Black Ox Orkestar announces Everything Returns

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Black Ox Orkestar by Stacy Lee



The new album from the modern Yiddish/Klezmer avant-folk group reunited after a 15-year hiatus

Black Ox Orkestar formed from Montréal’s fertile post-punk scene of the early 2000s, featuring members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Sackville, releasing two acclaimed and influential albums Ver Tanzt (2004) and Nisht Azoy (2006).

Everything Returns picks up right where the band left off, with incisively atmospheric, uniquely modern Jewish diasporic folk music of brooding balladry filtered through the lens of an indie-rock sensibility, exquisitely recorded by Greg Norman (Nina Nastasia, Jason Molina)

Black Ox Orkestar will be making select live concert appearances in Toronto, Montréal, Keene NH and Brooklyn NY, December 13-17

RIYL: A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Daniel Kahn, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Arooj Aftab, Tindersticks, The National, Alasdair Roberts, Xylouris White, The Klezmatics

“Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav” video directed by Erik Ruin

“Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav” was first shared as a flexi 7″ by Jewish Currents magazine in February 2022 as a gift to its subscribers.

“A vivid, overwhelming sound that transports the listener not into the past, but to an alternate present, one where the wails and thrums of Jewish music around the world—­especially the Ashkenazi genre known as klezmer—were never stifled. “Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav” (“East From West”) tells a story that will only become more universal in the days to come. Interspersing predominately Yiddish lyrics with words in Arabic, English, Hebrew, and German, the band evokes refugee flows of past, present and future. Lamentation, rage, and hope swirl together as the song reminds us that “settlement” is a dangerous illusion. The destination cannot be where meaning lies, for we may never reach it.” 
– Jewish Currents – 

“When I first heard the lyrics of “Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav” and its themes of forced displacement, longing for a lost and/or imaginary homeland, and border-crossing, my mind immediately turned to those close to me directly impacted by/intertwined within those things. At the heart of this video are four friends, framed by projections that represent both their individual and family narratives of migration. The whole video was filmed within 5 blocks of my home here in beloved West Philadelphia, a diverse area constantly threatened by encroaching gentrification as new luxury developments spring up along its borders. Other images, of the ebb and flow of routes and systems, are projected on sites I pass every day, that maintain some trace of my neighbors—whether that’s the boarded up aftermath of a house fire or the torn remnants of a poster protesting climate change.
– Erik Ruin – 

“We’d long followed Erik’s work as a printmaker and co-founder of the Justseeds collective. His expressionistic and obsessively handmade aesthetic always seemed like it could be part of the Black Ox world. After viewing his animation experiments, and especially his recent book Threnody for the Dispossessed, we knew he’d be the perfect illustrator for this song about migration, longing and exile.
– Black Ox Orkestar – 

Cover Black Ox Orkestar Everything Returns
Cover Black Ox Orkestar Everything Returns


180gLP / CD / DL
Constellation • CST169
Release date: 02 December 2022
Genre: Folk, Global, Yiddish/Klezmer

Tish Nign
Perpetual Peace
Oysgeforn / Bessarabian Hora
Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav
Viderkol (echo)
Moldovan Zhok

Everything Returns reconvenes the original Black Ox Orkestar lineup after a 15-year hiatus. Arising from the fertile Montréal post-punk scene of the early 2000s, the band was formed by Scott Gilmore, Jessica Moss and Thierry Amar of Thee Silver Mt. Zion (Amar also continues to compose and play bass for Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Gabriel Levine of Sackville. Black Ox Orkestar made two acclaimed albums of roiling modern Yiddish/Klezmer avant-folk in the mid-2000s, exploring Eastern European and North African folkways through the lens of a gritty, resonant indie rock sensibility, juxtaposing interpretations of instrumentals from various Jewish, Romani and Arabic traditions with originals led by Gilmore’s keening, politically-charged lead vocals and lyrics.

First revealing its resurrection with a surprise flexi 7” single issued by leftist magazine Jewish Currents as a gift to its thousands of subscribers, Black Ox Orkestar has indeed fully and fruitfully reunited. Exquisitely recorded by Greg Norman (Nina Nastasia, Jason Molina), Everything Returns picks up right where the band left off: an incisively atmospheric, melancholic yet resolute album of uniquely modern Jewish folk music, with piano, violin, upright bass, clarinet and cymbalom making up the core instrumentation, and the vocal tunes sung primarily in Yiddish. Gilmore’s voice and the band’s simmering arrangements conjure an ardent, doleful balladry that echoes the sound and sensibility of artists like Tindersticks, The National, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen.

