Breaking the Sound Barrier

The Hip Hop Hoodios have at least three distinct fan bases, and they seldom if ever intersect.

“Oh, it’s three or four sometimes,” admitted the band’s co-founder Josh Norek in a telephone interview last week. “We’re embraced in the Jewish community, but we’re also accepted in the Latino and hip hop communities, too.”

Those communities may not often come together, but they will have a rare opportunity to do so for free when the Hoodios give a concert in the courtyard of the Museo del Barrio as part of the Latin Alternative Music Conference on Aug. 3.

“It”s a real honor for us,” Norek said. “In my other life, I’m the publicist and attorney for a lot of major acts in the [Latin music] genre. The LAMC is the biggest event in the world for this kind of music.”

If you ask Tomás Cookman what he does at the LAMC, he laughs and says: “I’m the guy who pays everything. It’s my [butt] on the line.”

In reality, Cookman founded and runs the conference, which means he is about as well plugged-in as anyone in the Latin music world, and he is an astute judge not only of musical talent but of his organization’s role in the burgeoning Latin market in the U.S.

“The core of our event is the conference itself, the networking opportunities it presents,” he says. “But when you have so many important journalists, musicians and management people together, what better way to celebrate than with concerts. And we always have free concerts.”

Where do the Hip Hop Hoodios fit into this picture?

“They’re a classic and relevant act,” Cookman says without hesitation.

“They have a following among many different types of people and that’s what we like about them,” he adds, unwittingly echoing Norek’s words.

“The Museo del Barrio had wanted a New York-based act to perform during the conference,” Norek noted. “It’s a point of pride for us that we’ve been accepted by both communities. It’s important to bring people together.”

Cookman is certain that the Hoodios are not the first predominantly (or totally) Jewish band to perform at the conference.

He observes, “Argentina has the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, so I’m sure we’ve had quite a few Jewish musicians play for us.”

On the other hand, he readily admits, the Hoodios are certainly the most openly Jewish band they’ve engaged.

“They fly the flag quite high,” he says. “When you have girls with bagels as bras, you are definitely making a statement. Seriously, though, they go beyond the Jewish sensibility and people get it.” Which puts Norek in an interesting position as a human bridge between those diverse communities that make up the group’s fan base.

“We’ve played shows to mostly Chicano audiences and people say, ‘Wow, I never knew Jews were so cool,'” he said. “And I love to play a club like Makor where most of the audience has never heard of Molotov or the Orishas,” two West Coast-based Latino hip hop groups.

Given his unusual perspective, to which contemporary Latino acts does Norek recommend Jewish listeners open their ears?

“Café Tacuba, an excellent group from Mexico. Beck had them opening for him on one of his tours. Los Amigos Invisibles, a Venezuelan funk party group, David Byrne discovered them. And the Nortec Collective, they’re a Mexican electronica act.”

And three Jewish acts Norek would like Latino listeners to hear?

“Well the obvious ones, from a hip hop perspective, would be the Beastie Boys, although they don’t place much emphasis on their Jewishness,” he replied. “Blood of Abraham aren’t around anymore, but they were an enormous influence for me, seeing a Jewish act that was openly embraced by a mostly black audience. Seeing that, I felt comfortable doing what we do.

“As far as a more specifically Jewish cultural flavor, the Klezmatics would have to up there. Frank London has been something of a mentor to us, and we love to play with him. And Paul Shapiro and his Midnight Minyan group, they’re going to be playing with us on the 3rd.”

Talking about London and Shapiro put Norek in mind of the Bay Area’s famed Tower of Power horn section.

“Yeah, Frank and Paul and those guys, they’re sort of our Jewish Tower of Power,” he said with a laugh. “They’re beyond hip.”

And straight into hip hop.

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