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Blowing up boundaries
Josh Dolgin, known on stage as Socalled, blows up boundaries as he brings together an eclectic mix of musicians and musical styles
The Montreal Gazette

Fred Wesley. When I tracked down Montrealer Josh Dolgin on his cell phone earlier this week, in a van with his band crossing New York City's George Washington Bridge, I really just wanted to know one thing - how the heck did he hook up with Fred Wesley?

Under his stage name Socalled, Dolgin has been steadily building a modest international profile as an ambassador of klez-hop, mixing traditional Jewish music with hip-hop beats and whatever else he decides to toss into the blender.

Out comes the new Socalled album, Ghettoblaster, with a long and eclectic roster of guests, including Feist-producer Gonzales, Montreal country singer Katie Moore, rappers Subtitle and Crayz Walz, Jewish music pros Irving Fields and Susan Hoffman Watts, world music pal Ganesh Anandan - and legendary P-funk trombonist Wesley.

"I had this fantasy one day of getting Fred Wesley to play Jewish music," Dolgin said. "He is my number one musical hero, even more than James Brown, because he made James Brown's sound possible. He was the musical brain behind that. James Brown was insane - a total musical genius, but not in the musician sense. He grunted out what he wanted; Fred made it into music."

Where there's a will, apparently, there's a way.

"It turns out my publicist in France was also working with him. (Established klezmer clarinetist) David Krakauer - who helped me come out musically; he brought me to Europe, and I produced his last record; he is key to my experience and success - he got together with Fred and they started to talk.

"The idea was to get them together, and it happened. We played at Carnegie Hall with Fred (on Dec. 2, 2006). We wrote out the charts and did his material. He's this generous, sweet, amazing dude. We went to France together and did another show for that project. The idea was to explore Jews and blacks coming together to make music. The project was called Abraham Inc.

"I became pals with Fred and we kept in touch. Then when I made the album, my American label (JDub Records) wanted another tune. I had done (These Are the) Good Old Days as part of Abraham Inc., so I called up Fred and said, 'Can you play on the record?' I went down to South Carolina and we recorded it. It was awesome. We ate fried chicken."

The story doesn't end there. "We've kept in touch. He (recently) invited me to help produce what he calls a modern project on Fred Wesley. I've done my own stuff, and worked with Krakauer, but to be asked by my hero to produce his next record - I can die, now. But after I do it."

With hindsight, Dolgin's coup is not that surprising. He has a way of making things happen, while seemingly flying by the seat of his pants. His concerts (including at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Pop Montreal) are off-the-cuff affairs mixing musicians from disparate backgrounds, dropping beats on the fly, along with playfully dorky rhymes, and singing in Yiddish. Everything seems to careen along to the point of almost falling apart. And sometimes it does, only to get swept up and carried along, as Dolgin forges exuberantly ahead.

Ghettoblaster is much the same, though it sounds more polished thanks to some expert mixing help. "It's the first record I've made that is mixed, top-to-bottom, properly. I worked with an awesome sound engineer, (France's) Philippe Teissier du Cros."

The biggest challenge du Cros faced, according to Dolgin, was "trying to make it all fit. I showed up with 40 tracks (per song). That's 40 different things he had to make fit. It was kind of insane."

Which is how Dolgin likes it. And which brings us to the album title, and Dolgin's intuitive, all-inclusive concept for his music:

"Blowing up boundaries and coming together," he said. "Getting people out of their little ghettos, blowing up ghettos of time, space, age, race, attitude, humour, tragedy. Blowing it up!"

With a little help from Fred Wesley, blowing his horn.

Socalled's album Ghettoblaster is in stores Tuesday. To hear Socalled's music and see videos, go to

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007


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