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Redemption Song

Refoel Pride

Meilech Kohn’s life might have taken a two-decade detour, but that hasn’t kept his four recently released singles from becoming the most popular tunes on the radio waves and simchah playlists

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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NEW SOUNDS The draw of Meilech Kohn’s music is undeniable, exerting a pull even on those ears that don’t quite know what to make of it on first listen. His voice is supple, covering great range and negotiating rapid changes with ease, but it also has a rough-hewn quality that suggests a certain grit. His songs resist easy classification; no two sound the same, none of them really fits a ready-made category. The first two singles, “V’nahafoch Hu” and “Ein Trop Vasser,” brought him attention, but the third, “V’uhavtu,” brought him prominence. (Photos: Shulim Goldring, Lior Mizrachi)

I t’s hard to believe it’s been only 28 months and two weeks since a cheery “ ‘ello!” announced the arrival of Meilech Kohn on the Jewish music scene, at the beginning of his first single, “V’nahafoch Hu.”

In that span of time, Kohn — who, despite the East London inflection of that initial salutation, was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — has followed up that offering with three more singles: “Ein Trop Vasser,” “V’uhavtu,” and “Yoimum,” all of which have entered heavy rotation on the radio waves and simchah playlists. Meanwhile, work is nearing completion on his first CD, scheduled for release on Motzaei Shabbos Nachamu under the working title Yeder Einer/Kulanu/Everyone.

And even though Israeli radio host Menachem Toker recently touted him on the air as “the man who has conquered every stage, every chasunah, every radio station in the world,” Kohn himself professes bewilderment at the adulation.

“Hopefully I will always remain surprised by it,” he says. “If Hashem doesn’t want to send me more, at least I won’t be surprised.”

In fact, a measure of that surprise may be taken by the emergence of that very “ ‘ello!” as a trademark of sorts: simchah organists around the world have taken to including digital samples of Kohn’s greeting to be played at, er, key moments. The introduction of the original came as something of a lark, on the initiative of his producer, Gershy Schwarcz.

“Meilech is a very funny guy,” says Schwarcz. “He knows that I’m English, right? I’m from London. He liked coming in and doing my accent. He used to do it better than me. So we were in the recording studio and I had the microphone on, and I said, ‘Meilech, are you ready?’

“I’m not selling myself as a singer,” says Meilech, in the studio with Gershy. “We’re just having fun. Who’s to say this is going anywhere?”

“And he said [revving up the Cockney accent], ‘Yes, I’m ready!’ and then he said, ‘ ‘ello!’

“When he heard it on the final track, he loved it, people loved it. I took a video of him lip-synching to his original recording, and it went viral.”

“We always try to keep it fun in the studio, before anything else,” says Kohn. “One of these days I’m going to have kids, b’ezras Hashem, and I’m going to tell them, ‘You can go as far in life as you want.’ I don’t want them to say to me, ‘Oh, really, so how come you never did anything with your music?’ So with the ‘ ‘ello!’ in ‘V’nahafoch Hu,’ a friend told me to take it out, and said no serious singer would do that. I said, ‘No, no, no, that’s the point — I’m not selling myself as a singer, we’re having fun. Who’s to say this is going anywhere?” One person who saw where it was going was Zevi Fried, a member of the Shirah Choir. He came on board the Meilech bandwagon about 18 months ago, and is now effectively serving as Kohn’s manager — although he demurs at such a description.

“We’re basically friends,” Fried insists. “and I love his music, I love his different kind of music. People are saying I’m his manager, producer... He doesn’t need a manager or a producer. He can do everything by himself.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 665)

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