Everything Returns explores what it means to make Jewish diaspora music—an artistic tradition that survived genocide—in a time of resurgent authoritarianism, white nationalism, and refugee crises. The band eschews the strict historicism or nostalgic fusion that characterizes various strands of the klezmer and Yiddish revival, seeking a new Jewish music in the present tense. Everything Returns is neither fusion music nor folk revivalism, but a sublime, poetic, politically-informed statement of re-energized diasporic musical intent, at once from a vanished world and very much of our time and place.

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Everything Returns inserts

Lyrically, Everything Returns inscribes a new Jewish music in the present tense, grappling with contemporary issues from the Arab Spring protests and their brutal suppression, to anti-racism struggles and opposition to the fascist embrace of ethno-nationalists. In a polyglot of Yiddish, French, English, Hebrew, and Arabic, the album’s poetic and lyrical mosaic is an invocation of the diasporic arc of Jewish history, a celebration of the multilingualism of the band’s Montréal home base, and a symbolic reflection of the transnational nature of today’s political challenges. Black Ox Orkestar seeks to help reappropriate “globalism”, from its pathetic weaponization as an anti-Semitic dog-whistle, towards its crucial rehabilitation as a 21st century expression of international solidarity, anti-fascist post-capitalist critique, cross-cultural cooperation, and ecological hope.

“Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav” (East from West), explores the uncanny parallels of Jewish victims under Nazi occupation (deported from the West to the camps of Eastern Europe) and Syrian refugees (fleeing the civil war from East to West).  Shifting through time and culture, the song’s narrator is at times a Yiddish-speaking Jewish person preparing to board a deportation transport to the East; and at times a Syrian refugee donning a life vest in the Mediterranean. One calls out “my love” in Arabic, one in Hebrew. Both describe themselves “reborn at the border” in German. Musically, the composition embraces the same ambiguity, fusing Arabic scales and idioms with recognisably Western jazz and blues forms.

“Epigenetik” uses a tango form with a classic 2-5-1 jazz turnaround to draw an extended metaphor between the transmigration of souls in Jewish mysticism (“the gates of reincarnation”) and the theory of epigenetic transmission of trauma from one generation to the next. The fate of Jewish anti-fascist activists killed under Stalin is paralleled to Syrian human rights activists disappeared under the Assad regime.

Through it all is a glimmer of hope that we can find a mutual solidarity in loss. Everything Returns in some form: the persecutors and the liberators.



12/13 • Toronto ON • The Music Gallery

12/14 • Montréal QC • Museum of Jewish Montréal
Co-presented with MJM, POP Montréal and KlezKanada

12/15 • Keene NH • Nova Arts

12/16 • Brooklyn NY • Union Pool

12/17 • Brooklyn NY • Union Pool
Co-presented with Jewish Currents Magazine


Photo credit: Margot Flores Torre

Black Ox Orkestar began playing in a Montreal living room in the summer of 2000, the project of four musicians exploring their Jewish roots through music. Thierry Amar (upright bass), Scott Gilmore (vocals, cymbalom, piano, guitar & percussion), Gabriel Levine (clarinets, guitar), and Jessica Moss (violin) came from years of playing out-jazz, rock and avant-folk in the vibrant Montreal post-punk scene. Listening together to pre-WWII recordings of Jewish and other traditions from Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Balkans, discovered on dubbed cassettes and trips to the music library, they were inspired to capture that music’s rawness and emotional intensity in their own ensemble playing. The band’s intent was to be true to the strangeness and beauty of these archaic songs, translating them into new forms, while avoiding the well-worn paths of museum traditionalism or fusion. Gilmore, who was studying Yiddish at the time, was also writing original compositions in that language, extending a tradition of Yiddish modernism as though it had never been interrupted by genocide and displacement. With their words and music, the band placed themselves in an artistic and political lineage that embraced a diasporic Jewish identity, a politics of solidarity with migrants and exiles, and an approach to tradition as a springboard for musical and lyrical experimentation.

