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Jews in the Blues hits SA airwaves



Jews may not be the first association people have with the Blues, but “there are many Jewish practitioners of the Blues, mostly in the area of Blues-based rock, from Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen”, says local Blues enthusiast Ron Keschner.

“Many of them added hugely to the great sounds of the 1960s through to the 1990s,” says Keschner, who hosts his own show on local station Radio Bop. He plans to bring this Jewish connection front and centre with his “Jews in the Blues” theme on Sunday, 25 June.

Keschner lives in Sandton and has worked in financial publishing and Information Technology. “My brother, Alan, and I grew up in Sea Point, Cape Town, the son of refugee parents who had both left Germany to escape the war – my father from Hamburg and my mother from Berlin. My family is spread between Montevideo, Uruguay, where my mother grew up, New York, and Israel. I attended Herzlia – an amazing school that created amazing people. My mother, Sonja, now resides at Highlands House in Cape Town.”

So how did a nice Jewish boy come to be interested in the Blues? “When I was eight years old, our amazing helper, Minnie, had just brought Alan and me home from the beach on a cooking-hot summer’s day. Shortly afterwards, my father arrived home from the office – he had a jewellery store in the city centre – with a record by the Rolling Stones called 12 x 5 under his arm.

“In his thick German accent, he said to me, “My boy, zis is new smuzijc und it’s called rock und roll.” In fact, it was mainly Blues, and when my father put the needle on the song called Under the Boardwalk, this little Jewish kid from Main Road Sea Point was hooked. And the reason I love it is simple – it’s pure, honest music, the music of the descendants of the African slaves brought to the United States in the 19th century. Many people ask me the difference between Blues and Jazz. I tell them this: Jazz has 3 000 chords and three people in the audience. Blues, on the other hand, has three chords and 3 000 people in the audience!

“Radio Bop is a legendary radio station where many of South Africa’s radio greats like the late Bob Mabena and Felicia Mabuza-Suttle cut their ‘radio teeth’ and honed their skills back in the old Bophuthatswana days,” Keschner says.

“Over the sands of time, the famous brand was bought over by Bop broadcasting legends Hector Motivator and George Munetsi, and revived in much the same form as its original. Interestingly, though Blues was created by black musicians in the early to middle parts of the last century and was the forerunner of what Radio Bop’s current audience demographic listens to like jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, and hip hop, it’s not generally listened to by them. I was brought on to educate about what is, in effect, 100% their music – primarily brought across to the United States by African slaves – and try and make them love and appreciate it is much as I do.”

As for what listeners can expect from his Jews in the Blues show, “It will be something slightly different. While I normally use life experiences sent in by listeners to craft my playlist, for this show, I will be mainly speaking about the musicians and their Jewishness. I will be straying very far from the ‘usual Jewish suspects’, and bringing the listeners some obscure Jewish Blues artists.

“This ranges from a Blues song about rabbis – I seriously recommend every rov in the country listens in, it’s an absolute scream and could easily be sung in shuls and at shiurs – as well as Blues with Hashem as the main subject. It will be a sensory as well as educational experience.”

He will also be featuring King David Schools alumnus Dan Patlansky, whom he thinks is “easily South Africa’s top Blues export. There are a lot of people in the know in the United States, the home of the Blues, that believe he’s currently the finest Blues guitar player around today. He has a string of international accolades: fourth best Blues guitarist in the world; best Blues album of the year – I mean the guy has already released 10 international albums and opened to 64 000 people, for Bruce Springsteen no less!

“I will feature him alongside some Jewish ‘surprises’ like Jim Croce and David Lee Roth from Van Halen, and the best guitar player in the world who hid his Judaism but secretly wanted to play only with other Jews. It’s going to be an extravaganza of Jewish musical brilliance, a combination of artists never been heard before in one singular show.”

Keschner says his radio audience “is a beautiful mix of Radio Bop’s traditional and hugely loyal black African audience, as well all the mlungus [whites] this kind of music brings into the site. Because many Jewish people from Joburg and Cape Town know me, we have a fantastic Jewish listenership not just in South Africa, but in cities as far flung as Montevideo, Tel Aviv, New York, and many other countries and cities around the globe. This is the beauty of streaming radio. What really established the show with its Jewish listenership was the Herzlia High matric class of 1975 reunion that I did with listeners scattered around the world – the school then sent it far and wide to thousands of Herzlia alumni and all of a sudden, we a great footing in the community.”

Where to from here? “Radio Bop Mk 2 is still a fledgling station, and we have massive plans to make it the pre-eminent streaming radio show on the continent,” says Keschner. “I’m hugely honoured to be given a slot on a radio station with Radio Bop’s legendary status, not to mention being the only mlungu in the house playing very different ‘specialty’ sounds for the listener base – hence my stage name, The Rockin Mlungu. We also have the hugely popular regular contributor to the show, Charissa Bloomberg, Cape Town’s internationally recognised Jewish celebrity psychologist talking to us every second week on important topics that help improve our lives.”

To people who have never listened to the Blues, he says, “The Blues is real. The Blues is honest. the Blues is the forerunner of everything we listen to today. Speak to all the legendary stars of today and yesteryear like Keith Richards, the late, great Jeff Beck who I will be featuring, or Bob Dylan, and they will tell you the Blues is the source of it all.

“I look forward to having you join us on the show. I give the number out, and if you care to send in a WhatsApp during the show, I will happily give you a shoutout. We’re going to be opening the show with a sensational song about a rabbi, and closing it with some equally dazzling Jewish gospel Blues. You don’t want to miss it.”

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