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World Music Features

Jeszcze Raz

By Bruce Sach
Published January 30, 2006

Jeszcze Raz has established an identity in Montreal with a sound that has been described as including everything from klezmer to gypsy to blues to Quebecois spunk, with a certain Slavic yearning thrown in for good measure.

Although the somewhat unmarketable name Jeszcze Raz means “One More Time” in Polish, the founder of this Montreal-based group could just as well have chosen Having A Great Time to accurately describe his ascent on Quebec’s fertile world music scene.

Jeszcze Raz has established an identity in Montreal with a sound that has been described as including everything from klezmer to gypsy to blues to Quebecois spunk, with a certain Slavic yearning thrown in for good measure.

Born in Poland, raised in Israel and then immigrating to Toronto as an 18-year-old, Jeszcze Raz founder Paul Kunigis claims that he had to come to Quebec to discover his roots. This awakening occurred in Quebec’s francophone heartland, arguably the most openly separatist area of Canada’s culturally unique province. It was also about this time that Kunigis began a career shift, leaving his job as a well-known chef to forge his unique mix of global sounds.

In a sense, the awakening was predestined. At age three Kunigis left Poland for Israel, where his mother raised him a Catholic. Kunigis embraced the Tower of Babel of languages around him (including Polish) and also took to music, singing in the church choir but receiving no formal musical training. From watching newsreels of the time, particularly those depicting the 1967 Canada World Expo, he grew up thinking that Canada was completely a French-speaking country. Imagine his surprise when he arrived in Anglo Toronto, where the souls who speak the language of Molière are few and far between.  Now sounding part Slavic, part Hebrew, and with a cadence and vocabulary that easily betrays his everyday language, French, even Kunigis’s English accent is bedeviling.

Working with some of Montreal’s top musicians, Kunigis’s music reflects the disparate sounds of his background, his adopted city and his present-day life. Kunigis is a self-taught musician who only recently, at age 40, began working professionally in that capacity, after first earning an enviable reputation throughout Quebec as a chef. He explains that his music is like his cooking, a mélange that occurs after extended experimentation.

Kunigis’s ease with experimentation in music was fostered in part by a fateful trip to Louisiana in 1990. “I had a chance to jam with some elderly black gentleman,” he says. “I learned that everything is open, be it jazz or blues, that there are no constraints, none of, ‘You cannot do this, you cannot do that,’ as in some music. That opened my eyes to different ways of creati