Correction to This Article
An article in the June 11 Style section about a musical group, the Hip Hop Hoodios, mistakenly identified the song "Ocho Kandelikas" as a traditional Sephardic tune. The song was written by musician and composer Flory Jagoda.

Hip Hop Hoodios Cook

"With Jewish rap, there is a lot of kitsch, a lot of novelty," says Josh Norek, left, with band mates Alanna "Alannanagila" Perez and Abraham Velez. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 11, 2005

NEW YORK -- The Hip Hop Hoodios are rolling up Fifth Avenue, representing la raza at the Salute to Israel parade, blasting the bass, bouncing around their float and confusing everyone in their path. A dozen or so preschoolers on the float toss foam footballs into the crowd while Abe Velez grinds on guitar and Alanna "Alannanagila" Perez writhes around the tight space, shaking her tail feather. On the mike is Josh Norek, the "psycho-Semitic manic Hispanic," 5 feet 8 of bombast and braggadocio.

"We're the Hip Hop Hoodios! We're a Latino-Jewish rap collective!" Norek yells as they roll past a man holding a sign that read, "Expel the Nazi Arabs Not the Jews."

"This goes out to all those Hoodia Honeys! No Nose Jobs!"

See for me the bigger the nose the better
They say the whiter the brighter
Oh yeah? Well, that's tough
Sometimes I think that I'm not Yid enough

At the sound of Norek's rap, boys in yarmulkes prick up their ears, waving the Israeli flag in solidarity and dancing with curly-haired girls. A grandmotherly sort makes a great show of plugging her ears. Velez grins and gives her the thumbs-up.

They are so loving this, the plugged ears, the shaking heinies, the little kids bouncing on the sidewalk. And so they break into their biggest hit, "Ocho Kandelikas" ("Eight Candles"), before moving on to a rousing "Havana Nagila." Today they're emphasizing the Jewish part of their equation (which means they're passing on the more offensive songs in their repertoire).

The Hoodios -- the name is a play on " judío ," the Spanish word for Jew -- are a little bit klezmer, a little bit cumbia , and a lot hip-hop, rapping in Spanish, English, Hebrew and Ladino, gleefully mixing genres and tumbling over easy ethnic categorizations. Headed by Norek and Velez, two music industry executives, the bicoastal Hoodios started out a few years ago as a gimmick. But they found that they could mine humor to make a political point, and that was kind of cool. So was the making music part.

Then people started paying attention, and that was really cool: Their first music video, "Ocho Kandelikas," a riff on a traditional Sephardic song, gets regular rotation on MTV Español, especially around Hanukah. (It's also featured in VH1's "100 Worst Moments in Hiphop," thanks to Hoodia Honey Perez's infamous bagel bra.) Volkswagen featured their latest single, "Gorrito Cosmico" ("Cosmic Hat," a loony ode to a flying yarmulke), in one of its commercials. Still, their second album, "Agua Pa' la Gente" ("Water for the People") has sold only 200 copies, according to Soundscan, even with guest appearances from members of Santana and the Klezmatics.

For the Hoodios, being Latino is a fluid thing. This is both convenient -- Norek has some vague family ties in Colombia -- and literal -- Velez is of Eastern European and Puerto Rican descent. The Jewish thing is fluid, too. A third member, Federico Fong, is a dreadlocked Chinese-Panamanian-Jamaican-white Arkansan who identifies as Mexican. His Jewish connection? His sister worked in a deli on Second Avenue.

"This has made me more of what I am, more of the Jewish culture," says Perez, who says her mother is an American Jew and her father a Mexican. "I wasn't before I got into this band. Now all of a sudden, I'm Jewish."

"And I'm the other way," says Velez, who first learned Spanish when he was 18, about the same time he started exploring his Latino roots.

They call themselves "Spanish-rapping Jewz." Their logo is the Star of David superimposed over the red, white and blue of the Puerto Rican flag. Indeed, tolerance and Jewish pride, along with the requisite hip-hop bragging about bedroom exploits, are persistent themes. Their song "1492" dissects the expulsion of Jews from Spain, while "Agua Pa' la Gente" is a diatribe against the privatization of water in Latin America. Like African American rappers, they embrace ethnic slurs with gusto. It's the best way to erase the sting.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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