The Ensemble

Today, a spirit of intercultural exchange rooted in the great city of Córdoba, Spain, is reborn in New York City with the New York Andalus Ensemble, a multiethnic, multifaith group that performs in Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino. Drawing upon repertoire from the ninth century to the 1960s, from al-Andalus and the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), the ensemble consists of a large choir and a wide array of traditional and modern acoustic instruments. The large ensemble consists of 15-20 performers, and the smaller Chamber Orchestra consists of 5-10 members. Under the direction of ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist Dr. Samuel R. Torjman Thomas, the New York Andalus Ensemble is dedicated to conjuring anew the cosmopolitanism of Córdoba in the present day.

The Performers

Samuel R. Torjman Thomas, Ph.D
Artistic Director, Lead Vocalist, Oud, Ney

Thomas is a professor of ethnomusicology, Jewish studies, and interdisciplinary studies, a professional musician, multi-instrumentalist (sax, clarinet, oud, nay flute, frame drums, and vocals), composer, and bandleader. Actively forging an artist/scholar model for over fifteen years, his scholarship and performance center on musics of the Middle East and North Africa, worldwide Jewish musics, and jazz-based traditions, as well as Sephardi-Mizraḥi studies in poetry, rabbinic thought, and diaspora studies.

Thomas is an adjunct Assistant Professor at the City University of New York (Hunter College, John Jay College, and Brooklyn College) and Montclair State University, where he teaches courses on Muslim-Jewish relations in music, philosophy, and poetics, American popular music, jazz history, jazz improvisation, theory, and composition, and diaspora and sound studies. Thomas is also a frequent guest speaker, at conferences, cultural institutions, universities, and in ecumenical spaces.

After graduating from Berklee College of Music (2000) with two degrees in applied music – jazz composition and woodwind performance – Thomas moved to New York City where he earned a Ph.D in ethnomusicology from the CUNY-Graduate Center with the publishing of his dissertation Redefining Diaspora Consciousness: Musical Practices of Moroccan Jews in Brooklyn (2014). Thomas has an active performance career, including the New York Andalus Ensemble, the critically-acclaimed ensemble ASEFA, a North African jazz-fusion outfit, and an eponymous jazz trio.

 

Laura Townsend
Lead Vocalist

Laura is a New York based actor and singer hailing from Paris. As part of the Andalus Ensemble, Laura has been performing at CUNY, Brooklyn Music School, JCC Washington DC, Cedarhurst Synagogue, among others. Trained classically, and with Moroccan and Israeli roots, Laura likes to blend styles of Ladino, North African, Middle Eastern and Israeli music.

Acting Credits include the National Opera in Paris, the Venice Film Festival, La MaMa ETC, Classic Stage Company, The Rattlestick, Target Margin Theater Company.

Laura also teaches Shakespeare at Classic Stage Company and French Drama at L’Atelier Theatre NY, which she has co-founded. She most recently produced and performed The Maids at La MaMa ETC.

Laura holds an MFA in Acting from Columbia University and a Masters in Business from HEC Paris.

Sjimon Den Hollander
Vocals, Director of Languages

den Hollander was born in the Netherlands in 1960. He has two master’s degrees—in Arabic and Islamic Studies—and is currently enrolled in Yeshiva University’s rabbinical program. He teaches and lectures on the subject of Jewish-Muslim interaction in theology and philology, on Arabic language, and on Judeo-Arabic philosophy.

Khadidja Guendil
Lead Vocalist

Guendil, born in Oran, Algeria, was raised listening to the various musical traditions of her homeland. Guendil was deeply inculcated in traditional Andalus music by her uncle, violinist/composer Djamel Benyelles. She moved to New York City in 2006 to finish her bachelor’s degree in corporate communication. Guendil sings in Arabic, Hebrew, and Spanish, and works on pronunciation techniques for ensemble choir performance.

Prosper Lankry
Lead Vocalist

Born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco, Prosper studied Jewish cantorial tradition under Rabbi Yaacov Azoueloz. At age 18, he moved to the United States and began performing at numerous synagogues in the New York area, leading prayer services and singing at celebrations. Joining the New York Andalus ensemble brings him back to many memories for from his younger age, growing up in Casablanca’s medina, hearing all the shops blasting Andalus music.

