Anarcho-klezmer punk party

San Diego’s Di Nigunim brings its raucous message of hope and change to Chico

Di Nigunim live.

Di Nigunim live.

Photo courtesy of Di Nigunim

Di Nigunim performs at Shivaree’s CD-release show with The Shankers, Saturday, May 21, 9 p.m., at Origami Lounge.
Origami Lounge
708 Cherry St.

Origami Lounge

7th And Cherry Streets
Chico, CA 95926

There are plenty of selfish reasons people start bands, but the members of San Diego’s Di Nigunim don’t care about getting laid, getting rich or getting signed—they’d rather everybody just get along.

“A lot of people find it hard to get along, and it’s unfortunate because there’s a lot of things we agree on,” said Ben Ziff, guitarist and vocalist for the anarcho-klezmer punk collective. “We’re all skin and bones, and when it comes down to it we’re a lot more similar than we are different.”

Therein lies the musical mission of Di Nigunim: to affect positive change through positive music, in this case a cacophonic union of horns, strings, percussion, accordion and gang vocals wrung through punk and ancient Jewish folk traditions. Add to that a strong DIY ethos, some leftist politics, and a sincere hope for a brighter world, and the whole picture comes into view.

This hope for something better comes in spite of—or perhaps from—an awareness of how bad things are: “There’s shit going on, all over the world, and it’s happening in our own communities,” Ziff said. “I personally believe that’s where we need to start, in our neighborhoods and cities, then branch out from there. I don’t mean to sound super paranoid or dark or anything but hard times are coming, there are terrible things that are happening all over the world; we need to prepare ourselves for shit and do the best we can to ensure our strength in the future.

“Fortunately, our music has enabled us to move around and spread as much of a message as we can, but it’s up to everyone to do it. Educate yourself, do something positive, and have a good time doing it. Dance and sing.”

Di Nigunim has largely succeeded on their own local level, drawing such a fervent following at hometown shows that it’s often hard to distinguish audiences full of diehards from the band itself, which at times has up to 13 members (10 are touring). They’ve played politically charged shows such as a benefit for No Borders Camp 2007, when artists and activists met between Calexico and Mexicali to protest U.S. immigration policies. The band’s upcoming stop in Chico is part of its fourth tour.

Band leader Ben Ziff.

Photo courtesy of Di Nigunim

“Our second tour, which was as incredibly disastrous and fun as our first tour, was our Duocracy Tour,” Ziff said. “We went to the RNC and DNC [Republican and Democratic national conventions] and did protest shows at both. Everyone in the band except myself and Gabriel [Kreb] were detained in Denver. We all got released eventually, but had some friends who ended up getting stuck out there for over a year, just waiting to be tried and spending months in jail just for protesting.”

This time around, Di Nigunim is hooking up with other bands along the way to the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. One of those bands is Barons of Tang from Australia, brothers-in-arms-and-instruments from the other side of the world.

“It was pure magic,” Ziff said of the Di Nigunim/Barons pairing. “I did some ceremonial sacrifices to the earth, buried some things close to me at this beautiful spot in the redwoods underneath one of the oldest trees in the world that’s ever lived, ever. I asked Mother Earth to send me the greatest band from Down Under. Then I started a dialogue with The Barons of Tang and a tour was mentioned almost immediately. They wanted us to come out to Australia but we couldn’t do it for whatever reason, so instead we talked about them coming to the U.S.”

Locally, Di Nigunim is playing with The Shankers and Shivaree. The latter band is an especially fit match, musically and ideologically—a gaggle of merry radicals playing upbeat folk-punk on weird stuff.

The show is also Shivaree’s release party for Lullabies of Death and Decay, a 12-track CD recorded with Scott Barwick at Origami Lounge. The CD comes just in time for the band’s first tour, a week-long jaunt to the Northwest in June.