She’s sail­ing the mu­si­cal seas

Wan­der­lust brings Giselle Web­ber to Orkestar Krim­i­nal’s Old World laments

Montreal Gazette - - Arts - MARK LEPAGE markjlepage@ya­

GISELLE WEB­BER “A lot of the songs (I heard) are pris­oner laments. I can iden­tify with peo­ple on the out­skirts of so­ci­ety.”

“I never lis­ten to the style of mu­sic I’m mak­ing,” Giselle Web­ber says. “If I’m mak­ing a hip-hop record, I won’t lis­ten to hip hop for a very long time be­cause I’m afraid of sub­con­sciously rip­ping it off. So when I was in Hot Springs (from 2004 to 2008), I was lis­ten­ing to all this weird Greek un­der­ground crim­i­nal mu­sic.”

We’ll as­sume she’s ei­ther lis­ten­ing to whale song or Chris­tian an­thems now that she’s play­ing in Orkestar Krim­i­nal, a wild 12-piece spool­ing out Old World crook laments in more lan­guages than a Main deli in 1919. Hairy-chested Greek mob­sters and Jewish sharpies stalk through the swin­dlings, shaft­ings and gullings on de­but EP Zon­tani! L’bin! Levende! (“Live!” in Greek/ Yid­dish/Dan­ish), launched Fri­day night at Lion d’Or. Yes. It’s the Orig­i­nal Gangsta.

Be­fore we get there, props are of­fered for Hot Springs. “Thanks for even know­ing about that band,” she says, but it would have been im­pos­si­ble to miss notic­ing the fire pil­lar of a girl fronting the in­die rock­ers who tore it up far too briefly on the Mon­treal scene. The Vol­cano al­bum (2007) you should own.

But even that was at least two in­car­na­tions ago. A girl of many per­sonas, Web­ber started out in punk, and has been un­der­ground fe­male rap­per Giselle Numba One and loungey femme fa­tale Gigi French. Since coming out of hi­ber­na­tion (more be­low), Web­ber has im­mersed her­self in the in­ter-war Yid­dish of Ganovim-loshn and el­e­men­tal crim­i­nals.

She was liv­ing in a Griffin­town loft “with the dude from God­speed, David Bryant. He had this crazy record col­lec­tion. And I was also in Red Mass when Hot Springs was end­ing and Roy (Vuc­cino, ban­dleader) is Turk­ish, so he would hand me tons of records to lis­ten to. I was im­mersed in all this strange mu­sic.” There was also Cam­bo­dian mu­sic, be­fore Cam­bo­dian was hot.

She was just steeping her­self in an in­ter­na­tional crock pot of crooks, but still “had enough balls to ap­ply for this KlezKanada grant in the Lau­ren­tians, and —” What, you haven’t ap­plied for a KlezKanada grant? It’s just one of the most pres­ti­gious pro­grams in Yid­dish cul­ture in the world. Last sum­mer, she did a work­shop on mu­sic from Odessa and Is­tan­bul and War­saw, “th­ese old un­der­world Yid­dish songs. When I got back from KlezKanada, within a week I had a band formed and I had a show booked a week later.”

I’m guess­ing she wasn’t flu­ent in Ladino, the JudeoS­pan­ish lan­guage spo­ken by … not many Mon­treal­ers. But it’s a risky guess, given her. “I spoke Ger­man al­ready, so Yid­dish was pretty easy to learn. Greek … be­cause I spoke Span­ish, I found them sim­i­lar, for some rea­son. You speak enough lan­guages and they blend to­gether. I speak Can­tonese a lit­tle, but that’s nowhere close to Kh­mer … it took me a long time to find a teacher in Mon­treal.” She also used a com­puter to teach her­self pho­net­i­cally.

“And I had to find some really great mu­si­cians to play that kind of stuff. I mean, the rhythms are weird.”

She comes by the mu­si­cal wan­der­lust hon­estly. Her dad was a sailor. And for laughs, she found out via ge­nealog­i­cal ex­plo­ration that she was part-Jewish. “And I found out I was part Roma at the same time, so it’s even cra­zier.”

Fair enough. But what was the ap­peal of th­ese songs?

“I was in punk bands for a long time, and th­ese lyrics re­mind me of punk.” Also, she was con­fined to a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion for a time against her will, a story that’s clearly too long for this ar­ti­cle. “But it was bru­tal, they in­ject things into you, they give you pills that you have to swal­low. And I didn’t know a lot about pa­tients’ rights then. I learned later that I could have left, I could have re­fused med­i­ca­tion. But they don’t let you know. And the meds turned me into a veg­etable. I couldn’t speak for an en­tire year.

“But I met a lot of peo­ple who’d been in prison, who told me there was a lot more free­dom in prison than there is in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion.” And she con­nected to the no­tion of pris­oner.

“A lot of the songs (I heard) are pris­oner laments. I can iden­tify with peo­ple on the out­skirts of so­ci­ety. I felt a greater con­nec­tion with them than any­thing you’d hear from you’re typ­i­cal love song.”

There was also a de­sire to shake up the oat­meal sen­ten­tious­ness of too much folk mu­sic. “The world mu­sic scene is just so hip­pie, you know? There’s no oomph to it. I like good hip­pie like any­one else, but they’re just so full of sun­shine and but­ter­cups. I wanted to bring an edge to it.”

And then there was an in­ter­est­ing el­e­ment of cul­tural re­dress.

“Greeks have a pretty tough im­age, like Ital­ians do. But it seems that, over time, I feel, the Jewish man has lost his edge. It’s very com­mon to think of the Jew as a Woody Allen type of neu­rotic weaselly archetype, which I find very frus­trat­ing. Why is it that the Jewish women are the strong ones, but Jewish men have role models that are th­ese weaselly guys? What about th­ese hairy-chested nonon­sense wise-guy Jews as an op­tion?”

Well, what about ’em? Giselle Web­ber is in their cor­ner. She’s a poly­glot. Her mother tongue is oomph.

Orkestar Krim­i­nal launch Zon­tani! L’bin! Levende! at Lion d’Or, 1676 On­tario St. E., on Fri­day with Ira Lee and the Gypsy Kumbia Orches­tra. Tick­ets are $12.50 in ad­vance, avail­able at Pho­nop­o­lis, Sound Cen­tral, l’Oblique, Atom Heart, Cheap Thrills, or on­line at LaV­it­rine. com or $15 at the door.


Hairy-chested Greek mob­sters and Jewish sharpies stalk Orkestar Krim­i­nal’s de­but EP, Zon­tani! L’bin! Levende!

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