05 Apr EG PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS: SHWEKEY & YBC AT THE NEWLY REMODELED NASSAU COLISEUM An Exclusive Interview with Yaakov Shwekey & Eli Gerstner
VUES: Yaakov, are you of Ashkenaz or Sephardic descent?
YAAKOV SHWEKEY: I’m “Sfashkanaz.” My mother is Ashkenaz and my father is Sephardic. For music purposes, this is really telling. I do a lot of different types of music. One of my missions was for my music to become part of the Ashkenaz world, which I think was very successful, and I think everyone is doing it now. I put Mizrachi, Middle-Eastern sounds into my music. It’s good for the unity of Am Yisrael. I take pride in doing it all. Separdic, Ashkenaz, Yiddish. Whatever I do, I try to do it in an authentic way. My mother being Ashkenaz with some Chassidish background and my father really from the Syrian community, has really helped me out in terms of widening my customer base. It also gave me a taste of all worlds. It makes me really happy that Chassidim can be seen dancing to Sephardic, Israeli sounds.
VUES: What’s the largest venue you ever performed in?
YS: I did a Chol Hamoed concert outdoors in Kfar Chabad, Israel. The security was so tight, that even I couldn’t get in to sing for a half hour. There were approximately 80,000 people at that concert.
VUES: What’s your favorite song to sing?
YS: All of them are my favorite. They’re all different sounds. That’s like asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” It’s very hard to answer that.
VUES: What do you do when you are not working on music?
YS: I learn in kollel which is two blocks away from my house and I am involved with my wife Jenine’s organization, The Special Children’s Center. We have many different programs for special children. The homes take kids after school from 2 in the afternoon until 8 pm. They bathe the children, feed them, and even take them to Disney World. She does it as a chesed. This takes up a lot of our lives, so we are very busy people.
VUES: What do you prefer, concerts or simchas?
YS: The truth is, I look at a concert as a simcha too. There are many people who have told me that a concert, the music, has changed their lives, so there is obvious simcha in that. I love both, though I think they are very different. A simcha is when you are part of a person’s most important day of his or her life.
VUES: How has the music industry changed in the last 20 years?
YS: It’s changed a lot. A lot of people now do things digitally. CD sales are not the same. Then again, the live shows have expanded because of the internet. A lot has changed, some for the good, some for the bad. At the end of the day, I don’t do it for the CD sales. You have to have music in your veins and in your blood; you have to love it dearly. It might look easy, but a lot of it is hard- the travel, being away from your family… so you have to love it -and I do. Things have changed a lot, but BH I can’t complain. I have the great zechus to be m’sameach a lot of Am Yisrael. I look at it that way and I thank Hashem for that. I always want to go further and to create new things.
VUES: Do you like the era of YouTube? Do you like making videos?
YS: I do think it takes a lot of time to make a good video. I am working on a couple right now. It’s very tedious, especially when I try to be a perfectionist and it doesn’t come out exactly the way I want it, so I need to do it again. I love that it attracts people to the Jewish music industry who otherwise wouldn’t listen to Jewish music. It also gives kids good, quality, kosher entertainment. It makes a Kiddush Hashem. “Cry No More”, “We Are A Miracle” and all the videos that have come out, have really made a huge Kiddush Hashem. It’s tedious and hard, but it really can do great things.
VUES: How many concerts do you perform at per year on average?
YS: I don’t know. I take each one as it comes. But I’ve been all over. I’ve probably been to 90 percent of the world where Jewish people live.
VUES: How do concerts around the world differ?
YS: Every place is different. Going back to Eretz Yisrael and to historic Caesarea is very special. Performing in Europe, especially during a time of tremendous anti-semitism, is very meaningful. In Paris, the crowd is electric! In America, Jewish music is more readily available, but is also very special and exciting.
VUES: In which language do you prefer to sing?
YS: Hebrew and English suit me much better. Yiddish is harder for me.
VUES: What do you have planned for your Chol Hamoed concert at the newly remodeled Nassau Coliseum with the Yeshiva Boys Choir?
ELI GERSTNER: This is going to be an epic concert! The Nassau Coliseum is a great venue. It has been completely remodeled and can fit 17,000 people. April 5th is their opening day with Billy Joel and just one week later they’re having this concert with Yaakov Shwekey and the Yeshiva Boys Choir. We are using state of the art lighting that we have been using for the last two years at the famous Camp HASC concerts. Both Yaakov [Shwekey] and YBC plan on singing both their classics and their newest songs. This is the first time Yaakov is singing in the United States, outside of a simcha or a Camp HASC concert in two years. Camp HASC concert tickets typically start at a minimum of $150 per ticket and this concert has tickets starting at $25.
YS: Thanks, Eli. We have a great concert planned for Chol Hamoed with great energy. Chol Hamoed is a time that people can get out and really enjoy the Yom Tov through music. Eli [Gerstner] has been a good friend of mine for
many years. We worked on many concerts together for Camp HASC recently. It’s great to work with Eli once again and to be a part of this with him. He’s going to be taking care of the music & production, which is his expertise. The Yeshiva Boys Choir has been very popular for many years and I respect Eli as a musician. The shiluv, the connection, between the children, the singing, and then what I will bring is going make this a very special concert. I’m going to try to do different songs, some from the past, some from the Maamin album. I’m really looking forward to it. The Nassau Coliseum is a beautiful HUGE venue and I’m looking forward to singing in it since the massive renovation.
VUES: Please tell everyone about The Matzoh Fund, for which part of the proceeds from the concert goes towards.
EG: I am honored and privileged to work again to help this worthy cause. The Matzoh Fund is a non-profit project spearheaded by Alan Hirsch to help provide all that is needed for Pesach, including food and money, for people in Yehuda and Shomron in Eretz Yisrael. It really goes out to the most far-out places! These families could not make Pesach without all of the Matzoh Fund’s assistance. Every penny that is collected goes directly toward the families in these areas. This year in particular they need extra help because the shekel is so strong, so a US dollar won’t buy the same as in years past. The goal is to collect at least $250,000 and they still have a long way to go. All the merchandise is purchased in Israel through Israeli merchants and they provide it before Pesach in good faith, hoping to be paid by the end of Pesach.
VUES: Do you have any special plans for the summer yet?
YS: After Tisha B’av I always go to Israel for a week and do concerts there. I have a very busy June. I haven’t been in the Catskills for a while. During the 3 weeks I do concerts for Camp Simcha and Camp HASC, but I haven’t done big concerts upstate. It might happen this year, but it’s a matter of scheduling. I am still tinkering with a lot of ideas for August.
VUES: What are you working on now?
EG: BH a lot of projects. A few of them that have been put on the back burner due to the shows I produced this year (HASC, Zusman, Rachel’s Place, YBC Live etc.). The projects coming out in the very near future are the HASC 29 DVD & CD and YBC Live Greatest Hits on DVD & CD which will feature a brand new single and music video.
VUES: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
YS: Come dance and join us as we insert simcha in the air, and unify Klal Yisrael through music. It’s my greatest nachas to have everyone join together, no matter who you are and where you come from.
EG: We’re both looking forward to a great Chol Hamoed concert! We would like to wish all of our fans and all of klal Yisrael an EPIC Pesach!