Pesach Playlist 5784

Listen to the Pesach Spotify playlist from the Jewish Foundations Mike Boberg

As I was growing up, I recall annually watching The Ten Commandments on the Saturday before Easter Sunday (it still airs on ABC on that same evening). I anxiously watched as the 10 plagues struck Egypt, one after the other, then with anticipation as the Red Sea was parted. For me, the film came to signify the start of Spring and the countdown to a morning full of chocolate eggs and jellybeans.

But the epic Cecil B. DeMille film was, I would later learn, also the root of the Pesach holiday in Judaism. Early in my tenure at the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, I was invited to my first Seder dinner (where I immediately fell in love with both Matzo Crack and Charoset). I was intrigued by the retelling of the Exodus story through the Haggadah and the symbolism of the items presented on the Seder plate. That inspired me to create this Pesach playlist.

  1. “Jacob in Egypt” by the 1992 Revival Cast of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
  2. “Finale: Any Dream Will Do/Give Me My Colored Coat” by the 1992 Revival Cast of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Our Pesach playlist opens with two selections from the original cast recording from the Canadian revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as a way to set the stage. Consider it the “Previously, on The Israelites Story” recap, before the action begins. It is through Joseph’s story that the Israelites even wind up in Egypt, after his brothers sell him into slavery. After correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, however, Joseph rises to second-in-command in Egypt and saves the country during a famine. Jacob’s family travels to Egypt to escape the famine, and it is through him that they are allowed to settle in the Land of Goshen.

  1. Slave Song” by Sade: As their numbers grew, the Pharoah decided to enslave the Hebrews and forced them to begin building two “storage cities,” Pitham and Rameses. This track, featured on Sade’s 2000 release Lovers Rock, is a social statement, calling for an awareness of history and the sensibility to rise above it. The song’s concept is introduced through lyrics like; “Teach my beloved children who have been enslaved/To reach for the light continually.”
  2. “Deliver Us” by Ofra Haza and Eden Riegel: This track, taken from the soundtrack to the 1998 animated film Prince of Egypt, reflects how Moses’ mother determined how she would save her son, setting into motion the rest of the story. Featuring Israel’s beloved vocalist Ofra Haza, this was recorded just two years before her untimely passing from AIDS.
  3. “Bearing Witness” by Dreams So Real: Following Pharoah’s order to have all Hebrew males executed at birth, Moses is saved when his sister Miriam is instructed by their mother to send him down the Nile River in a basket, after which he is found and raised by Pharoah’s daughter as her own. This track, from the Athens GA alt rockers Dreams So Real, has always made me think of that story, as they sing “Lay me down in the bulrushes/Send me down, down to the sea.”
  4. Burnin’ Bush” by Earth, Wind and Fire: Following his self-imposed exile in Midian after killing an Egyptian overseer, an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush while he’s tending his father-in-law’s flocks. The angel proclaims that Yahweh has anointed Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. This track, from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1976 LP Spirit, elicits a contemporary bent on how some things never change with the lyrics: “This way of life on total exhibition / Shows the way in which we live of an impatient nation / This tree of life, so far from perfection / Share a little love to improve our situation / That old bush just keeps on burning / Nobody seems to show they’re learning”

When Pharoah refuses to release the Hebrews from their enslavement, G*d unleashes ten separate plagues on the Egyptians. Each of the plagues symbolically counters one of the Egyptian gods, including the 10th plague which targeted Pharoah specifically.

  1. “River of Blood” by Misery Club (the Nile turns to blood)
  2. “Hop Frog” by Lou Reed featuring David Bowie (frogs overrun the city)
  3. “The Meaning of Lice” by Stephin Merritt (lice attack both men and beasts)
  4. “Fly on the Windscreen” by Depeche Mode (flies attack only the Egyptians and their remaining livestock, but not the Israelites)
  5. “Pestilence” by The Séance (much of the Egyptian livestock dies)
  6. “Boils” by Cody Chestnutt (after Moses tosses ash into the air, boils strike both men and beasts)
  7. “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele (a thunderstorm of hail and fire strikes Egypt, killing anyone and anything not under cover)
  8. “Glittering Cloud (Locusts)” by Imogen Heap (a plague of locusts devour any remaining vegetation throughout the land)
  9. “Darkness” by The Police (three days of total darkness befalls Egypt)
  10. “Death of the First Born” by Kolka Karmadon (the firstborn of every Egyptian family, from Pharoah down to the peasant girl, as well as the first born of any remaining cattle, perish)
  11. “Passover” by Joy Division: The Israelites are spared the 10th plague by marking their doorways with the blood of a slaughtered lamb, essentially being “passed over” by the Angel of Death. This song appears on Joy Division’s 2nd and final studio release, Closer, which is widely recognized as a seminal release of the post-punk era and was released just two months after lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life.
  12. “It Ends Tonight” by The All-American Rejects: Following the final plague, Pharoah orders Moses to take the Israelites and leave Egypt, ending their years of enslavement. This song appears on the All-American Reject’s 2nd release, Move On, which dropped in 2006.
  13. “Exodus” by Bob Marley & The Wailers: This song, from the album of the same name, ties together the Biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the hope of Rastafarians wanting to be led to freedom. After an assassination attempt in Jamaica in 1976, Marley fled to London where he recorded the song and album. He had conceived “Exodus” as the album title before even writing the song.
  14. “Parting of the Red Sea” by Amir Gurvitz: Pharoah has second thoughts and leads his army out to recapture the Israelites. When Moses and his people arrive at the Red Sea, he lifts his staff and parts it so they can cross. Pharoah’s men and horses die when the sea swallows them up. This track is an instrumental work from Tel Aviv-based film and video game composer, Amir Gurvitz, that elicits the tension and action of what occurred.

Interestingly, when researching this playlist, I was able to find a number of electronica songs (with no or very few lyrics) that represent the items from the traditional Seder dinner, including the items found on the Seder plate:

  1. “Parsley” by Dylan Sitts (representing hope and renewal, the herb is dipped in salt water before being eaten at the beginning of the Seder)
  2. “Lamb Shank” by Lovell (a symbol of the slaughtered lamb that spared the Hebrews from the 10th plague)
  3. “Green Onions” by Dubb Staxx w/ Markus Dassman (a vegetable other than bitter herbs, also representing hope and renewal, is also dipped into salt water at the Seder)
  4. “Bitter Roots” by Silk Static (bitter herbs, in many instances horseradish, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Hebrews endured in Egypt)
  5. “Haroset” by Displeases Screed (a sweet, brown mixture made from fruits and nuts (often apples, walnuts and honey) represents the mortar and brick used by the Hebrew slaves to build the structures of Egypt)
  6. “Egg” by Exyl (a roasted egg, symbolizing the festival sacrifice that was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem)
  7. “Matzoh” by Reallot Toffs (the Seder table includes a plate of three whole matzot, which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins)
  8. “Red Wine” by Pureblue (four cups of wine are drunk over the course of the Seder dinner and many families set out a fifth cup for Elijah who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the messiah)

We conclude the Pesach playlist with two songs to illustrate the Israelites’ escape to freedom:

  1. “Redemption Song” by Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer: Since we already heard from Bob Marley, I included this version of his classic “freedom” song by the Man in Black and a former member of The Clash.
  2. “Freedom” by Ritchie Havens: One of the unsung performers from the original Woodstock, Ritchie Havens’ passionate performance of this song is a live version from a 1969 recording done in Paris.

Chag Pesach Sameach!!