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Claim to Fame: Country Yossi, Kivi, and Tuki

C. B. Lieber

“The kids were literally crying that Kivi and Tuki were gone! We had to immediately go back to the studio and bring them back”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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C ountry Yossi, whose last name is Toiv, was writing songs in elementary school, but he only began to play guitar in yeshivah, when his roommate, Rabbi Shmuel (Shmelky) Brazil, later of Regesh fame, drew him a chord chart so he could play music properly. “His guitar was always lying around and I started picking on it,” Country Yossi reminisces.

 “Once I learned how to play chords, I started writing songs. I wrote funny songs, serious songs, and niggunim. Eventually I had a whole catalogue of songs I had written, and together with Rabbi Brazil I put out a record called Ohr Chodosh. He wrote the Hebrew songs, and I wrote the Yiddish and English songs.” 

Although Ohr Chodosh only included serious songs, ten years later, Country Yossi mentioned his funny songs to his good friend Heshy Walfish, who led the backup band at the Ohr Chodosh concerts. “Let’s get together and listen to them,” Heshy said. 

Just like that, the concept of Country Yossi and the Shteeble-Hoppers was born. Since many of Country Yossi’s songs are parodies of country music (a slow style of music that originated in the Southern US), he added the big black cowboy hat to his stage image, which eventually morphed into a radio show and Country Yossi magazine. 

And somewhere along the way, the famous Kivi and Tuki were born — two loveable Shteeble-Hoppers from a “distant planet” who taught Jewish children all about brachos, davening, alef-beis, and more. As Country Yossi likes to say, “It’s Torah, middos, and mitzvos through laughter and song.” 

Like many of Country Yossi’s songs for grown-ups, Kivi and Tuki are kind of quirky — very Jewish, but sometimes Tuki was a bit of a wise guy! “Heshy does both of their voices on the CDs, as well as play all the music. Talk about talent!” exclaims their creator.

 

Many of these songs are still being sung 25 years later to the next generation of Jewish children. For example, many schools today teach the names of the parshiyos through Kivi and Tuki’s “Sedrah Song.” How does Country Yossi write all his songs? “I look for ways to introduce children to different facets of Yiddishkeit,” Country Yossi says. “Sometimes I’ll look for midrashim or stories in the Gemara that can be put to music. 

If it’s an original song, I sit down with the guitar and wait for inspiration to hit. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s a parody, it’s easier.” By now there are 15 Country Yossi CDs out there, with a new Kivi and Tuki in the works. Interestingly enough, Country Yossi once decided that he was going to retire Kivi and Tuki.

The two friends said goodbye and went back to their “home planet.” But when the CD Goodbye, Kivi and Tuki was released, he was bombarded with phone calls from parents. “The kids were literally crying that Kivi and Tuki were gone! We had to immediately go back to the studio and bring them back,” he says. “In response, we quickly put out Welcome Back, Kivi and Tuki!

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