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Yamma ensemble mingles and teaches: Israeli folk band in DL

The Yamma Ensemble includes (from left) Avri Borochov, Sefi Asfuri, Talya G.A. Solan, Yonnie Dror and Aviad Ben Yehuda.

Last fall, the seven members of an Egyptian folk-rock band known as Wust el-Balad visited Detroit Lakes for a week in late September, and before they gave their final performance at the Historic Holmes Theatre, they had made a lot of friends in the community.

This Monday, a new group of Arts Midwest WorldFest musicians arrived in DL for a weeklong artist residency -- the five members of the Israeli folk group, Yamma Ensemble.

Like their Egyptian counterparts, Yamma Ensemble has been spending the week interacting with students at local schools, doing impromptu performances at such diverse venues as the Detroit Lakes Library and SJE Rhombus, and participating in some favorite local spring activities.

"Yesterday we went to see the sunset over the lake," said Avri Borochov, who plays double bass with the group. "It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen."

Yamma Ensemble's principal vocalist, Talya G.A. Solan, said her favorite part of the trip so far has been "interacting with the kids."

"It's nice to see how they react to this foreign music they've never heard before -- it's a challenge to catch them (hold their interest)," she said.

Borochov said that one of the things he enjoys most about touring with Arts Midwest's World Fest program has been the opportunity to really get to know the people in the communities where they stay for each of their week-long stops on the tour.

"This is our third tour with Arts Midwest WorldFest -- and we like it," he said. "Usually, when you go on a regular tour in Europe, it's a concert one night, then a flight and a concert the next day, then another flight -- it can be very hectic.

"This tour is very special, because you spend a few days in each community, get to know the people and go deeper into the historical and educational aspect of our music -- that's amazing," he added.

"It's kind of a gift," Solan agreed. "We get to have real contact with the people who come listen to us -- to see and interact with the people who are our listeners."

In a Tuesday afternoon presentation to the Detroit Lakes Library Club, each member of the group introduced the various instruments they used and the meaning behind the music they were performing.

Solan discussed the group's Arabic, Jewish and Middle Eastern influences -- Yamma Ensemble performs both traditional Jewish and Middle Eastern music, but also some original creations.

"I write poetry," Solan said later, noting that she sometimes contributes both lyrics and melodies to the group's songs.

Yonnie Dror talked about the half-dozen wind instruments he had brought along for the performance, including two traditional instruments of the Middle East, the ney -- an ancient form of flute that is "the only wind instrument (traditionally) used in Arabic music," he said -- and the duduk, another wind instrument which is indigenous to Armenia.

He also introduced a traditional Hebrew instrument made from a ram's horn, known as the shofar, which he said was "used in Jewish prayers" as a means of symbolically opening the gates of heaven "so God can hear."

Sefi Asfuri, the group's string player, introduced two traditional string instruments -- the oud and the bouzouki.

The oud is a pear-shaped instrument with a tapering neck, which typically has 11 strings. Besides its unique shape, its most distinguishing feature is a lack of frets on its neck.

The bouzouki "came to Israel from Greece," he said.

It is a form of lute using metal strings and frets, with a sharp, metallic sound reminiscent of a mandolin.

Borochov then introduced the double bass, which is an instrument that "came to Israel from Europe" when so many Jewish people emigrated from there to Israel as a result of their persecution during World War II.

Aviad Ben Yehuda, the group's percussionist, used a variety of instruments during Tuesday's performance, including a doumbec, tambourine and more.

This week's whirlwind of activity will culminate in a full concert by the group at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre, set for this Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m.

After performing four songs at Tuesday's library show, Solan hinted that the songs they would perform at Saturday's concert would be very different -- this was just "a taste" of what they could do.

Tickets for Saturday's show are $15 for adults, $7.50 for students, and may be purchased at the Holmes Theatre Box Office, 806 Summit Ave., by phone at 218-844-7469, or online at

Arts Midwest World Fest is an outreach program that brings international music ensembles into small Midwest communities to perform and do various outreach activities.

Its purpose is "to foster an understanding of and appreciation for global uniqueness and differences," according to an informational brochure about the program. For more information, visit the website,

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454