A Modern Purim Playlist

Mike Boberg, the Director of Impact Assessment at the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, has curated an extensive Purim playlist on Spotify, focusing on a contemporary interpretation of the holiday’s traditional story. 

“In researching songs for this playlist, it became apparent to me early that there are a lot of men who have recorded songs about the Purim story,” he said. “Which felt a bit off to me, given the Purim story is centered on Esther. Mordechai and Haman are central figures, but its both the initial secretiveness and ultimate bravery of Esther that drives the story. I decided to focus this playlist on popular works performed by strong women to shed a more contemporary take on the traditional tale.”

Check out the full playlist on Spotify!

  1. The Pageant of the Bizarre” by Zero 7 featuring Sia: The English duo of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are frequent collaborators with Australian singer/songwriter Sia, like on this quirky opening track. The “carnivalesque” opening of the song sets the right vibe for Esther’s story, which does have an edge of bizarreness to it. The track appears on their 2006 release The Garden.
  2. Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac: Another track by a band with male members but this one features Christine McVey on lead vocals. Just as Esther hid behind a mask of her own making to keep her husband in the dark, so too does the protagonist of this great track off the band’s 1990 LP of the same name.
  3. Secret” by Madonna: Lifted from Madge’s 1994 album Bedtime Stories, the video for this song highlighted another of the singer’s many chameleon-like “transformations,” this time into a classic Hollywood starlet ala Gene Harlow (whom she had formerly called out by name in her 1990 hit “Vogue”). Esther would have been proud.
  4. Masquerade” by Berlin: Terri Nunn channels Esther at the first dinner, hiding behind masks while trying to withstand the efforts of others to make her a “puppet on strings.” This track, from Berlin’s 1982 LP Pleasure Victim, didn’t gain as much traction as two others from that album, “Sex (I’m A…)” and “The Metro,” when it was first released but has since gone on to become one of their longstanding hits.
  5. Rise Up” by Andra Day: Reflecting on how Esther has indeed become a woman of action who rises up, this 2015 track from Andra Day’s debut album, Cheers to the Fall, was written by the artist in response to a troubling time in her life. Her career had stagnated and a close friend had just been diagnosed with cancer, so Day sat down to write what she referred to as “a prayer of sorts.”
  6. I Drink Wine” by Adele: The second dinner hosted by Esther is replete with wine for all in attendance, including her husband, King Ahasuerus. This song, featured on Adele’s 2021 LP 30, opens with the line “How can one become so bounded by choices that somebody else makes?” Esther is somewhat beholden to the choice her husband is about to make, regarding the fate of her people when she finally reveals her true identity, as well as Haman’s plot to have the Jews killed.
  7. Gallows” by Jess Ray: Following Esther’s revelation of Haman’s plot, he winds up being executed on the gallows that he had constructed to hang Mordecai. The refrain from Raleigh-based singer/songwriter Jess Ray refers to the devil being hanged from his own gallows, which seems an appropriate addition to this playlist.
  8. A Girl in Trouble (is a Temporary Thing)” by Romeo Void: This post-punk art school band formed in San Francisco back in 1979. Headed up by Native American lead singer Deborah Iyall, this is, by far, my favorite Romeo Void song, appearing on their 1984 album Instincts. It’s reflective of Esther being in a heap of trouble, but only temporarily.
  9. Cheers (Drink to That)” by Rihanna: The wine continued to flow following Esther’s successful plea to her husband to save both her and her people, so I’ve included Rihanna’s hit from her 2011 LP Loud to really kick off the party-aspects of the holiday.
  10. You Turned the Tables” by Robin: Following Haman’s demise and the defeat of the Jews’ enemies more broadly, the tables were indeed turned, and the party really got started. So we transition in to the end of the story with Craig J. Grande’s Diva Radio remix of club chanteuse Robin’s track about doing just that. As they used to say on SNL’s Dieter skit, “Now is the time we dance!”
  11. Raise Your Glass” by P!nk: Of course we have to close out this playlist about an incredible story of subterfuge, secrets, table turning, survival and lots of wine with the “Irish-German-Lithuanian Jewish” rocker P!nk and her classic party anthem, pulled from her 2010 LP Greatest Hits…So Far!!! (FYI, this is the “clean edit” for those who have kids who might be listening.)

So keep the wine flowing and keep the dancing going. Chag Purim Sameach!

 I want to suggest an honorable mention: “So Many Ways We Can Hide: The Esther Song” by Girls in Trouble (who happens to be a musician, poet, and Torah teacher, Alicia Jo Rabins, and…see what I did there?). The track was not available on Spotify to be included in this playlist, but here’s the link to a video that features 20 different women all dancing to the track in their own homes: https://vimeo.com/512690761

Mike’s Bio: Mike joined The Jewish Foundation team as its Director of Impact Assessment in 2015. His role at the Foundation includes working directly with all of the Foundation’s grant partners on establishing their measurement and evaluation efforts, as well as managing the Foundation’s 3CI grants portfolio.

Prior to joining the Foundation team, Mike was Associate Director of Arts Services at ArtsWave, one of the country’s largest united arts funds. During his 15-year tenure at the agency, he helped strengthen the small and mid-sized arts community through capacity building, including launching and running the BoardWay Bound board training program for 10 years and managing the committee that awarded competitive project grants.

Throughout the 1990s, Mike served as Music Director and on-air host of multiple music programs on WVXU, one of Cincinnati’s public radio stations. While having always been a bit of a “music junkie,” it was during this time that he developed a deep appreciation for all genres of music. He’s now revisiting his radio skills by crafting weekly playlists for the Jewish Foundation team, including ones for Tu BiShvat and Purim.