Traditional songs from a cultural heritage can be updated for a modern audience and still retain their original qualities — mainly, the ability to make people dance.
In the spirit of breathing new life into old musical customs, Chillent plans to “funk up” The Union Bar & Grill Thursday at 9 p.m. with their blend of funk and traditional Jewish songs. The show is free and is for anyone 18 years and older.
Chillent, who are based in Pittsburgh, have been playing together for around two years, harmonica player Sruli Broocker said. The band’s name is derived from “cholent,” a Jewish stew traditionally served during the Sabbath.
Shua Hoexter, who plays saxophone and sings in the band, said the group is not a klezmer band in the classic sense, but it is klezmer-influenced.
Klezmer is a Jewish musical tradition that comes from Eastern Europe. The klezmorim, musicians who perform klezmer, would typically play dance music at weddings and celebrations. The klezmer style later fused with American jazz, a genre not far from Chillent’s brand of funk.
“(Our style) is a combination of who we are musically and personally,” Hoexter said.
Chillent plays both traditional songs of the Jewish faith and more contemporary funk numbers during their sets, although the energy and style often stay consistent.
“We take it both directions,” Broocker said. “Sometimes we start with a traditional melody and turn it into a reggae groove or jazz or blues.” He said the opposite order occurs, as well.
Some of the band’s original songs like “Catch Me If I Fall” and “Narrow Bridge” contain lyrics with religious themes but not all of the pieces played by them have a Jewish connection, Brooker said.
He said Chillent are also known to “rap with the audience, play funky stuff and dance a lot.”
In their hometown of the Steel City, Chillent often plays shows at the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy on the North side.
“The secular Pittsburgh scene actually noticed us before the Jewish music scene did,” Broocker said.
Hillel at Ohio University, the OU Performing Arts & Concert Series and the Campus Involvement Center collaborated in making Thursday’s show possible. Last year, the three organizations collaborated to host comedian Julie Goldman in Baker Center Theater. Thursday will be the first time they will host a band together.
Lauren Goldberg, the associate director of Hillel, said the goal of the collaboration is to hold “culturally relevant programs incorporating Jewish performers and acts that expand beyond the Jewish community.”
Hillel has not put on a show like this “for a few years,” she said.
“Everybody is so excited The Union bar is back open and we want to celebrate its reopening,” Goldberg said.
She expects the music to be “warm, fun and wonderful” and unlike music found traditionally in Athens.
“We’re excited to check out the scene and see what people think,” Brooker said.