Meet musician Joseph Landau

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April 12, 2024

Credit, Mitchel Raphael - MitchelRaphael.com

Joseph Landau is a musician and plays with the Yiddish swing and folk band Yosl and the Yingels. On June 27 he will be performing at Up on the Roof, a Yiddish Cafe on the rooftop of the Miles Nadal JCC. We caught up with him to learn more about his musical inspirations, learning Yiddish and who’s inspiring him lately.


Kultura Collective: Hi Joseph! Can you please tell us a bit about you and your work as a musician, vocalist, and teacher?

Joseph Landau: Where to start? I’m not much of a teacher these days. I still have a couple students, however, after the birth of my first son a year and a half ago. I felt the need to lighten my work burden and have since gone full time into performance.

Outside of my Jewish music, which I’ll talk about later, I perform jazz standards, French chanson, German lider and even Italian music. I perform all over the GTA in a number of projects including my French jazz band Musette, Italian folk music with Roberto DiPlacido in his project Val Casino, and cabaret rock with Badger’s Caravan.

KC: Tell us more about your Yiddish swing and folk band Yosl and the Yingels. What can listeners expect from the band?

JL: Yosl and the Yingels, are a rotating collective of musicians made up of Jewish and jazz music lovers and aficionados. We began as a pandemic busking project with me and Clarinetist Jacob Gorzaltsan. We were performing Yiddish songs across multiple styles but were usually adding improvised solo sections and jazz sensibilities in the style of classic singers like, The Barry Sisters, The Feder Sisters, and even Mickey Katz.

Credit, Jonni Super – https://jonnisuperphotography.com/

KC: You write your own original music in Yiddish. What inspires you?

JL: I’ve always been a songwriter, so as I began focusing on performing Yiddish music it was only natural that I should start writing in the language as well. My biggest inspiration right now is practicality. For many years I found myself performing at two different types of concerts. Concerts of original music, and concerts of covers, and never the two shall meet. With that in mind over recent years I’ve had the desire to perform my music to wider audiences which means writing music that seamlessly fits into any type of performance. The songs off my upcoming ep take forms and themes of well known Yiddish songs updated with my lived experience. For example my version of the classic nostalgia song ‘Belz’ is about my haymshtetele Thornhill, ON. Simply put, right now I’m inspired by the music I love – the great Yiddish classics.

KC: You play multiple instruments as well as speak many languages. How do these skills translate into your writing and performance? Do you prefer a particular instrument or language?

JL: I should be clear that I really only speak two languages comfortably. My mamaloshen (mother’s tongue) English, and of course, Yiddish. I have some experience with other languages, I went to Hebrew Sunday school as a child, where I absorbed very little outside of pronunciation, and I used to be a conversational French speaker, but as the expression goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Similarly in pursuit of better technical ability on the accordion, I’ve allowed my guitar, bass, piano and ukulele skills to rust. So what can I say? I love singing all types of music, but regardless of the language I prefer to accompany myself on the accordion these days.

KC: On June 27 you will be performing at the Up on the Roof, a Yiddish Cafe on the rooftop of the Miles Nadal JCC. The event is an homage to the great European Yiddish cafes and coffeehouses. What will the performance entail? What can audiences expect?

JL: The audience should expect a concert centered around my original songs, but not entirely composed of them. On June 27 I’m planning a concert where I will be performing 5 or 6 of my own songs and then showing how the versht was made. I’ll be telling the stories and performing the classic Yiddish songs that inspired them. Joining me in performance will be Jacob Gorzhaltsan, a phenomenal klezmer and jazz clarinetist, as well as the highly acclaimed bassist Brett Higgens best known in the Jewish world for his work with Beyond the Pale. I think the concert will be a lot of fun, casual and god willing accompanied by beautiful weather.

KC: Since we are talking about Yiddish, what inspired you to learn it?

