FolkWorld #48 07/2012
© David Hintz

Strong Melodies & Emotions

DeLeon @ 13th Washington Jewish Music Festival, Jewish Community Center - May 17, 2012. |

I enjoyed my interview with Daniel Saks of DeLeon, who along with one other member is from the DC area. We discussed some of the bands he has toured with including one of my favorites, Os Mutantes. That triggered a memory that I may have seen DeLeon on that tour when they played the State Theatre. Sure enough, I had (in Oct 2009), although they did not have their drummer or trumpeter. They were still fun that night and I looked forward to a fuller set tonight.

Alas, their drummer could not make this show (darn that having babies thing--just gets in the way of so much in life). There was still a percussion presence with a floor tom played by other members at times. The sounds were guitar or banjo with bass much of the time and trumpet and glockenspiel. All sang although primarily it was Mr. Saks with much assistance from Amy Crawford.

This band takes Sephardic folk songs and updates them with occasional lyric translations and modern additions to the arrangements. That fit well into a growing style made popular from one of my favorites Boiled in Lead (who coincidentally I chatted with this week) along with Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beatbox, 16 Hp, and many more bands whose CDs regularly work there way to me. I invariably enjoy this, as I love both folk songs and older music. And when a band such as DeLeon has the talent to match the vision, then I am an easy victim falling prey to their music.

Saks is a strong vocalist, as is Crawford and the evocative Spanish sounding vocal lines (sung in English, Ladino, Hebrew...) carry strong melodies and emotions. And some of the lyrics were so dark, the audience paused before clapping. Musically, the trumpet added a nice touch to the guitar/flat picked banjo and bass leadings. This was a big hall and unfortunately, the sound got lost in the space at times. The 70-80 people would have packed out the Red Palace and had a rollicking good time. Still, the audience picked up on this music and clearly enjoyed the set.

They did a nice closing number featuring a bit of classic rock guitar which was memorable. Other times, they reminded me of an alternate universe where the Incredible String Band had existed in a commune in Spain instead of Wales. The music was excellent, the humor was good including a fun impromptu Q+A before the encore. They are finishing up their third album and I suspect we will be seeing this fine band again soon.

Interview with Daniel Saks of DeLeon

David Hintz: I have learned something new concerning the Sephardic Jewish tradition going back to the Iberian (peninsula) area. Is that the core of what DeLeon is about?

Daniel Saks: Well that is kind of where it starts. The songs we play are all kind of based on that tradition--they are old folk songs. But from there we reinterpret the songs to a more contemporary sound. Some times the melodies may change. The lyrics, I'll translate into English if I like how they sound better in English... so we take some creative liberties with these songs. But that is the idea.

How about the rest of your band mates. Do they have different backgrounds that they bring to the table?

Judith Cohen: Some Observations on Judeo-Spanish Sephardic Songs

They certainly do musically. I am not sure I ever had the option to have a band with people who were interested in Sephardic music as I was, let alone play it a modern format. But the band all have their own influences and when we play live, they are kind of blending their own Known influences to that sound, which I think is the strength of it. The whole idea is that these songs are songs that are worth hearing and together we mold them into a shape that makes sense hearing today.

OK, now you have played with some bands that I have reviewed CDs previously... Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello. And what you are also describing is something similar to when 16 Horsepower took Appalachian music and rocked it as Bordello does. So do fans from those bands gravitate to your sound and is this something that is becoming more popular?

There is some sort of disparate influences used to create something that feels very 'now'. Like the Gogol Bordello tour, for example, was a fantastic tour. There fans really did take to us. I think they were responding to the exoticness and the beats and the melodies and just the energy of the band. It is going to be a roomful of people that are open to that sort of thing, you know, come ready to dance. Same goes for Balkan Beat Box crowds. So those were great tours and we had a lot of fun and we definitely picked up some fans along the way.

First published & full interview @

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Daniel Saks & DeLeon (unknown).

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