Jewish Music

In Brief

  • Title: Duo NIHZ, Jewish Music.
  • Musicians: Sanna van Elst (recorders) and Bobby Rootveld (guitar).
  • Identification: SAMCD 004.
  • Recording: 2008, Ivory Tower Studios, Bornerbroek, Holland.
  • Year of publishing: 2008.

Chassidic Dances by Duo NIHZ


Duo Niet In Het Zwart (Dutch for Not Dressed In Black, abbreviated to NIHZ) is a recorder-guitar duo that consists of Sanna van Elst on recorders and Bobby Rootveld on guitars. They started their cooperation when they were students on the Artez Conservatory in Enschede, Holland.

They did not restrict themselves to music, they also integrated other forms of art in their performances. In this way, they had a theme performance around a set of paintings and they cooperated with the storyteller Loek Boer (stories from the second World War in Twenthe, an eastern district of Holland, and a program around the legendary Twenthe rogue Huttenkloas).

An encounter in 2007 in Hungary cause a clear direction in their music, they dedicated themselves to Yiddish music from all times as a tribute and memory of the victims of the Holocaust that also hit members of their own family.

This CD is the result of this direction. An album with both duo and solo music, with arrangements of existing melodies and own compositions, amongst others by Bobby Rootveld himself.

A part of the recording consists of arrangements of a large number of Yiddish traditional melodies: Folk dance and Klezmer between sadness and dansant elation. This applies to the complete CD, melancholy and joy live close together and provide the recording with an obvious depth.

The recording itself is intimate with very little reverb, yet sufficient spacious to be able to hear all the details. This approach draws you into the music as a close listener.

A striking guitar solo from this album is Sefer Torah by the Italian composer Gianmartino Maria Durighello, a four-movement composition about the Scrolls of the Torah that covers four highlights in the Jewish liturgical year. The music is contemporary (not my greatest hobby), but the modest and almost meditative atmosphere catches me.

The humoristic Samson’s Tune, the authentic ‘theme tune’ of the Rootveld family, brings a smile on you face because of its spontaneous mirth.

In my opinion the most emotional piece from this CD is Amsterdam Huilt (Dutch for Amsterdam Weeps). Long ago in 1964 this song was a hit, as performed by Hendrika Jansen alias Zwarte Riek with text and music by Kees Manders.

I did know the song when I used to live in Amsterdam as a teenager. It did not interest me much, because it was a Dutch-language song, these songs were mostly boring tearjerkers, and it really was Not Done to listen to it in the opinion of an adolescent with a somewhat elitist taste of music with a preference to English-sung pop music. In those days, there were no Dutch pop groups such as De Dijk, Frank Boeijen and Bløf that meaningfully integrated Dutch language in pop music. Thus, I missed the actual meaning of the lyrics of the song.

I did know the history that was sung by Amsterdam Huilt. The Second World War was a fixed item in the history programs at schools and the neighborhoods around the Jodenbreestraat, het Waterlooplein, Weesperstraat and Sarphatistraat in Amsterdam are silent witnesses of the life of the Jewish community, even though the construction of the Metro sacrificed a lot of these memories to demolition.

The version on this CD was the first time that I heard Amsterdam Huilt again. After many years, I now understood the lyrics of the song and the reason why Amsterdam was weeping indeed.

The modest approach of Duo NIHZ with the whispered text and the discreet and functional accompaniment does not leave room for distraction of the message of the song, the memory of a flourishing community that has been annihilated by cruel ideological violence. A monstrous policy that still has not been banished completely, by the looks of the behavior of some contemporary ideologies.

Initially this is not quite obvious from the song. The first and the greater part of the second stanza describe merely nostalgia, the life in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter and memories of religious life and festivities. Then a few lines cut the nostalgia to pieces, just like the Holocaust in the fourties did with the life of many. This nostalgia will never come back, and the emotional charge of these sentences discharges itself in the weeping of Amsterdam. The song concludes with Mazzel and Broghe, a Yiddish blessing in the hope that the suffering has not been in vain.

For me, this piece became the tribute and memory of the victims of the Holocaust, not only the dead, but also the survivors.

Duo NIHZ has rightly received a prize for Amsterdam Huilt on the International Jewish Music Festival in 2009!

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