamas, Eugenia Georgieva the Bulgarian vocalist, Laura Anstee on Cretan lyra and cello, Merlin Shepherd on klezmer clarinet, Polina Shepherd the classical Russian/Yiddish singer and pianist. Pashm himself handles percussion and beats, and sings in Hebrew, English and Greek, with the odd word of Arabic thrown in.
He explains that his ethnically diverse musical mix comes from having moved around a lot as a teenager. "From the age of 16 I lived in Greece a lot," he says. "I left school early to go and live on a kibbutz in 1983, but when I got there they said I was too young. They told me that if I wanted to stay [in Israel] I'd have to join the army, which was the last thing I wanted. So I went to Crete and got stuck there for a while."
It was there that he developed an interest in Greek and Jewish music. When he first decided on his musical direction, back in the early '90s, when it was "less fashionable to mix ethnic Jewish music with beats", he says people were sceptical. "They said, ‘You're having a laugh, mate'." Now, his band plays all over the world. This summer alone, they have performed in France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Greece and Serbia, where in front of 30,000 people, their PA blew up, to much amusement.
More serious was Pashm's recent visit to Auschwitz with his seven-year-old daughter and Czech girlfriend. "It was pretty full-on," he admits. "But it reinforced my belief in what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I am a Jew. I might not be really religious. Nevertheless, I was standing there, alive. Hitler may have done half the job but he didn't finish it. That's inspiration enough."
Never Mind The Balkans... Here's Max Pashm is released by Elektrikos/Organikos Records on September 29. Visit www.myspace.com/maxpashm