JL: When I was 18 my father z’’l passed away, and my grandfather’s z’’l health started to worsen. I began to try to spend as much time as I could with my grandparents, and one part of that is that I asked my grandfather to teach me Yiddish. This mostly consisted of me pointing at household objects and him telling me how to say them, as well as going with him to Yiddish theater, watching some Yiddish movies, listening to some Yiddish music etc. Although I didn’t learn much at the time I maintained an interest in Yiddish over the years. So when the pandemic broke out, I took what by that point was a substantial base in the language, my knowledge of language learning I had picked up from French, and the tons of new resources now available online, and I began a serious pursuit of the language.

KC: In looking at your upcoming shows, you are playing all over the city, including at Baycrest and the Bernard Betel Centre. How do your shows change for the audience?

JL: I try to always remember that my concerts are first and foremost about the audience. I stay open to audience requests, and I also love to play music relevant to what’s happening at the time. My last Baycrest concert was on Purim, and so I added lot’s of holiday music as well as took some audience requests. On a very different but related note, on May 9th I’ll be opening for the Pairs CD release at the Piston with a set of psychedelic Yiddish Children’s music. It should be a little different from my Baycrest performances.

KC: What else are you working on right now?

JL: My main project right now is my upcoming ep. It’s fully recorded, and now I’m just trying to get it ready for release!

KC: Who is inspiring you in Toronto right now?

JL: In Toronto we’re blessed to have Lori Wolf and the Toronto Klezmer society building an open and welcoming place for Klezmer and by extension Jewish music to flourish.

KC: What other Jewish creatives should we know about?

I’ve been really interested and inspired by younger Hassidic artists like Mendy Twerski who are bringing elements of pop and hip-hop into modern Yiddish music as well as the Lemmer brothers with their virtuosic and extremely artistic approaches to Classic Yiddish music.

In Toronto you can’t throw a stone at a musician (I don’t condone throwing stones at musicians) without hitting a Jew. But here are some creatives you should know about who are furthering Jewish music inside and outside of the jewish world.

My old York University professor Brian Katz is a really virtuosic guitarist who fuses Jewish music with other traditions in really creative ways. And a special mention to Judy Perly of Freetimes Cafe who is the only business owner that I’m aware of in Toronto with a regular, dedicated and compensated gig for musicians who perform Jewish music.

KC: Lightning round question!

  • New York vs Montreal bagels? New York Bagels
  • Pomegranate vs apple? Pomegranate
  • Lulav vs etrog? Etrog


Joseph Landau is a multi-instrumentalist recording artist, singer, teacher and performer. He has his grade 8 in classical guitar from the Royal Conservatory of Music as well as a B.F.A in music from York University, where he studied performance, composition, and improvisation. These days Joseph mainly performs as an accordionist, songwriter, and singer of English, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, German and Italian works.

Learn more at josephlandau.com

About the event:

Up on the Roof: Yiddish Café featuring Yosl and the Yingels

Thursday June 27
Concert: 2:30-4:30pm
Miles Nadal JCC Roof (indoor option in case of rain)
Admission: $5.00 – get tickets

Enjoy an afternoon of music and Mameloshn at our first ever Rooftop Yiddish Café! An homage to the great European Yiddish cafes and coffeehouses, this in-person event will feature a Yiddish concert performed by Yosl and the Yingels, a Yiddish swing and folk band who fuse together classic Jewish European folk songs with Yiddish big band and theatre music. We will also have a Yiddish open-mic portion, for those wishing to read poetry, prose or perform an acapella song. Traditional kosher desserts will be served.

This event is co-sponsored by the Committee for Yiddish. Presented in partnership with Grodzinski Bakery and the Yiddish Vinkl.

Yosl and the Yingels are a Yiddish swing and folk trio who fuse together Jewish Eastern European folk songs with Yiddish big band and theatre music. Formed in the summer of 2021 as a pandemic busking project, their repertoire spans across the wide Ashkenazi Diaspora, with music originating from America to Turkiye. Yosl and the Yingels are releasing their debut ep this summer.

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