New Rock Band Fights Haman in Catchy Purim Song

A catchy bossanova beat tells the triumphant tale of Queen Esther and Mordechai. "Haman (Purim Song)" is not a cover, parody or kids song.
By Ben Bresky

A musical act from the United States called the Heartsleeves has released a song entitled "Haman (Purim Song)". The tune celebrates the Jewish struggle over Haman during the time of the Persian empire. Members of the group told Arutz Sheva news about the song and the reaction to it.

The eight-piece rock and funk band consider their style of music to be "neo-eclectic soul reflected sounds from real life." They incorporate South American, funk, jazz, rock, klezmer and other genres into their music.

Six out of the eight members are of Jewish heritage, "although we each probably define that in different ways," said New York-born Jared Lucas Nathanson, songwriter and lead vocalist of the band. "It was completely organic that we have a strong Jewish element. It was not planned or really ever discussed, it just happened, which I think is special."

The positive lyrics of "Haman" read in part "give me the power to protect myself... I won't bow down to evil... and Mordecai ascended, honored with a life of dignity / Haman was rewarded with the end he planned for you and me." The catchy melody has a Brazilian bossa beat.

"Our Jewish fans like it, and they dance a lot when they hear it," stated saxophonist Ben Margolis. "It's apparently the only Purim song that they can rock out to. Our non-Jewish fans are attracted to the drama and the tension release of the song. I think both people like the rage in the song, kind of a punk appeal. It's not a cover and, like you are saying, not a novelty. It's real emotion and the rawness infects people of all backgrounds. I love when people are jumping up and down singing."

Nathanson added, "we played Haman for the first time at the Vilna Shul in Boston in 2011. It was really well received. It's not a joke song. It's a song about bravery and strength and that translates to all music fans. We have whipped up many crowds into a frenzy with it, Jewish or not."

Several other Heartsleeves songs have Jewish roots, including "Rebecca" and the song "Mitch", which is the true story of a friend of the band named Mitch Heisman who died tragically on Yom Kippur.

There is also the quirky and rocking "Son of Lenny Bruce", named for the American stand-up comedian who often discussed his Jewish identity on stage. Nathanson explains, "It started as a joke, but it absolutely comes from my life. When I was seven years old, a lunch lady at school really did come up to me and explain to me that I was Jewish and I couldn't have the cross. I went home and asked my father what she was talking about. This set me on an adolescent quest through theology, philosophy and post-Holocaust existentialism as I searched to find my Jewish identity, traced back through my ancestry, my name, my music and the many Jewish historical figures that I felt kinship with, even though none of us lived lives of devoted religious practice."

Nathanson's thick, deep voiced vocals details his childhood story with a groovy saxophone and piano backdrop. "Many of us that are stuck between worlds called non-Jew by Jews and Jew by anti-Semites. Lenny Bruce and many other great Jewish minds are a lineage I pull great strength from," the singer related.

Both songs come from the group's 2012 album "Peripheral People". The album is a tribute to Nathanson's late sister Jessica. The band is currently working on their third full-length CD "Love is Reciprocal".

Regarding the band's new material, Nathanson stated, "Ben Margolis and I are exploring a Chanukah song and we are always looking to mix a bit of theology into the batch. Keyboardist Joshua Troderman has a killer song idea pulling right from Psalms that is pretty amazing as well."

In terms of their standing in the world of Jewish music, Nathanson stated, "I think that as a band we never go out to make Jewish or non-Jewish music. As I say in Son of Lenny Bruce, 'my Y chromosome goes back to the promised land.'"

Margolis added, "Most of what we hear in America as Jewish music has caricatures, as if to say 'look, there are Jewish guys singing this song! Isn't that hilarious!' This is good to attract attention, but not necessarily always good for music. I like how Matisyahu embraced Middle Eastern music constructs in his new album. I think it's cool to embrace the culture whether it's klezmer or Middle Eastern music."