14 Sep Q & A WITH JEWISH MUSIC SUPERSTAR BENNY FRIEDMAN
HAVE A CHARASHO SUKKOS
One of the busiest stars in the Jewish music industry, Benny Friedman has made a name for himself, not by being a member of one of Jewish music’s royal families, but by consistently proving himself to be talented, versatile and one of the nicest people in the Jewish music business. This past weekend Benny sat down with Ari Hirsch from The Jewish Vues to discuss some of the exciting projects Benny is currently working on.
How was your Yom Tov?
Yom Tov was beautiful Boruch Hashem. I was in Memphis Tennessee at the Young Israel; a beautiful brand new shul. It was the inaugural event, the Chanukas Habayis, it was very beautiful.
Were you there for Yom Kippur as well?
Yes, for both Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur.
What did you Daven? Shacharis? Musaf? Both?
I daven Maariv, Mussaf, and Kol Nidrei. I heard a cute vort from my grandfather a”h. He said the ba’al shacharis tefillos are more miskabel because the ba’al shacharis has more of a broken heart since really he wants to be the ba’al musaf.
When you’re Chazzan, what kind of nigunim do you use? Do you use typical nigunim or Benny Friedman type nigunim?
I typically use old, ba’al habatish nigunim and I throw in Chabad nigunim when I can. I like to use nigunim that people can sing along with, which is usually the older nigunim. I can’t depend on the fact that everybody is going to be so up to date on the new songs. If I throw in a “Charasho” type tune, it’ll be very short, just to change the pace a little but not in any serious capacity. Actually, there were a lot of people this Rosh Hashana that used Joey Newcomb’s “Mi K’amcha Yisrael” for Hayom T’amzeinu.
Let’s talk about Charasho for a second. You just came out with a video about a month ago or so and it’s awesome! Give me a little background on how the song came about.
I grew up davening in a Russian speaking shul with a rabbi named Rabbi Gershon Gider. I didn’t learn Russian, but I did pick up a few words. The Russian style of Yiddishkeit is a very warm and geshmak feeling. I was at a Russian Bar Mitzvah in Germany and it hit me that a song with the word “Charasho” would be a fantastic song for the gigantic Jewish community that speaks Russian. It was an idea that was sitting in my head for a long time and I tried it out with different writers; it took a few years until I found the right tune and then we had to work on the lyrics to find the right upbeat happy lyrics. Yitzy Waldner composed the tune and it was fantastic, Boruch Hashem! We were going to film the video in Russia, but then Corona hit. We were going to wait for Corona to pass and go to Russia, but in the end we ended up filming the video two years later in Staten Island. You can’t control everything.
How long did the video take to make?
We filmed and shot it in one day, but planning for it took a long time. We worked with professionals; Shlomo Chaim Rivkin and Dovid Weinbaum are a great team. They arranged everything.
Is that your number one song that people ask you to sing right now?
It was until I released a song called “A Yid,” which is currently my number one song
Let’s go back to “Mi Kamcha Yisroel.” I’m a big fan of Joey Newcomb. How did that come about and how did you get those outfits to fit on you guys?
I work with Donny Gross, who is becoming a giant in Jewish music! Donny made the shidduch between Joey Newcomb and myself. He called me and told me that Joey was in the studio and he wanted me to come down to meet him. He told me that he had a great song that’s going to be a fantastic Nigun. When Donny says something, I trust him. I met Joey, listened to the niggun, and the rest is history!
As far as how we fit into the costumes, it was takah a miracle! They mamish didn’t fit, but we made it happen.
Where was “Mi Keamcha Yisrael” filmed?
It was filmed in a studio in Brooklyn with Meir Kay. Joey wrote the song while sitting in a shul in Krakow. He had just been through a tour in Poland and he was feeling it, so he sat down and wrote the song “Mi Kamcha Yisroel.” They beat us and they bloodied us up and we’re still here; Mi Kamcha Yisroel! That’s where the song was born, but it wasn’t a sad song; it was a song of pride and joy and happiness.
You recently came out with a new song with the Chizuk Project called Avinu Malkeinu. It was written and produced by Eli Gerstner and it was under the Strauss Music Label. Can you tell everyone a little bit about that song and how it was working with Eli Gerstner?
Eli is a professional; I’ve worked with Eli for a long, long time. I remember a while ago we started talking about this project, and it was always something I wanted to be involved in. We were looking for the right song and about a month ago Eli sent me Avinu Malkeinu and told me that he was combining it with a new project called the “Global Cholim List,” which is for people who need tefillos all around the world; their names are added to a list where everyone can daven for everyone. I hope that in the zechus of everyone davening, all who need a Refuah Shleima will receive it.
I get a lot of requests to record songs for different situations, but before we talk about anything, I have to hear the song. When I hear the song, then I can make the decision. Eli sent me the song and it didn’t even take me two seconds to make the decision; it’s a beautiful song.
This project is similar to one being mispalel b’yechidus versus being mispalel b’tzibur. It’s nice to make a song yourself, but being a part of a project with so many others is on another level. Baruch Hashem, the Chizuk project has so many singers involved, so it’s like we’re being mispalel b’tzibur.
There are very few concerts going on this Succos in the tri-state area this year because of Covid, but I just found out that you’ll be doing a concert in Elizabeth with 8th Day. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Concerts are back, though not as much as they were. It’s good to be back; we’re not back exactly where we want to be, but we’re getting there. I’m actually going to be in Eretz Yisroel for the first few days of Yom Tov where we have some shows. I’m going to rush back to be home for Shabbos and be a part of this concert. We’re going to have a big family reunion on Sunday in Elizabeth; it’s exciting! H o p e f u l l y we’ll keep this momentum going until Moshiach comes, where it’ll be the biggest simchas beis hashoeva in history.
What’s it like to play with your cousins 8th Day and Eli Marcus? What’s it like singing together on stage?
I have a lot of experience singing with my cousins, even before we were anything close to professional musicians or people who do this for a living. It’s always fun to perform with great performers. Aside from the fact that they’re my cousins, 8th Day and Eli are some of the happiest, most upbeat and fun people to be around, so it’s always a pleasure to be with them, perform with them, and spend Yom Tov with them. It’s a real simcha and I think that comes across on stage, as well. Moshe Tischler also has a fun energy around him; he has a great time on the stage. It doesn’t even look like he knows that he’s on the stage performing for thousands of people; it just looks like he’s having a great time. It’s perfect for simchas Yom Tov and I’m very much looking forward to it.
What are you working on right now? Is there anything else that you would like to share with Jewish Vues readers?
I’m working on a bunch of different things. I’m working on a new song for an organization called Chasdei Lev. Previously we worked together on “You Are My Rebbe” and “It’s a Rebbe’s Life.” I’m working on a new song to add to that collection. I’m also working on a new song with the organization Oraysa to celebrate a siyum masechta. I’m always working and trying to think of new and exciting things to put out and share with people. If I give you the whole list, it’ll take up the whole newspaper!
What’s your favorite song to sing in the Succah?
Ah Sukkelleh Ah Kleina
Favorite song on Simchas Torah to dance with the Torah?
Mi Pi Kel
Favorite Avraham Fried Song
Favorite 8th Day song
Soldiers of Light
Favorite Eli Marcus Song
Favorite Moshe Tischler song
Name someone in Tanach you want to know more about than what the kriah says:
Everybody. I don’t even know what the kriah says!
What’s your favorite Yom Tov?
Yud Daled Kislev- the Rebbe’s anniversary