The Underscore Orkestra Talk Klezmer, Songwriting, and Belly Dancing

Apr 5th, 2012 | By | Category: Entertainment, Sounds
In conjunction with the events post about their upcoming show at CFBG, I conducted an interview with The Underscore Orkestra’s Jorge Kachmiri. Jorge is only one of eleven (!) members that play in the band. The Underscore Orkestra is an interesting combination of ‘Klezmer-gypsy-jazz’ music with a unique sound. You can catch them  at CFBGs Saturday, April 7, at 9pm.
What exactly is Klezmer music? How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard it before?
Klezmer music is from Eastern Europe. It was originally what the itinerant Jewish musicians were called, “Klezmorim.” It has many functions. But a main function, from our band standpoint, is to get up and dance and have a good time. It’s infectious old world music that makes you want to move, but it can also be soul-clenching in the emotions that it evokes.
Do you consider this band performance art (because of the dancing) Or musical art?
It is performance art at times, but it is interactive performance art as we want the audience to be involved, and we frequently interact with the audience. The dancing is only one aspect of the music, so much of it is actually just based on the music and the emotions that it evokes from the audience and us as well. We play very differently depending on the energy given to us by the audience.
When writing songs, is it a group effort or does one person come up with all of the ideas?
It is a group effort, but there are 3 main writers in the group.
What are your musical influences?
Squirrel Nut Zippers, Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Krakow Klezmer band, many other Balkan and Klezmer bands, lots of swing and old jazz and, of course, we all grew up with punk rock and metal music.
Why did you decide to form The Underscore Orkestra?
The band started out after a long cirkus tour (Cirkus Mutante) that involved 2 buses and 33 people. It ended in Portland, Oregon, at The Nightmare Collective (an arts warehouse collective that was on Elm Street). One of the buses decided to go to New Orleans and one stayed in Oregon. I was with the Oregon bus, and we started doing our own show with some of the members left over from Cirkus Mutante as well as meeting new folks from Portland. We had a Vaudeville show called “Magic Louie’s Nightmare Cirkus and The _______ Orkestra.” We could not decide what to call the band aspect of that and eventually it became The Underscore Orkestra. We toured with this group for another season, playing festivals and venues from the west coast and as far east as Colorado. At the end of that tour the band decided that we wanted to focus on the musical side and get away from the performance/Vaudeville side. Even though we still collaborate with cirkus folks all over. So we started working hard on the music and eventually the Belly Dancing became part of our act.
Has your lineup changed at all?
Yes it has, there are core members who have been around the whole time but we have had a few different bass players, horn players and percussionist, and depending on where we are at in the world we have other friends join for a time.
Do your members have similar backgrounds (musically or otherwise) or does each member bring different elements?
We all bring different things, some of us were conservatory trained while others are self taught. We come from all over this country and others. [We have members] from North Carolina, Florida, California, Boston, NY, Chicago, Oregon, France, Russia.
What’s your favorite gig you’ve ever played?
We played at an amazing haunted castle in Ireland, very creepy and there was a dungeon and everything….
What’s the roughest crowd you’ve ever played for? Tamest?
We played for these Wine and Food Association parties. We were paid well to be there but they wanted really mellow background type music, so we used have “mellow contests” to see who could play the mellowest solo. Also while in Mexico, we often times played to a very quiet, non-emotive audience, we thought they did not like us, until the end of the show and we found out that they had not heard something like this before so were just being quiet as they watched us. They would complement us afterwords though, but it was hard at first to play to a crowd like that.
What’s it like playing in the US vs. Europe, Canada, or Central America?
Its different in each for sure, They all have a charm about them, but we busk (play music on the street) alot more in Europe, it is a respected art and profession there and we make a good amount while there.
What are some similarities between Portland and Greensboro? Differences?
The Elsewhere collective is something that has a great Portlandish vibe to it.
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One Comment to “The Underscore Orkestra Talk Klezmer, Songwriting, and Belly Dancing”

  1. They're playing Saturday night at CFBG!:)

    April 7, 2012 9pm


    930 South Chapman Street

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