Safam Brings Jewish Faith to New Sound

Times Staff Writer

Old-time gospel music found its way into the mainstream through Motown; the born-again message found its way into heavy metal through Stryper and onto middle-of-the-road stations through Amy Grant. So why can't Jewish music be popular too?

That's what Dan Funk and a few of his friends wanted to know when they decided to form the Boston-based band Safam. Each member came of age during what Funk calls "the best period of modern music in America--the late '60s and early '70s." It's only natural that their musical style was influenced by the songs of that time. Yet each is also deeply devoted to the Jewish faith.

Safam, which means mustache in Hebrew (though most of the members have shaved theirs off since the band's inception), is their way of blending the music they love with their religion and, in the process, creating an entirely new musical form--what Safam calls the Jewish-American sound.

That doesn't mean group members reject the traditional Jewish music of their youth. Safam merely adds to the Jewish experience. "We try to reflect what it is like to be an American Jew today," Funk says. Songs range in style from folk to rock to Dixieland and even a little calypso.

"People are often dumbfounded when they hear Jewish music that sounds like what they hear on the radio," Funk says. In one song called "Judah Maccabbee," Safam belts out: "Get down, Judah." "The first time people hear that, they wonder, 'Is this OK? Can you really say "Get down, Judah?" ' And maybe 1% of the people might not approve, but most people love it."

Safam also does a 17-minute piece called "Photo Album," made up of three related songs that trace a man's life from the time of the Holocaust to the present. "It's like a mini-musical drama," Funk says.

Eventually, the group would like to perform a full-scale musical. The problem is coming up with a story fit for a six-man band, Funk says. "How do you write a good story without a woman in it?"

In the meantime, the group is touring the country and hopes to make a music video to go with its recently released sixth album.

Safam appears April 17 at 2 and 8 p.m. at the West Valley Jewish Community Center, 22522 Vanowen St., Canoga Park. Matinee tickets are $15; evening tickets are $20. Call (818) 346-3003 for information.

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