Beat of the Boroughs: Éléonore Weill
Raised in musical family in Southern France, klezmer musician Eleonore Weill grew up playing both classical and traditional music on piano and recorders, on which she has Conservatory Diplomas, as well as hurdy-gurdy and accordion. She performs, sings and teaches workshops internationally at festivals, universities and schools, composes, and works with theater companies. Her groups – Fada and Tsibele – are based in Flatbush.
The Gowanus resident is featured in the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online series, which is showcasing the artistry of 54 of the city’s leading immigrant performers and diverse cultural traditions from around the world.
When and where did your musical journey begin?
I grew up in rural southern France playing hurdy-gurdy, fifes, tambourine, and singing for traditional Occitane celebrations such as Carnaval and Bal trad (dance parties). From the age of five, I also learned how to play the piano with my aunt and grandmother, and then went to conservatory, where I studied the piano and the recorders.
Throughout my childhood, my father played with musicians from the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. I often napped in his Zarb while he was rehearsing, and sometimes would go on tour with him. He played with two recorder players. One became my teacher, and the other would sometimes give me a recorder he made for my birthday.
What drew you to Brooklyn?
Culture! Music! Especially the Klezmer community, which felt like home and family right away.
I was drawn here by the port city culture, the richness of a city of immigrants. Brooklyn has magic even in the most challenging times, thanks to wonderful and inspiring people. I love the queerness overall, the feeling of the power of people united around causes, art projects and social justice; how Brooklyn often makes space for creativity and activism, communities and arts.
Also, I didn’t feel like an alien coming from a mix of cultures or just a different one than most people around even if on the “papers” (that is what we are called until citizenship).
What makes your music distinctive?
Playing traditional and new traditional Jewish music (mostly Klezmer and Yiddish songs) on traditional medieval instruments like the recorders, Bessarabian Caval, and hurdy-gurdy, and exploring Judeo-Provencale music (Shuadit) on those instruments.
Also, singing, composing and improvising music in the Klezmer and Yiddish idioms, in a collective way — like with my band, Tsibele. And working with old texts or poems which talk about contemporary concerns at the time of writing, but which feel relevant now—like capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, fascism, etc.
What inspires your musical repertoire?
I am inspired by traditional Klezmer music, especially from Bessarabia, Moldavia, and Romania but also by a lot of other traditional music, especially Middle Eastern music, Turkish, Classical Arabic, and Persian. I also get inspiration from West African music, Afro beat, Reggae, Jazz, and experimental music of all kinds, from rock to early music. My mentors and main inspirations are mostly women musicians and singers.
How has the pandemic affected you and your group?
Because of the pandemic, I lost all my work, like many others. All the concerts, festivals, tours and workshops were cancelled and almost no music venues or are booking anything in the near future, or ever. It has been a huge struggle to pay rent, make it in Brooklyn during all this time, and still have space to practice and create. Unfortunately, most of my energy is going into surviving, staying safe and keeping everyone around safe too, as well as writing grants, finding any kind of jobs, teaching, etc.
How are you reaching your audience now?
On social media when I can, but since the pandemic started, most of the gigs happen last minute, spontaneously depending on the weather. Or, gigs that can’t be advertised for safety (no room for audience other than the people that pass by or organize the events).
What do you think the future holds for your arts sector in New York as a result of the pandemic?
It depends a lot on New York law and city budget makers. Unfortunately, a lot of music venues and festivals are suffering and closing because of the pandemic. As for now, it is hard to stay positive and optimistic, especially as a “not-male” musician.
I think musicians and singers who were already established in the city will be okay and will be booked in the festivals and venues that survived the pandemic. But I am worried that there won’t be much space and opportunities for lesser-known ones, and especially for musicians and singers who are part of a minority.
What types of support do you most need now?
Money is the priority. Also, I need help with visibility, a safe space to collaborate and perform and compose and create (for instance, a residence), as well as access and a budget for professional recording studios and music videos.
There is also a need for larger support and change to achieve stability; for example, by having a legal status for musicians and artists in general, like in France or Belgium, where you get a salary every month if you have enough gigs each year.
What is next for you?
Finally releasing my Fada album, online for now. Recording an album with Sonic Mud (Kenny Wollessen, Julia Elsas, Katie Down) and one with the singer from Ouganda Rachman Nachman, who I have been playing with for few years.
I am also working on a couple new projects. One is composing and putting into music some of my French-Jewish great grandmother’s cooking recipes. Another is a solo show with my grandfather’s “abstract photographs in movements.” I hope to invite other musicians, dancers, and other performers to join as soon as we can and if I find funding.
What are your hopes for 2021?
So many things to hope for! Aside from hoping that everyone is being taken care of and staying healthy, I hope for more justice and “re-balance.” I hope the new government and people in general will value arts, culture, and education as much as other things, or more! And that the people in power make it a priority to make those things accessible for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
I hope the small venues in general survive the pandemic (like Barbès and others) and that we see some changes in the system in place and society with more visibility, work and space for minorities.
What does it mean to you to be part of Beat of the Boroughs?
It is such an honor, and I am so grateful to be part of this. I know about it and have been listening to it for years.
You can view Éléonore Weill’s presentation on Wednesday, January 13 at 5:00 PM on CTMD’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/CTMDProgramsConcerts or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CTMDnyc. And learn more about her at www.eleonoreweill.com.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment