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Soul Singer Reaping Respect

March 24, 2011 By:
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Neshama Carlebach

Who better than a Neshama to sing soul music?

It certainly comes naturally to Neshama (Hebrew for "soul") Carlebach, the 36-year-old scion of the sensational spiritual leader/singer/composer Shlomo Carlebach, whose early death at 69 in 1994 left a hole in the soul of world music and spirituality as well.

But his daughter has come a-healing and a-helping since, noting that the advent of his death helped propel her into performing at age 15 -- picking up not the cudgel, but the culture of the Orthodox performer with global unorthodox followings.

Although truth be told, she had already started at home at age 5, with her guitar-strumming git neshama of a father clapping along in approval.

Neshama has earned the hands-on approval of the world since, selling more than a million CDs for her rhymes and reasons about Jewish music ("Soul," "Ani Shelach," "One and One"), and sold-out stints in concert.

The gospel according to Neshama is a throaty purr that infuses her music, oozing with feeling. Her drive and dynamics came as baptism under the fiery talents of her legendary father, the rabbi/renegade who traded stages and musical strategies with performers of all styles and customs.

The customs house of his daughter deals in imports as well, which explains why she now tours at times, finding green pastures, with the Green Pastures Baptist Church of New York, with whom she will perform on Sunday, April 3, in "Concert From the Soul."

Special Engagement

The engagement is part of a weekend congregational salute to Rabbi Neil and Lori Cooper on 20 years of service to Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewoodwww.tbhbe.org

Philly is not exactly foreign turf for Carlebach; husband Steven Katchen is the son of local Cantor David Katchen of Oxford Circle Jewish Community Center prominence, prior to its merger with Adath Jeshurun Congregation.

Another country heard from -- or, rather, another generation, as Neshama's 6-month-old son Micah offers his own wail of sound in the background. And if Neshama needs someone to help her drum up business for upcoming concerts, who better than her 4-year-old, born-to-drum son Rafael?

Star trek: The next generation? "It's in his blood," she notes of the bloodline-rich Rafael's riffs.

The beat goes on -- with some help of late legendary icons' albums. "I have him listening to Miles Davis; I want him to know jazz."

Mom knows from being jazzed by all brands of sounds, including the gossamer gospel gurus with whom she tours, recorded an album in 2009 and has known for six years.

Another thing Neshama knows from traveling with Green Pastures has everything to do with the need to reseed one's knowledge.

"I have a lot to learn," she humbly says of her new muses and musical education afforded by the choir and its director, Rev. Roger Hambrick.

And she has learned from her audiences as well, feeling their feedback in her heart of hearts: "Our music," they tell her, "allows people to feel deeper, to go into themselves."

Turning them inside-out: "They have tears inside that need to come out."

More than entertain, Carlebach has a need to enshrine, to enable others with the ennobling lessons learned from her revered father. Her audiences, she knows, "must walk away feeling empowered."

The power of one: What she and the choir hope to coordinate on April 3 is that fused feeling of two religions, one voice: "Audiences will see and hear our harmony."

A musical mitzvah of "Can't we all get along?"

"Maybe speaking and singing through two hearts is a way to show that, yes, we can," allows Carlebach.

It certainly is a musical message the elder Carlebach would avow -- as well as espouse her soulful journey along a celestial trail: Neshama is in the process of signing along the dotted line for the formal formation of the nonprofit Soul Journey, a righteous path -- and the right path, she says -- she needs to help give back to society.

And to come to the aid of those with their back to the wall. Soul Journey as a little travelin' music? As the nonprofit's prophetic voice, Carlebach wants to blend mission and mitzvah, to "go into high schools and colleges," using music to repair the world where "there is so much brokenness."

Some children break with their past; this daughter of the famously social activist Shlomo embraces hers.

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