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Orkestar Kriminal at the 2019 Dawson City Music Festival

Orkestar Kriminal

Montreal, QC

I come from an assimilated Jewish family, and I was the one who discovered that I was Jewish –  it was like a family secret,” said Webster. “Going to KlezKanada was part of me rediscovering my roots and because I’m a bit of a punk, the criminal underworld workshop in Yiddish really spoke to me. I feel passionate about bringing that back and proving to my grandparents that we don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“By singing music about this criminal underworld, Webster said that she hopes to broaden the spectrum of things people are singing about, and resurrect music that would have been otherwise lost.”

-Interview with Canadian Jewish News

Orkestar Kriminal’s latest album “Ryobra” features daring arrangements of old underworld ballads, telling the tales of people from the interwar period driven to a life of crime.  “Ryobra” translates to “Ribs” in Russian, referring to the clandestine method in which prohibited music was once distributed in the Soviet period, with phonographic grooves cut into old x-rays.  

With their unique instrumentation (sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, trumpet, musical saw, bouzouki, baglama, electric surf guitar, drums, piccolo, flute, violin, accordion, voice) and songs performed in Yiddish (Orkestar Kriminal is Yiddish for “prison band”), Russian, Greek, Spanish and Pashto from the early 20th century, Orkestar Kriminal dares to cut grooves of their own, arranging some of the world’s long-forgotten criminal ballads with all the fervour and gusto that they could muster. These are no ordinary folk songs.

Along with their Yiddish gangster repertoire, Orkestar Kriminal has absorbed the Rebetika Mortika hash den anthems of the 1930s Greek underground. They can also be found performing in Khmer, Spanish, Danish, Romani, Ladino, Russian, Vietnamese, and Hebrew, under the multilingual stylings of front-woman Giselle Claudia Webber.

Orkestar Kriminal is comprised of 5 female and 5 male improv performers from projects like Swamp Ward Orchestra, Les Deuxluxes, Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra, Gitans de Sarajevo, Lemon Bucket Orchestra, Hrsta, Klô Pelgag, Roma Carnavale.