Once in a rare moon, you find yourself in a place and time where you have no concept of year or geography… where everything blurs into some sort of creative vacuum, one most often found while watching an engaging movie. Except, in these surreal moments, you begin to realize the you are the character on screen and that, perhaps, somewhere behind the walls or through the ceiling, a series of hidden cameras captures everything. And during those temporary escapisms, you just surrender to the atmosphere and enjoy the ride. Tuesday, March 8 was one of those nights.
Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant filling its new location in the Cedar-Lee area, blocked a narrow room with two vertical rows of tables, giving the sense of an old-school dining hall. As patrons filled the space, representing the various populations of this culturally diverse region: at least four different languages — English, Russian, Polish and Turkish — echoed in the tight rectangular room. People of all ages and occupations — from entrepreneurs and architects to law students and even a prominent New York City film producer — quickly found their seats.
The waiters, prompt and courteous, squeezed their way through the only walk path, between the two lanes of tables, bringing Turkish delights such as dolma, hummus, warm pita, babbaganush and other appetizers, many made with garlic and additional spices. With the hors d’oeuvres and spirits on the table, the post-work crowd began to loosen up, smile and converse with neighbors to the right and to the left. Stomachs and moods happy, we all sat in anticipation of the core reason we all showed up, some last minute, to this Cleveland Heights destination: To listen to Klezmafour.
Klezmafour is a band of musicians from Lublin, Poland: five young guys playing traditional Klezmer music and bringing their energy and joy to anyone willing to accept the great vibe. The band, together for just over a decade, takes the traditional century-old melodies and infuses everything from reggae to Arabic influence. A promoter first discovered the band in Amsterdam and has since brought the musical artists to North America, where Klezmafour is currently touring.
As we sat in anticipation waiting for the band to begin its first set, none of us could have predicted what happened next. The musicians found their tiny corner, picked up their instruments and began to play. At first, the clarinet, violin, accordion, stand up bass and drums warmed up with classic Balkan melodies, familiar to any of us who either had ancestors from “the old country” or were actually born across the ocean and then brought here for a better life.
Klezmafour eventually took it up a notch, adding poly-rhythmic structures, complex intonations and incredible syncopation all the while preserving a volume that, in the small space, felt powerful yet not deafening. These guys have killer control over their instruments and their craft.When Klezmafour broke for intermission, the waiters quickly brought us main dishes including hearty lentil soup, lamb shish kebab, shavarma — served with a cucumber yogurt sauce — beet salad and flavorful rice. Friends, new and old, shared the bountiful treats, even eating off of each other’s plates, bringing back that warm and unpretentious comfort that we usually can only experience in our own homes with our own families.
By the time Klezmafour began its second set — intense, risky and transformative — I expected the crowd to get on the tables and dance. This would have been the only logical choice of behavior given all the stimulants and surrounding vibrations that transcended beyond the present.
Sometimes art imitates life. And, if we’re really lucky, life is art.
As one of the patrons wisely commented that evening, “Christian musicians playing Jewish music in a Muslim restaurant.”
How American. How very Cleveland.
Anatolia Café is located at 2270 Lee Rd. in Cleveland Heights. 216-321-4400. You can also follow Anatolia Café on Facebook and on its website: http://AnatoliaCafe.com/index.asp. You can follow Klezmafour’s music and tour info on its website http://Klezmafour.pl and its Facebook page.
Bottom Food Photo: Anatolia.
Reprinted with permission and gratitude from CoolCleveland.com.