Being the brother to Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen definitely has its advantages. For Erran, it’s always having a job working on the musical scores for his brother’s movies.
Although even then, Erran probably meets people who see these brotherly collaborations as pity projects, but he’s accomplished much outside of any inaccurately perceived shadow. He plays in the acclaimed band Zohar, and he’s composed symphonies for the Turan Alem Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra.
Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah came about after converging interests by both Erran and New Line Records president Jason Linn who were both surprised by the lack of many Jewish records. The holiday music is dominated by Christmas-themed music, and Erran wanted to bring the spirit of Hanukkah out of the child realm and make it fun for adults too.
“Hanukkah has always been a kid-focused holiday so the challenge was how to transform the music so that it was cool and interesting for adults and yet something that the whole family could enjoy,” says Erran (press release). Songs is “a musical voyage that bears repeated listening both for adults and kids who will love to hear the re-workings of the songs they already know.”
The most surprising aspect of Songs is how well it plays as a standalone record. Sure, it would to most to believers of Judaism, but the music itself is very enjoyable. “Hanukkah oh Hanukkah” opens as an update to the well-known Yiddish tune “Oy Hanukkah” featuring the Yiddish rapping of Y-Love and a reggae-themed anthem.
Many popular Israeli musicians and performances join Erran to provide similar passionate expressions of faith. Yasmin Levy‘s vocals, reminiscent to Shakira, grace “Ocho Kandelikas (8 Candles);” Avivit Caspi and Idan Raichel (of Zohar) sing a lovely duet in “Relics Of Love And Light;” Jules Brookes solos in “Rock Of Ages,” an update on the tune to Ma’oz Tzur; and Dana Kerstein closes out the album with “Ma’oz Tzur” in traditional fashion.
It’s interesting to hear holiday music outside of traditional Christmas songs. Other than the spoken Hebrew and Arabic which I couldn’t understand, Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah is still very accessible to the non-Jewish listener with some English-sung tracks and a very pleasing positive aura that’s very much present in the guest vocalists.