Phoenix’s music scene has long had a reputation for being a haven for genre-bending weirdness. Nothing encapsulates this more than the Jewish klezmer/R&B/funk/Latin band appropriately named Jerusafunk.
The band’s on-stage presence takes the strangeness ever further with irreverent costumes, profanity and the lead singer’s infatuation with hot dogs. But for all its bizarre antics, Jerusafunk is made up of accomplished performers with a vast knowledge of world music.
The band started five years ago as a small project by clarinetist/vocalist Jessie Demaree and lead singer/guitarist Chris Del Favero (also of Pro Teens).
Demaree described the initial project as the coming together of “a little funk mama and a little klezmer daddy.”
“They decided they were going to have a baby,” she said. “So, after many years of trying and praying to Father Soul, they finally got their baby and they named it ‘Jerusafunk.’”
In this case, the “klezmer daddy” was Demaree, who was studying klezmer while attending classes at NAU. The genre is a tradition of Ashkenazi Jews and often features virtuoso clarinet playing, she said this is what drew her to the music, despite being a Gentile.
“I didn’t realize what sounds you could really make with a clarinet until I heard Dave Tarras and David Krakauer," Demaree said. “They’re two of my favorite klezmer clarinetists.”
What started as a small project grew to a 14-member rotating ensemble (none of whom are Jewish), which includes a prominent horn section and percussion typical of R&B and funk bands.
Demaree said Jerusafunk is the only band of its kind in the world and is a testament to the uniqueness of Phoenix’s music scene.
“Phoenix is a transplant city,” she said. “Not a lot of people are natives here. Everybody that’s living here doesn’t have to try and fit into a box and put up a front. What I want to see more out of Phoenix is just people breaking out of those and creating their own f---ing boxes.”
After touring and performing for two years, Demaree and Del Favaro spent two years traveling South America learning as much about Latin music as possible.
Indeed, Jerusafunk incorporates styles from all over the region, including cumbia, salsa and bassa nova. Del Favaro said that as the band continues to incorporate Latin sounds, Jerusafunk hopes to explore more international styles in the future, in particular southeast Asian music.
“Right now, we’re trying to hone in the Latin sound, which is a very difficult thing for a bunch of white folks born in Phoenix,” he said. “But I absolutely love it, and I want to give it that respect.”
On Saturday, Jerusafunk premiered a music video for the song “Gateway Movement” off its last album “Sweat & Glitter” with a show at the Crescent Ballroom. The video is a perfect representation of the band’s trademark weirdness with revealing costumes, hot dogs and a cameo by Tempe hip-hop artist and producer Dadadoh.
Demaree said a new “ambitious” album will be released in the fall with a subsequent tour of the West Coast.
For all the strangeness involved, Jerusafunk has garnered a growing legion of local fans and the respect of fellow musicians.
“They’re a high energy, fun, fun band,” said Kevin Cole, rapper for Tempe-based hip hop group The Stakes. “Every show is like a party and they set the tone to let your hair down and have a good time.”
Jerusafunk will perform at the Lost Leaf on April 15.
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