Judy Gelman Myers
Vocals, Director of Public Relations and Development

Ms. Myers is 100 percent Ashkenazi, but ever since learning of the “Golden Age of Spain” in American Hebrew school, she has devoted herself to pursuing the music and dance of Andalusia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. She has studied Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and Azeri and has a master’s degree in linguistics. She has performed at the UN, Detroit’s Ford Auditorium, and the Sephardic Home for the Aged, among many other venues, and currently studies voice with Eitan Rosa, Messa de la Voce Studio.

Dror Shahaf
Darbuka, Bendir

Shahaf, born in southern Israel to a Yemenite family, began performing music at a young age. After living in Amsterdam and operating S House studios, Shahaf relocated to New York City to focus on performing. He is active in several different Middle Eastern music projects and has recently re-established his recording studio.

Eylem Basaldi
Violin

Turkish-born violinist: Basaldi was on the classical track at New England Conservatory when, twelve years ago, she took a class in Turkish folk music and rediscovered the sounds of her youth. She began pursuing her a love and passion for Mediterranean musical cultures, and now performs in a wide array of settings featuring Balkan, Middle Eastern, North African musical traditions. She is an instrumental instructor in New York City and travels widely as a performing artist in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Brandon Terzic
Oud

Terzic, from Akron, Ohio, has been playing oud for twenty-three years. He has traveled and studied widely, in the Middle East and North Africa, performing in several different musical traditions from the region. He is bandleader of the Xalam Project, and works as an oud instructor in New York City.

Fatiha Makloufi
Vocals, Director of Development

Fatiha was born in Oran, Algeria, and has been living in the United States since 1980. She is a Director of pre-college initiatitives in the City University of New York, and has designed and led a number of literacy, ESL, and language programs in New York City. She grew up listening to a multitude of Algerian styles of music including Andalus, Chaabi, Sahraoui and a wide range of popular genres.

Nadav Remez
Guitar, Mandolin

Hailing from the outskirts of Tel Aviv, guitarist Nadav Remez is one of today’s emerging voices on the New York Jazz scene. Described as “an unassuming artist with a penchant for indie rock… forging a style built on understatement, logic and clarity,” Remez has established himself as a standout among a new crop of Israelis making waves in the jazz world, through his haunting guitar melodies and compositions that offer an intriguing combination of modern jazz, Jewish folk, and alternative rock.

Ola Galal
Vocals

Growing up with music in her life, playing piano and singing in a Cairo choir, Ola Galal came to New York for graduate school in cultural anthropology at the City University of New York. Her research centers on the diffusion of Andalusian music across North Africa and the Middle East.

Megumi Saruhashi
Violin

Megumi is a Japanese violinist and composer, currently based in NYC.
Her approach to music is not merely technical, but highly spiritual and emotional. Her creative vision and desire to transcend existing musical paradigms has pushed to experiment with a wildly diverse array of music genres, ranging from Middle Eastern Folk to Argentinian Tango, Avant-garde, and fusion.

Natalie Haziza
Vocals

Natalie remembers listening to Moroccan-Jewish piyyutim and Andalusian grooves since childhood but her love for this culture solidified when she backpacked in Morocco a few years ago, on a trip to visit the birthplace of her father. Born in South Africa, and having lived in Israel for most of her adult life, she is currently pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology at the City University of New York.

Nicole Macotsis
Dancer

Nicole is a cultural worker and dancer. She has studied and performed Egyptian dance since 1999. She teaches raqs sharqi (Egyptian bellydance) in Brooklyn. Nicole also develops cultural programs in partnership with Arab American communities in Brooklyn such as “A Dabkeh Tour of Bay Ridge”; “So You Think You Can Dabkeh” and “Baby Tarab: Sing and Dance bil ‘Arabi”, promoting sustainability of Arab music and dance traditions.