Black Ox Orkestar enjoyed seven years of intense activity, deeply ensconced in the Montreal music scene, working with many collaborators and performing regularly, from New Year’s dance shows to benefits for Algerian and Palestinian refugees. During that time, Gilmore and Levine were also founding members of Le Petit Théâtre de l’Absolu, a puppet theatre that toured a children’s show through the occupied West Bank and Israel in the fall of 2003. Black Ox Orkestar released two albums on Montreal indie label Constellation: Ver Tanzt? (2004) and Nisht Azoy (2006). Among various accolades at the time, PopMatters called them “the darkest, densest folk group around…a dark trad-Yid band is a welcome change” and Klezmer Shack wrote “absolutely wonderful… incendiary… when a band plays this well, with a range of moods and strengths, and engages in the politics of today’s world in Yiddish, much positive should be said.” The band played their final show in late 2006, before separating geographically to pursue other paths.

After 2007, Jessica Moss and Thierry Amar continued uninterrupted Montreal-based music careers in beloved agit-punk bands Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, while also making performance, arrangement and production contributions to countless recordings by the likes of Vic Chesnutt, Matana Roberts, Lhasa, Carla Bozulich, Grant Hart, Sarah Davachi, BIG | BRAVE, Basia Bulat, Broken Social Scene and many more. Moss is also known for her unique noise-, electronics- and ambient-metal-inflected post-classical solo albums over the past decade, which regularly land on Modern Composition and Electroacoustic year-end lists. Amar is one of the co-founders of the legendary Hotel2Tango recording studio in Montreal. Primary composer/vocalist/lyricist Scott Gilmore pursued human rights law in Washington D.C., while Gabriel Levine completed a PhD and taught performance and cultural theory in Toronto (publishing Art and Tradition in a Time of Uprisings with MIT Press in 2020). Both kept up with their instruments and musical practices largely on the side through this period. 

Following a 15-year hiatus, Black Ox Orkestar reunited in the pandemic summer of 2020, impelled by an invitation by a journalist from left-leaning magazine Jewish Currents to be the subject of a feature article introducing this groundbreaking band to a new generation of listeners. The band reconvened at first in friendship and conversation, which soon evolved into a desire to tap back into the musical chemistry they’d each dearly missed. Pandemic restrictions initially limited them to Zoom meetings and virtual file exchange; one of their earliest new recordings, “Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav”, was forged from a voice memo recording of Gilmore on piano and voice, to which Levine added clarinet in his Toronto basement, and Amar and Moss overdubbing strings at Montreal’s Hotel2Tango recording studio. This song was then released as a flexi 7” by Jewish Currents as a gift to its 6000+ subscribers in February 2022, effectively announcing the return of Black Ox Orkestar. The song also appears on the band’s new full-length album Everything Returns, which picks up right where they left off a decade-and-a-half ago: an entrancing collection of roiling interpretations of Jewish diasporic instrumentals combined with brooding vocal-driven originals (sung primarily in Yiddish) showcasing their unique sound and sensibility—offering a distinctive take and timbre within the contemporary landscape of Jewish, Yiddish and klezmer music. A burgeoning new diasporic community of such practitioners, researchers and fans has arisen since Black Ox Orkestar’s initial run, and the band’s first two albums remain lodestars among this next generation. Everything Returns will indeed mark an exciting and welcome return for many and should offer proof positive of the band’s continued interpretive strengths, musicianship, and revitalizing contributions to the tradition.

“Nisht Azoy is a heavy album. Black Ox Orkestar’s take on traditional Yiddish music has the same portentous sense of weight and drama that runs through Godspeed You! Black Emperor like a quiet lead stream. The music is recognisably influenced by post-rock, yet you wouldn’t mistake Black Ox Orkestar for any other band. A dark trad-Yid group is a welcome change. They’re the darkest, densest folk group around. 
PopMatters (Nisht Azoy, 2006)

“It seems appropriate that the city that gave us Mordechai Richler and which was home to Chava Rosenfarb should continue to be the source of new, interesting Yiddish music. Although most of the songs on this album are traditional, they are played in a brooding, nusakh-influenced style that owes as much to Middle Eastern music and modern discordances as to traditional folk music. “Fishelakh in Vaser” is absolutely wonderful as it slowly grows more forceful and discordant—a modern Yiddish street bolero. The words to the title song are incendiary, questioning what is happening in Israel and the question of oppressed turning oppressor. This is a band with a range of moods and strengths. When a band plays this well and engages the politics of today’s world in Yiddish, much positive should be said.” 
Klezmer Shack (Ver Tanzt?, 2004)

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