Hackney-based but multinational She’koyokh present themselves as a klezmer band. But they source their music much more widely, singing folk and gipsy songs from the Balkans and Turkey. Award-winning band have performed in such eminent European concert halls as Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Gasteig in Munich and London’s Southbank Centre.
SUSI EVANS-CLARINET (FOUNDER MEMBER OF SHE’KOYOKH)
She’koyokh is a Yiddish word meaning “nice one!”. The name was suggested by Jim’s dad who grew up in East London which, when he was a boy, had a large Yiddish-speaking Jewish community. The band formed in 2001 after meeting at Klezfest, an annual klezmer summer- school at SOAS University of London run by the Jewish Music Institute.
Festival of Jim is a small family-run festival in the woods in East Sussex. Jim Marcovitch was She’Koyokh’s founding accordionist; he tragically died of cancer in 2008 aged 34. We had been playing together almost every day for the previous seven years and were like family. He was a total maverick and we did some crazy gigs on trains and buses, playing in the sea, dancing on tables and busking at a firework festival in Spain.
I live in Stoke Newington. I was born in Hemel Hempstead but my dad is from Yorkshire and my mum’s from Sunderland. I started on violin when I was six but gave up when I was seven. A few years later I took up music again because my brother and friends were all doing it. Otherwise I would have been a golfer!
“SOMEONE THREW AN APPLE AND IT EXPLODED ON MY CLARINET”
My parents love music and have always been very supportive. They paid for my brother to go to a specialist music school when he was 13, and I followed him there when I was 16 and now we are both professional musicians. My mum plays the Northumbrian pipes and runs her own folk band, writing all the arrangements herself.
Once, someone threw an apple and it landed on my clarinet just as I was playing the last note of a gig. It exploded, and my clarinet was sticky for weeks. I’ve also been bitten by a dog when playing a very high note and had eggs thrown at me when busking during siesta time in Spain. We obviously need a cage in front of the stage like the Blues Brothers!
In She’koyokh we have 3 kids in total and another on the way! Babies come to rehearsals and go on tour. I take Matt & Chris’ baby to nursery once a week. Last week Meg went to Zika’s so he could look after her toddler and his children while Meg did some band admin. We pay a babysitter with money from the band fund so that Meg and Chris can spend three hours sending emails to promoters.
ÇİĞDEM ASLAN – VOCALS
I’m from Istanbul; my family is from Sivas in eastern Turkey originally.
I sing in Turkish, Kurdish, Greek and the Balkan languages. People like listening to the music of different cultures and tell me even though they don’t understand the lyrics they can still feel it.
I have always sung but performing semi- professionally started when I was at uni in Istanbul, then professionally after I moved to London.
I had seen the band perform outside in Euston and I remember thinking what a lovely band, I wish I sang with them. The following year, I met personally with the members and jammed. They invited me to sing with them for couple of concerts. This was almost 10 years ago, and I am still with them.
Our songs tell stories about various things from love to migration; dialogues between mothers-in-law comparing gifts to the bride; women indecisive about who to marry; wild goats and unmarried women, angry women telling their lovers off…
My favourite song is Sila Kale Bal in Romani by Saban Bayramovic, the king of Roman music. The lyrics say, “Mother I am in love with this girl, she has dark hair and green eyes and if she doesn’t marry me I’ll die.”
My dad for years insisted that I go back to Turkey and do my job as an English teacher but this stopped when he saw me on a mainstream newspaper’s front page.
My Mum was surprised to see my gig was sold out and apparently asked my sister if all those people were there to listen to me!
Our gigs in Spain performing at WOMAD or in Hungary performing at Sziget or when we performed at Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or the most recent album launch in London are amongst the remarkable ones. Somebody from the audience once proposed to me while I was explaining the next song!
PAUL MOYLAN – DOUBLE BASS
I was born in Basildon. I joined She’Koyokh gradually as a stand in for many years then to ok over two years ago. My favourite song is an Albanian song Për Ty Vuaj Për Ty Këndoj.
