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Neshama Carlebach shares her father’s musical legacy

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Neshama Carlebach wants to share her late father’s musical legacy with the world. (with video)

The 33-year-old chanteuse, who was born in New York City and raised in Toronto, performs about 100 concerts per year in a quest to popularize Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s religious-themed music.On Feb. 8, she will return to Toronto to regale an audience at Beth Tikvah Synagogue. The concert, “Remembering Shlomo”, is in reference to her father who died suddenly in 1994 at the age of 69.

Carlebach performs his songs, which are inspired by prayers and passages from the Torah. “He said he wrote 5,000 songs, but it was probably more,” she said by telephone from her home in New York City.

An Orthodox rabbi, composer and singer, Rabbi Carlebach had a dedicated fan base, and now his protege is following in his footsteps.

“One of my dreams was to share his music with the whole world,” she said. “It’s magical and uplifting, and in this broken world, we need magic, inspiration and tikkun olam.

“My dad’s songs brought people together,” she added. “He was Orthodox but very open to the world and non-judgmental.”

Carlebach, who left Toronto a decade ago to pursue her career, has been in the entertainment business since the age of five. “I took acting and singing lessons. All I wanted was to perform, and he encouraged me.”

She began singing with him when she was a teen, and at the age of 19, she accompanied him on an extensive concert tour.

“I learned everything from my father. He taught me how to connect with an audience. He could connect on a very deep level and that made him an incredible rabbi and a moving performer. I don’t pretend to have that gift, but I strive for it.

“He also taught me the importance of silence, to appreciate the moments between music.”

Carlebach, who turned professional shortly after her father’s untimely death, usually performs at Jewish venues ranging from synagogues to community centres.

Apart from concerts in North America, she has toured a host of countries from Israel, Poland and Ukraine to Holland, Britain and South Africa.

She last visited Toronto in May 2008. She has also appeared  in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton and Saskatoon.

“The travelling doesn’t bother me,  though it’s not easy to pick up and leave,” said Carlebach, who toured with her  son Rafael, until he was 19 months old.

“I love the opportunity to connect with new audiences. But when Rafael became too active, it was too hard shlepping him along on these trips.”

As she spoke, Rafael, now two,  could be heard wailing in the background. “Come to mama,” she said tenderly.

Carlebach’s husband, Steven Katchen, a restaurant manager, used to accompany her on concert trips as well.

Since 1996, she has made six CDs – Soul, Ha Neshama shel Shlomo, Dancing with my Soul, Ani Shelach, Journey, and most, recently, One and One.

She is in the midst of finishing her seventh CD for Sojourn Records, recording her father’s songs with an African-American gospel choir from a Baptist church in New York City.

Carlebach, who sings in English and Hebrew, has worked with that choir for the past four years. She was introduced to them by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who is her own rabbi and was close to her father.

Carlebach  considered her father her best friend and misses him dearly. “But he never really left me,” she mused.

Today, she is the only entertainer in her family. Carlebach’s mother, Neila, is a teacher, while her sister, Nedara, is a homemaker who made aliyah.

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