Lila Sklar and Ariel Luckey of Waystation (Photo/Edrisina Sklar)
Lila Sklar and Ariel Luckey of Waystation (Photo/Edrisina Sklar)

Oakland rapper’s new CD: Call it social-issue hip-hop klezmer

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Immigration, Jewish heritage, cultural loss and reclamation.

Oakland-based actor, playwright and rapper Ariel Luckey explored those themes in his 2014 one-man play “Amnesia” — all to a live soundtrack composed by violinist Lila Sklar of Berkeley.

That duo continues to collaborate as the band Waystation, advancing the musical, political and social themes of “Amnesia” on their debut album “rememory.”

But “rememory” is no soundtrack.

“It’s not narrative. There’s no beginning, middle or end,” Luckey said. “We were really clear we wanted the album to have its own identity.”

Waystation will perform “rememory” at a CD release party at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 at Awaken Café in downtown Oakland. Local klezmer band Kugelplex and Gina Madrid also will perform.

Luckey discovered the concept of “rememory” in Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.”

The author describes a process of organically remembering something that was forgotten, thereby reconciling past and present.

Luckey views his own experience with rememory — reclaiming his forgotten European Jewish heritage — as “reverse assimilation.”

He describes the CD’s style as hip-hop/klezmer. Indeed, Sklar propels and contextualizes Luckey’s raps with some gorgeous stretches of klezmer, based on European Jewish wedding music, that range from wistful to joyous. Yet her music also adds hip-hop beats and sound collages, plus Balkan, Mexican, classical and electronic music to the tracks.

“This album is a mixture of so many different things,” said Sklar, a classically trained musician who has performed and recorded with musicians including Bjork, Bauhaus, Joanna Newsom, the Mizrahi Jewish band Divahn and Kugelplex. “I knew that I wanted to use some heavy beats and some electronic components in the music, because I was fascinated with that and hadn’t experimented with that before.”

I grew up in a city and multicultural environment in the golden era of hip-hop.

As a rapper, Luckey, 37, is a natural, employing a wide range of styles and emotions to present his generally powerful writing. “I grew up in Oakland and went to Oakland public schools. My elementary school was incredibly diverse racially and ethnically. All of us were listening to Salt-N-Pepa, Tupac, Digital Underground,” he said.

He wrote poetry in middle school and began free-style rapping in high school. “It was an organic evolution, as I grew up in a city and multicultural environment in the golden era of hip-hop.” Luckey said. “As I started finding my own aesthetic, hip-hop was a part of it.”

It even followed him to synagogue, said Luckey, who serves as temple administrator at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. As a teenager, he recalled, “certain prayer melodies would jump out at me as beautiful and resonant, but I could hear in my mind where a hip-hop beat would sound so fresh with that melody. So I’d sit in back in shul, and I’d fill in the beat as people would sing the prayers.”

Probably not since the decade-old work of the Hip Hop Hoodíos, a group of Latino Jewish rappers, has Jewish rap addressed issues of Jewish ethnic identity in the United States. But Waystation goes further by linking the Jewish immigration experience to that of other peoples, and calling for immigration justice and cultural reclamation for all.

The nine-song CD includes “Amnesia,” in which Luckey laments a lack of ancestral memory due to a “genocidal system of American whiteness. What we lost was priceless.” The music moves from a female chorus to a Middle Eastern riff to mournful krechts, or cries, on clarinet.

The new piece “En Camino” describes the United States as “a nation of conquest built on stolen land.” Rapping with the Guadalajara-born-and-raised Madrid, Luckey excoriates the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency: “Their hearts are frozen, their souls in a machine where dreams are stolen” and “You can not stop our movement. Families, workers, teachers, students. We’re standing strong together. To make our future better.”

Sklar composed the klezmer tour-de-force “Lyubcha” for the play to celebrate the European town where Luckey’s ancestors lived. “I wanted to come up with something that was Eastern European feeling and had sort of that klezmer feel to it, and I also love a horn section,” she said. “I like any excuse to put in tuba and trumpet. It’s like an instant party.”

Sklar gets everything out of her five-string violin on “Daybreak,” which closes the CD. She begins her doina, or pensive klezmer tune, with deep viola tones, slowly swelling into the higher violin range, backed by an accordion.

Waystation’s “rememory” is an musically adventurous and socially conscious album that speaks to our times.

Waystation album release party, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 at Awaken Café, 1429 Broadway, Oakland. $10-$15. e

Andrew Muchin

Andrew Muchin is a freelance writer and host of the weekly "Sounds Jewish" radio program on Mississippi Public Broadcasting Music Radio and