Tango from Varshe


Vocal: Olga Avigail Mieleszczuk
Bandoneon and accordion: Grzegorz Bożewicz
Acoustic and electric guitar: Piotr Malicki
Piano and music arrangements: Hadrian Filip Tabęcki

“Beautiful and fascinating. The tango in Yiddish is for me the perfect match.” Mark Burman, BBC

It was in 1910 when tango mania hit Eastern Europe, after having swept through the West. Yet whereas passionate dancers in France and Germany revelled in true Argentinian “orquestas típicas”, the majority of Eastern Europeans only knew this type of music from recordings. That was also the case of Poland, which in 1919 regained its independence. A significant proportion of Polish musicians – both classical and popular – were of Jewish heritage. The cultural life thrived at theatres, cabarets and cinemas, where a variety of music styles mingled, including the traditional Jewish genre of klezmer. In the 1910s, Warsaw witnessed the birth of Yiddish tango, an eclectic dance permutation, blending Slavic, Jewish and Argentinian cultural traditions, a form that over the next two decades would be an integral, highly unique part of Polish musical life.


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Thu 05/05/2022
7.00 pm
Jerusalem (Jubilee) Synagogue
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The Polish-Israeli singer Olga Mieleszczuk is currently one of the world’s finest proponents and performers of Yiddish tango, which has also encoded the tragic fate of the Polish Jews during WWII. In her programmes, featuring a repertoire ranging from the 1920s to the 1940s, she has ingeniously combined dance and contemplative music, interconnecting them in an absorbing manner with the stories of the greatest “Old World” Yiddish tango stars. New arrangements organically fuse modern, contemporary sound with the singular esprit of pre-war tango, which deviated from the original Argentinean form, embracing a softer, more lyrical sound influenced by klezmer. The programme of the concert, held within the Musica non grata project, includes songs in Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew, popular melodies, as well as forgotten tunes, into which Olga Mielescszuk breathes new life. “Most of the artists who invented and nurtured the high-quality Yiddish tango in Poland perished in the Holocaust. My mission is to keep their legacy alive,” says the artist.

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Highlights of the programme

  • Shpil ze mir a jidele in jidisz (Sing Me a Song in Yiddish) – one of the few songs to have survived on a period recording.
  • Heyliker Mame by Herman Fenigstein.
  • Yosl un Sore-Dvoshe by Fajga Jofe (Fanny Gordon), the one and only female Yiddish tango composer, whose music was performed at Polish cabarets and night clubs between the two world wars.
  • Foxtrot Abduł Bey, or Abram ja ci zagram (Abram, I Will Play for You).
  • Bal u starego Joska, a famous tango ballad, written by Fajga Jofe, evoking a real place, a Warsaw tavern run by Józef Ładowski (nicknamed “Fat Josl”), a popular hangout for Jews rich and poor.
  • Play Fiddler Play and You Left as a Dream, Polish tango hits, sung in Hebrew, from the repertoire of Adam Aston, also known as Ben Levi.
  • Mach Tsu Di Eyegelekh (Close Your Little Eyes) – a tango lullaby, with the lyrics written in 1941 in the Łódź ghetto by Shaja Shpigel after the death of his young daughter. Dawid Bajgelman, who composed the music, died in Auschwitz.
  • Dawid Bajgelman’s Grzech (Sin), a forgotten tango, which was performed by Wiera Gran, a legendary Warsaw ghetto singer.

“It’s a sin to have lips as fervid as yours, it’s a sin to keep sowing fantasies and dreams, it’s a sin for brown eyes to be so bewitching that I see them in my dreams, night after night …”

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Olga Avigail Mieleszczuk is a singer, accordion player and researcher into Eastern European folk music. She studied classical music and cultural anthropology at Warsaw University. She has divided her time between her native Warsaw and Jerusalem, where she currently resides. Since the beginning of her artistic career, she has focused on the music of the Ashkenazi Jews, particularly from the borderlands of Poland (Polesye). She has studied Chassidic music, Yiddish folk songs, multilingual Jewish songs, as well as the traditional Slavic vocal techniques. Moreover, she has attended a two-year seminar dedicated to Yiddish songs in Yiddish theatres in Warsaw, and studied Yiddish at the YUNG YiDiSH centre in Tel Aviv. Olga garnered international acclaim with her project Yiddish Polesye, premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York, and the programme Li-La-Lo, named after a cabaret set up in Tel Aviv in 1944 by the pianist and composer Moshe Wileński and the poet Natan Alterman.

A modern tango band formed in 2015, Tango Attack have drawn inspiration from both traditional and avant-garde Argentinean tango, adroitly exploring and adopting all the trends associated with the genre. Their repertoire encompasses new arrangements of classical tango, tango covers of popular songs and original compositions.

Grzegorz Bożewicz, bandoneon and accordion
Piotr Malicki, acoustic and electric guitar
Hadrian Filip Tabęcki, piano and music arrangements

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