make obscure politics just Charming
By Bob Young
Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - Updated: 01:45
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
``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.
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
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
Walter Benjamin? Bring it on: Charming Hostess' Jewlia