The Klezmer Band That Stole Our Hearts

The “Jewsers” from Croatia were a real hit at the Tsfat Klezmer Festival this year. They played three shows, and each time, they brought the crowd to their feet with standing ovations, dancing and encores. The band was more than pleased.

“We have never played for a Jewish crowd before,” said Nevin Tabakovic, a renowned clarinet player. “We were so surprised when people sang along,” Tabakovic added. “The audience actually knew the words.”

A klezmer band that has never played to a Jewish crowd? Is this possible?

Dinko, the band’s double bass player, explained that the Jewsers is the only band playing klezmer music in the west Balkans. The eastern European audience considers the music ‘ethnic’ and quaint.

The band is based in Zagreb where there are scarcely 1,500 Jews. Prior to World War II, there were over 25,000 Jews living In Zagreb. “We lost many family members from our mother’s side in the Holocaust, says Ozren Tabakovic, the Jewser’s drummer. “We are very connected to Jewish culture and feel it is so important to revive it,” he added.

Critics in Croatia regard the Jewsers as one of the best bands in the region. They have been described as innovative, and have played at some very popular festivals including the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, the renowned Lisinski Concert Hall and at many street festivals across Europe. They play a unique blend of jazz, blues, klezmer, Croatian folk music, gypsy music and Latin rhythms. Although they are always well received, the standing ovations they enjoy in Tsfat are extraordinary.

Just ask Ines, the lead singer. She has been singing with the band for several years but has never been in Israel; that is, until this year’s klezmer festival. Wearing her cabaret-style black bolero hat with bright red lipstick and thick liner accenting dreamy eyes, she stole the hearts of the audience. Her rich, velvety voice brought everyone to their feet.

“We can’t wait to come back next year,” said Mario Igrec, the band’s guitarist and one of the most talented musicians in Europe.

‘Vidimo se uskurom’ as they say in Croatian. See you soon, Jewsers. We all look forward to dancing and singing with this band at Tzfat’s Klezmer Festival in August.