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King Django
Interview
Jan. 9, 2004
www.kingdjango.com
Jewish Community Radio: Okay, now your name is Jeff Baker, and youíre from Brooklyn, New York.

King Django: Thatís right. I live in New Brunswick, New Jersey now.

Jewish Community Radio: The song Slaughter, is that really about your grandfather?

King Django: Yeah. It absolutely is. He was in three concentration camps. I grew up with him. He was like a second Dad to me. We grew up with him telling us those stories. So all the details in there are from stuff he actually told me.

Jewish Community Radio: Is that the only song youíre written about that kind of thing?

King Django: Specifically about the Holocaust, yes.

Jewish Community Radio: What about in the end where youíre talking about "KKK turned senator"?

King Django: Well that song is from about 1998. Thatís when it was recorded but it was written even earlier then that. So at the time thatís when David Duke was getting in the national scene.

Jewish Community Radio: Letís talk about how you got into music and this genre of music specifically.

King Django: I got into ska and reggae music just living in Brooklyn and going to school in Manhattan. Ska music was really popular at the time. From the ska I got into the reggae music. Living in Brooklyn was a really good place to explore reggae. Thereís a lot of Jamaican neighborhoods there.

Jewish Community Radio: What neighborhood did you grow up in?

King Django: I was born in and grew up in Canarsie. As soon as I was able to drive I would go over to Flatbush and hang out at Jamaican record stores over there. Listening to records and buying records and talking to people over there.

Jewish Community Radio: About how many King Django records do you have out?

King Django: Thereís four out under my name, King Django. Thereís Roots and Culture. There is a record called Reason which came out in 2000. Thereís one called King Django Meets the Scrulialists which came out in Switzerland and Germany early this year and just came out in the States. And thereís another one, A Single Thread which just came out last month, which is a compilation from all the different bands Iíve had over the years. I had a band called Stubborn All Stars from about í94 to í99 or 2000. I had a band called Skinnerbox. That came about í89 to í96 or í97.

Jewish Community Radio: So youíve been doing this a long time. The other albums arenít Jewish oriented, and then suddenly you came out with an all-Jewish album.

King Django: Right. I would say that theyíre not overtly Jewish but I but in retrospect I noticed that a lot of the themes and music are really Jewish and actually my parents and friends of the family have always said that a lot of the songs sort of had a Jewish feeling to them. But the way that the Roots and Culture record came about was that when Stubborn All Stars were signed to Profile Records, the guy that signed us had asked me if I wanted to make a Stubborn All Stars Christmas record. And I just told him, naa, I canít make a Christmas record because Iím Jewish. About a week later I was in the office doing some stuff and he came over to me and he said "Iíve got it!" And I was like what do you mean? He said, "Ska-Mitzvah!" I was looking at him like, what are you talking about? And he said, you know, remember I asked you to do that Christmas record? Well why donít you make a Jewish ska record instead. And I said, "thatís an awesome idea". And thatís basically how that record was born.

Jewish Community Radio: Do you get your musical influence, not just from the ska and reggae but from Jewishness, from your grandfather?

King Django: You know, I grew up around that stuff and my grandparents were big fans of the cantorial stuff, Yosselle Rosenblatt, Moshe Oysher and stuff like this. So I heard that stuff when I was growing up but I really didnít know that much about Jewish music. So when Fred proposed the idea of doing Roots and Culture it was just a really good opportunity. I made him take me to the record store and buy me all these Jewish records. Actually my Dad had gotten into Jewish music a few years before that. He was all into klezmer, modern klezmer stuff and modern Jewish music. So it was always around. I grew up with it but not with such direct contact to the music.

Jewish Community Radio: Speaking of klezmer you performed with The Klezmatics?

King Django: Yeah, actually the Roots and Culture record was a studio record. I go to this thing every year called Klez-Camp, the Yiddish cultural arts festival, which takes place in the Catskills. They have Yiddish language, art, theater, dance and music classes up there and all the heavyweights of the modern klezmer scene are the staff. So I started going there about five years ago. About there years ago, Frank London from Klezmatics was like, "when are you gonna play this stuff out? I have a bunch of friend that have been calling me, from all Jewish traditions that want to play the stuff." But we really never had, we really never got it together. And Frank was like, "well why donít you do this Purim carnival with us Klezmatics?" So it was the perfect opportunity to put a band together to do the stuff live. The record came out in Ď98 but we really didnít play a live show until about two years ago, two and half years ago on Purim.

Jewish Community Radio: And it was well received?

King Django: Yeah and weíve been playing ever since.

Jewish Community Radio: So youíre still performing this material?

King Django: Yeah, I do perform that material with the Roots and Culture band. Weíre probably going to make a new record this year.

Jewish Community Radio: A new Roots and Culture record?

King Django: Yep.

Jewish Community Radio: Youíre about to come to Cleveland today and perform a concert. Today at the Rhythm Room in Cleveland Heights, corner of Cedar and Taylor. You donít really have the Jewish material down for this concert though?

King Django: Right. This tour is called Ska Mob. Pretty much a ska and reggae tour. And weíve got a band from Washington DC. Great band called Eastern Standard Time and they play really cool jazzy soul ska, my friend Dr. Ring Ding from Germany who does ska, calypso and dancehall reggae, and me.

Jewish Community Radio: Now for people who donít know really what ska and reggae is maybe you could let us know.

King Django: Okay, Iíll try and give the short version. Ska is the predecessor to reggae music. It started in the late Ď50s early Ď60s in Jamaica. Pretty much as a take-off of American rhythm and blues. Itís basically up-tempo Jamaican dance music. Reggae developed out of that at the end of the Ď60sí. Reggae is also Jamaican dance music but of a later period.

Jewish Community Radio: Now when you listen to reggae, like Bob Marley, they talk about. Zion and Babylon and thereís a lot of Jewish references in there.

King Django: Thatís one segment of reggae music, which would be Rasta reggae. The Rastafarian religion, they feel a strong kinship to the Old Testament, with the Old Testament people. A lot of their iconography comes from the Old Testament.

Jewish Community Radio: What did the Rastafarian people say when, here you are, a Jewish guy, like a real Old Testament guy, coming out combining the two?

King Django: I work with a lot of Jamaicans and we donít usually talk about it. But everything is really cool usually. Theyíre into it when they see somebody that comes from America that really knows the history and the music. So itís been really cool actually working with Jamaican reggae artists.

Jewish Community Radio: Your song Shtickele is all in Yiddish. Did you have to learn Yiddish?

King Django: I actually grew up speaking it with my grandparents and my Mom. My Yiddish is very street. Itís just household Yiddish. Iím not educated in it. So I had the assistance of a very great Yiddishist and writer named Michael Wex. Heís from Toronto, Canada. Heís brilliant, actually. I was lucky enough to have him help me with the tunes on the record.

Jewish Community Radio: Where does that particular song come from?

King Django: Stickele? That was just an original that I wrote for this record.

Jewish Community Radio: Really? I thought for sure that was some old Yiddish melody. What do the lyrics mean?

King Django: Itís talking about being exploited. Itís kind of like a workerís song. Itís a song from a worker to a boss.

Jewish Community Radio: Have you heard of the Reggae Passover album and some of the others? I guess I see them as novelty records.

King Django: I think the Reggae Passover record isnít very reggae. It seems like the people that did it donít really know reggae music. Itís technically really, really well done. I canít criticize it technically on any level. But like you said it is kind of a novelty thing.

Jewish Community Radio: Have you heard of any guys in Israel? Have you heard of Mookie D?

King Django: No. I havenít. I know that reggae is very big over there. Iím in contact with a guy called Dr. Reggae who has a radio show.

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