|| vita kempin & reznik ||
A musician from an unusual family
|An unusual family, these Kempins! One son is the church organist of a catholic community in Germany. The other lives in Jerusalem and is a devoted christian with a jewish identity. The third, Daniel Kempin, was christian, and returned as a young man to to the religion of his fathers, to judaism. One thing they have in common: They are all accomplished musicians. This gift was inherited from their parents, who were both church musicians.
Daniel Kempin sings in a language that his parents hardly would have understood, and that he himself worked hard to learn: Yiddish. He sings "Ven er tseshpilt zikh mit zayn fidl, oy, mame vert mir gut on a shir on his CD "benkshaft" (longing), which won him the German Record Critics Award: "When he plays on his fiddle, oy mama, I feel so good". That a "Klezmer-boy" can set a girl's head spinning is understandable, if you consider the exciting Klezmer music that Daniel Kempin plays, just as generations of jewish musicians before him.
But it's not just happy love songs that Kempin sings best. "Arbetloze zenen mir, on a beged on a haym" (Unemployed are we, without clothes, without a home) is the marching song of the poet Mordechai Gebirtig who was murdered in the Cracow Ghetto in 1942. Kempin devoted an entire CD to this man: "Krakow Ghetto Notebook", recorded by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.
Jewish culture isn't only created in Israel, but much more in the "Galluth", in Exile. America is a magic word for Daniel Kempin. He loves the natural feeling of life there compared to Germany. "Jewish life is much more diverse. In Crown Heights, for example, there are Kosher fast food restaurants". Also the tolerance and the religious life in America deeply impressed him. "In Germany, you don't go to a prayer house, but to a high security building", he says. For this reason Daniel Kempin is also known to the jewish community in America.
By contrast, in Germany he sings less for a jewish than for a German public. "Confusion" characterizes the reaction of some concertgoers. "People have even congratulated me for my 'fluent command of german'!" Or he is asked where he was born in Israel, since of course as a jew he couldn't possibly be German.
There was also a stage manager who didn't want to put a bar stool on the stage for him. The reason: Typical jewish arrogance, wanting to sit higher than other people...
But it is Kempin's special wish to bring the richness of jewish culture particularly to gentiles. When in his concerts he uses songs from the middle ages to the recent, he is in a certain sense a historian, bringing jewish history to life through its music. Many a jewish song he has rescued from obscurity by (for example in Jerusalem) tape recording it and including it in his repertoire. There he visited a talmudic university, where he stayed even through the gulf war.
Kempin learned his Yiddish in intensive courses in England and Israel. This form of eastern European jewish slang is no dialect of German, but a complete and independent language, with its own grammar and vocabulary. Since the nearly complete destruction of Eastern European Jewry in the Holocaust and the founding of the modern state of Israel, fewer and fewer people speak Yiddish, Kempin doesn't believe it is dying out. The death of Yiddish has been predicted for the past 100 years, he says, and there have always been renewal movements. In this art form he is considered one of the leaders in Germany.
Along with jewish music, Kempin has also found his jewish identity. He did not convert to judaism. Rather, he says, he reversed his grandmother's decision. She had herself baptized during the time of national socialist oppression.
Daniel Kempin fought a ten year internal battle with himself and finally decided for the jewish faith. But even here, the artist is conflicted to a certain degree: On the one side he is a board member of the Jewish Community in Mainz, and on the other he is a member of the Frankfurt Kehilla Chadascha.
And no wonder: Daniel Kempin just comes from an unusual family.
by Hans Riebsamen