'Latka Con Salsa' Adds Some New Flavor To Traditional Chanukah Music

Dec 4, 2018

Traditional Jewish music is often associated with the klezmer style, so the instrumentation would include clarinet, violin, accordion, trumpet, piano and flute. One Milwaukee musician wanted to go beyond the traditional Eastern European style of music for the Chanukah season and give it a new twist.

"One of my favorite styles of music is Latin jazz, and that's really a fusion of many different styles all at once. And being more than somewhat interested in my own cultural identity, I wanted to figure out a way to make a fusion of the two things that I really enjoy," says Mitch Shiner.

The result is a concert called Latka con Salsa, which will be a part of the Chanukah celebration Thursday evening at the Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay as a part of it's Tapestry programming. Led by Shiner on the vibes, the reimagined songs will be played along with Rick Aaron on the flute, Joey Sanchez on bass, Cecilio Negon, Jr., on the congas, and Dave Bayless on the drums.

(From left) Cecilio Negron, Jr., Mitch Shiner, Joey Sanchez and Rick Aaron in Lake Effect's performance studio.
Credit Audrey Nowakowski

"These Chanukah tunes have never had it this good before," says Aaron. "Chanukah music is pretty square, they're really child songs ... People, right away, always think about the 'Dradle' song. Well, if I never heard the Dradle song again it would be fine!"

Judaic Education Director Jody Hirsh says this program is truly the first of its kind at the JCC, and most likely the first program of reimagined Chanukah songs heard in Wisconsin and beyond.

"The arts are just the most powerful way to convey culture, and this fusion of Jewish and Latin culture is exactly what I think we should be doing because you just absorb it," he says. "To put these kind of wild beats [into Chanukah songs], who would've thought of such a thing? It really enlivens these songs in a way that we don't usually think of."

Shiner says that it's also important for communities who are feeling vulnerable and disenfranchised "to come together and celebrate the positive things about our cultures because we all know that that's really the things that ring true."