A man, a musician, a magician, a Montrealer, amongst many other titles that don’t start with ‘M’
Over Labour Day Weekend 2012, I was visiting Toronto from Montreal for a Maccabiah Israel basketball training camp. My Sunday night was open, so my cousin suggested that we check out the Ashkenaz Festival. At the time, I hadn’t heard too much about the festival (How things change in just four short years!). I had a blast, but the highlight of my evening was hands down the spectacle put on by Josh Dolgin, aka, Socalled. The energy was electric both on-stage and amongst the multicultural and multigenerational crowd. The Montreal-based performer had his audience jumping, laughing and clapping as he shared with us his remarkable array of talents. I’d been to concerts and music festivals before, but no prior experience had been quite like that. The show embodied Klezmer culture through comedy, music/instrumentals, rap and even magic. I couldn’t help but leave the Festival on a “Socalled” high. I haven’t had the opportunity to see a live Socalled performance since then, but fortunately for all of us, he’ll be putting on several different performances at this year’s #AshkenazFest.
Where to see Socalled at this year’s #AshkenazFest:
Some questions answered by Socalled
Q: What does it mean to you to perform at the Ashkenaz Festival? This year, you’re performing with Abraham Inc. as well as presenting a photo exhibit, doing a magic show, and late-night DJ sets. What are you most looking forward to?
A: Ashkenaz Artistic Director Eric Stein is an old friend, someone I’ve known since school. For something like 20 years, we’ve been watching each other develop into professional artists. So, if I can play a part in making his festival special and amazing, well, that’s awesome; it’s more than just a professional exercise, it’s personal. And because he’s my friend, he knows what I can bring to this party. Every participation I’ve had at Ashkenaz has been super special and different, so I expect nothing less for this year’s crop of performances. To play with Abraham Inc. again after a little hiatus will be a real treat: with a band who’s individual members are spread out far and wide working on a myriad of private projects, it’s not easy to tour, so this Ashkenaz show gives the band a much-appreciated opportunity to meet, work and rock together again. My secret passion is photography. I’ve been making photographs since I got a camera for my bar mitzvah, 25 years ago. My photo exhibit is a super exciting moment for me to try to get my billions of photographs finally seen by more than just my friends and collaborators, and seeing them enlarged and kicking ass on the JCC walls is an honour and a half. The magic show for kiddies is stressful but one of the most rewarding as a performer: I should at least have some of the words in Yiddish for this year’s show. The late-night DJ thing is fun too but I’m not a professional DJ, so there might be some bad mixes. I’ll bring a load of real old vinyl LP’s of Yiddish theatre, Klezmer, Hassidic, Israeli and whatever else I can, people don’t get to hear a lot of these sounds every day.
Q: What is your fondest memory performing at the #AshkenazFest?
A: My fondest memory of Ashkenaz was eating smoked meat sandwiches with Moses Znaimer.
Q: You’ve collaborated with several talents artists across genres and generations, like David Krakauer, Fred Wesley, Theodore Bikel, Enrico Macias, and dozens more. Is there someone with whom you have not yet collaborated who you’re dying to work with?
A: I sure would love to work with Dr. Dre. Or Tom Waits. Or Jimmy Cliff.
Q: Most people are really good at just one thing, but you have a vast multidisciplinary set of expertise – music, producing, journalism, photography, filmmaking and directing and puppeteering – where did you start and how did you come to perfect all of these disciplines?
A: Who said “perfect”? I’m a dedicated hobbyist. I love pursuing my interests, and I’m into working on repertoire. Love studying the details. But I have to love the thing to pursue it: it must be born of pure love. I make puppets because I had a piece of fur kicking around and thought it would be fun to add eyeballs to it and make it talk. I can’t explain why I thought that would be fun, or why I would then build a dozen other puppets and use them in musicals and videos. Things start out as hobbies and eventually wind up as part of my artistic life. I like making people go “wow”. Practice is key. When I get bored of one interest – or when I feel like, ok that’s enough for now – I can turn my attention to another obsession: I’m thus always inspired. Or I try to be.
Q: How did you get the name Socalled?
A: I used to be called “Heavy Jay”, in High School. It was one of those Hip Hop names my Hip Hop heroes had: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Q-Tip. So I was Heavy J. I started working with a rapper from Halifax, went by the name of Devilous. I met him through the bass player in a gospel band I was playing with at the time. He called me up one day and asked if I was making beats: at the time, not everybody and their mother was making beats. It was the beginning of a long collaboration with him that lasts until this very day. I guess Devilous noticed that I was not heavy at some point during our early friendship and collaborations, so he started to call “Socalled Heavy J”. And then eventually dropped the “Heavy J” and started to call me “Socalled”. That was it!
Q: You have a singing dog, Poopsie. Will she be making an appearance at this year’s festival?
A: Unfortunately Ashkenaz falls this year at the same time as a very prestigious blues festival in Switzerland; Poopsie had been booked to sing there over a year ago, and found it impossible to reshedule her opening night performance. That, coupled with her opening spot for Elton John’s Eastern European tour, made an Ashkenaz cameo out of the question. So, no, unfortunately, no Poopsie this year! #poopsiewerk (Check out Poopsie Sings the Blues on Youtube).