ŽIVORAD NIKOLIĆ – ACCORDION & VOCALS
I was born in Kragujevac, a town in Central Serbia.
I play accordion and started playing when I was seven years old. My parents noticed my passion for music and took me to audition at the music school.
Susi and I studied together at the Royal Academy of Music.
This music has a deep connection to tradition. It has been developed through centuries, and something that survives for so long has a high value that we need to preserve. The music can tell us something about the characters of the people from that place. This is significant when communities have to flee and live in a diaspora.
“SOMEBODY FROM THE AUDIENCE ONCE PROPOSED TO ME WHILE I WAS EXPLAINING THE FOLLOWING SONG!”
MEG HAMILTON – VIOLINIST
I was born in Japan, but my parents are English. I started learning the violin when I was four, in a teaching method called Suzuki, which is a very good way of training the ear. I was in the audience for She’Koyokh’s first ever gig, and so happy to be invited to join soon after. My current favourite is an Albanian song with a long violin solo where I mimic sounds of mountains, birds and wild animals.
My siblings all played music at some stage. My brother wanted to sell his violin to buy a rifle but I couldn’t bear it to be sold, so I bought it from him.
One time, we were about to perform the world premiere of a klezmer concerto in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The minute I walked on stage there was a loud sound: my string had broken. The band had to play a couple of klezmer tunes to entertain the audience while the orchestra sat there waiting for me to come back.
We attract a very eclectic audience in London. Sometimes a group of Turkish people come and sing along with Cigdem. They often get up dancing as well and request tunes again and again that we’ve just played!
My husband, Bogdan, is also a professional violinist. We somehow manage to juggle our careers with childcare, with a bit of help from our wonderful family and friends.
CHRISTINA BORGENSTIERNA- PERCUSSIONIST
I was born in Madrid. My family is from Sweden. I have always been into music! There was a piano in the house…
Having done a six-month ethnomusicology course at Stockholm University, I found myself immersed in Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, and Syrian folklore at the music library of Goldsmiths University while doing a music degree there. I also met Jim Marcovitch, co-founder of She’Koyokh, and sang along while he played his klezmer melodies. Slowly I met the rest of the band, around the year 2001.
One of my favourite songs is about a boy who tells his mum about the girl he loves; he tries to draw a picture of her for approval. It’s called Rosni mi rosni rositse. It’s much more interesting to my ears than popular English music. Also emotionally, the melodies have normally passed the test of time which means they have a powerful message inbuilt in them, that we have the honour to interpret!
We always have a babysitter either at home or at the gig (if it’s in the daytime). If the gig is far away or abroad, we arrange a local sitter.
MATT BACON- GUITAR & KAVAL
I was born in Zambia and lived in Nigeria and Malawi until coming to this country at 12 years old.
Maybe this has given me a taste for the exotic or different cultures because world music has always fascinated me. This is what attracted me to the band in the first place all those years ago in 2001. Of course, it wasn’t much of a band back then – just a loose collection of klezmer musicians all willing to go busking at Columbia road flower market on a Sunday morning come rain or shine!
Guitar is not really a traditional klezmer or Balkan instrument. I loved the challenge of trying to make my voice work within the ensemble.
At first this involved trying to imitate the sound and style of the traditional instruments of the region, for example the bouzouki, oud, lauto, tambora or even the cymbalom. Having integrated this approach into my sound somewhat I then introduced other elements such
as gypsy jazz or manouche music which, although not strictly east European, have flavours from the region due to the gypsy connection.For me music has always been about keeping an open mind and exploring different aspects of creativity.
My favourite concert so far has to be WOMAD in Fuerteventura. The stage was on the beach, a balmy night with a soft breeze, a full moon hovering above the horizon, and an enthusiastic audience who were dancing by the end of the first number!
Christina and I had our first child last year, so we are just getting into the swing of juggling playing music with having a family. We use babysitters when we play together who have all been fantastic. If we play outside of London we use an internet app to book them in the city where we are. They chill out (!) in the green room with Lucia while we are on stage.