Chana Rothman is not just another singer and songwriter; she is also a musical community organizer, educator, activist and mentor.
Her music is described as a mix of folk, world beat and hip-hop that aims “to break down barriers toward consciousness and change.”
She is playing more gigs at this year’s Atlanta Jewish Music Festival than any other artist. She will have a show at Venkman’s in conjunction with the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative, a Shabbat service at Temple Sinai and a youth show with InterfaithFamily/Atlanta at Industrious at Ponce City Market, among other performances and workshops.
AJT: It sounds like you’re always busy. What keeps you motivated?
Rothman: I’m a Gemini, so we always have multiple activities going on. There are so many things I care about in the world, and so many of them truly can be addressed through music. I also believe in a holistic, integrative approach to music, which can be intertwined with all the different things we’re doing. That’s how I came to my Rainbow Train project about freedom of gender expression; it’s what is going in my family and in my life and in the larger community. I tried to find some songs about it, and I couldn’t, so why not write some? The thing that’s true about all these endeavors, whether it’s classroom teaching or experiencing spirituality, music is woven into all the facets of my life. I have young kids, so doing family programs that are fulfilling is very meaningful and relevant for me because that’s what I want for my own family.
AJT: What effect has motherhood had on your work?
Rothman: It has had a deep impact. My kids are like my petri dishes in a way; they’re my sounding board. If I’m doing a family concert or a kids show, I’ll bounce a song off them. The other day I was facilitating an assembly on African-American music for Black History Month. My younger two came along, and we’re singing a Kenyan song and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and it just makes things a little more seamless.
AJT: What are the obstacles kids in general are facing now?
Rothman: We’re seeing it with the response to the Parkland shooting. Young adults are saying, “You’re not keeping us safe, and you’re not listening to us.” Kids in high school are taking things into their own hands, which is unprecedented. The closest echo to this would be the anti-war movement in the ’70s. It’s unfortunate that the voting age doesn’t reflect that. I think the overarching thing is that younger people don’t get to have the voice they deserve. If kids learn early that their sense of justice doesn’t matter and is not worth pursuing, they will come up against those barriers again and again. Their minds are good, and their thoughts are worth sharing, so that is how we create a stronger future.
AJT: Back to music. What do you like listening to?
Rothman: My good friends Nefesh Mountain, a Jewish bluegrass band, I really like their music. We’ve been doing some some Eastern and Western African music at the school where I teach. That’s really fun and inspiring me lately. I always love reggae music, Israeli music too.
AJT: I hope you get to catch some music while you’re here at the festival, but your schedule looks pretty full.
Rothman: Oh, my God, it’s so full.