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Hostesses make obscure politics just Charming
By Bob Young
Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - Updated: 01:45 PM EST

It's not every band that inspires its audience to shout out for songs about esoteric political theories or Eastern European poetry.
     But not every band is like Charming Hostess, the all-female trio that performs Friday night at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
     ``We love playing in Boston,'' said leader and singer Jewlia Eisenberg about her San Francisco ensemble. ``People there are like, `Yeah, bring on the Bosnian dissident poetry! Bring on Walter Benjamin and his radical muse! Bring on the conflict between Communism and Zionism in early 19th century radical thought!' ''
     Don't worry if any or all of that sounds a little, um, dry.
     Eisenberg, Cynthia Taylor and Marika Hughes could make JavaScript technical instructions sound fun and sexy. Their new CD, ``Sarajevo Blues'' (Tzadik), even manages to make the heavy-duty subject of surviving in war-torn Sarajevo accessible, poignant and witty all at once by combining soulful three-part harmonies with quirky arrangements and unconventional instrumentation.
     Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic wrote that he was happily astonished when he heard how the words from his ``Sarajevo Blues'' text had been set to music. Eisenberg said he even insisted they continue performing ``Death Is a Job,'' a song about snipers, in light and airy doo-wop style.
     ``Sem said the music spoke to him because it exhibited what Bosnians call `dert,' a surplus of emotion,'' Eisenberg said.
     MIT invited Eisenberg to be this year's Katzenstein Artist-in-Residence, a position she's filling this week at the school. Michele Oshima, director of MIT's student and artist-in-residence programs, believes the singer is the perfect choice.
     ``She's so brainy,'' said Oshima. ``And I thought this is the kind of music our students would be interested in because they really want to know the thought processes of people who make things.''

     Both students and the public will get to hear exactly how the singer thinks tomorrow night at MIT in a free ``Conversation with Jewlia: Voice, Text and Diaspora Consciousness in Nerdy-Sexy-Commie-Girlieland.''

Eisenberg came to MIT's attention through previous artist-in-residence John Zorn, the avant-garde jazzer who has released several Charming Hostess albums on his Tzadik label, which carry the tagline Radical Jewish Culture.      

The singer is the ideal match for the eclectic Zorn. She has made field recordings in Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Mali, written scores for dance, including one for a piece called ``The Grim Arithmetic of Water,'' and composed a number of film scores.     

 ``The thread is translation issues,'' she said. ``I'm interested in the different ways that music can communicate different kinds of meanings. How music communicates meaning in nonverbal languages. And how music can move between people who are separated by space and time.''      

``Conversation with Jewlia'' takes place tomorrow at 7 p.m., MIT Building 6, Room 120, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Free. Charming Hostess performs Friday at 8 p.m., Building 54, Room 100, 77 Massachusetts Ave. Free. Go to


Walter Benjamin? Bring it on: Charming Hostess' Jewlia Eisenberg.
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