Elie Massias
Guitar, Oud, Lead Vocalist

Born in Gibraltar, a small peninsula on the southernmost tip of Spain, musician, singer and songwriter Elie Massias, moved to New York in 1994 and since has garnered critical acclaim and has played on and produced dozens of recordings. Known for his guitar work and improvisation skills, Elie illuminates audiences with the beauty and intricacies of Jazz, Flamenco, Middle Eastern, Sephardic, and rock music. Drawing from his experiences living in Israel, Europe and the US, Elie effortlessly unifies these vast musical genres.

Debbie Leiderman
Vocalist, Director of Social Media

Copy editor by day, Morocco-phile all other times, Debbie is thrilled to be singing with the amazing and inspiring musicians in the Ensemble.

Rich Stein
Percussion

Raised in Virginia Beach, Rich began his study of percussion at the age of ten. After studying percussion and frame drums with Jamey Haddad and Joe Galeota at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Rich traveled to Ghana, West Africa, to deepen his knowledge of African-based traditions. Rich is currently a highly-respected fixture on the freelance scene in New York City, performing locally and worldwide in world music, pop, and jazz settings.

Jenny Ho
Bendir, Tar

Jenny was born in Hong Kong and grew up in New York City. She started drumming in 2010 when she joined her friends and attended a medieval camping event, and took drumming lessons. Since then, she fell in love with the rhythms of the Middle East and North Africa. Jenny plays the darbuka and frame drum, and continues her drumming studies in New York City.

Moshe Weidenfeld
Piano

Over the course of his 40+ years, pianist and keyboardist Moshe Weidenfeld has performed live with such diverse artists as Pete Seeger, Archie Shepp, the late Tito Puente and bluegrass/klezmer superstar, Andy Statman. Moshe Weidenfeld’s recent CD release, In The Moment, is a collection of original compositions which incorporate elements of his Latin Jewish Jazz fusion into a more traditional straight ahead Jazz format.

Moshe has been studying Arab musical traditions, focusing new energy on adapting elements from Andalusian-based musics into his vocal and piano performance.

Alon Nechushtan
Accordion

Alon is a keyboardist, accordionist, and composer. Before moving to New York a decade ago, he studied world musics at the New England Conservatory and performed with various ensembles, including Hankus Netsky’s New England Klezmer band and Mohamed Kalifa Kamara’s African beat. Alon has recorded seven solo albums of his own original Klezmer and Sephardic influenced music for the Tzadik label and John Zorn. He has recorded and played with some an illustrious cast of world and jazz musicians, including Andy Statman, Don Byron, Donny McCaslin, Bob Moses, Klezmatics frontmen Frank London and Matt Darriau, Chris Cheek, Chris Speed, Marc Helias, Marc Dresser, and Andrew Cyrile.

John Murchison
bass, guimbri, nay, bendir

John Murchison is a Brooklyn-based bassist. He has a hand in many of the various music scenes of NYC, moving fluidly from jazz and avant-garde, to musical theater, to traditional musics from Africa and the Middle East. As a result, his playing style can draw from a wide variety of influences such as straight ahead jazz, Arabic maqam, Moroccan Gnawa music, and post-tonal melodies.

Gail August
Vocals

Gail August has a Ph.D in Linguistics from the CUNY Grad Center and is an Associate Professor at Hostos, CUNY. Her link to the music of Andalus is through the dance. She has worked as a Middle Eastern dancer and choreographer for many years and has also performed with Debke!, a dance company specializing in choreographies to music from the Sephardic tradition. A few years ago she choreographed and danced in a festival at Hostos devoted to the Jewish diaspora in the Caribbean.

Yehonatan Elazar-DeMota
Clarinet, Vocals

Yehonatan Elazar-DeMota was born in Miami, Florida. He is the son of Caribbean Sephardic Jews. Elazar began his musical career at an early age of 7 years old as a percussionist and later as a saxophonist and bassist. As the years passed, he managed to learn how to play piano, guitar, clarinet, and other percussive instruments. His musical career has taken him to Europe, the Middle East , and Latin America. Elazar is an innovator of “Jazzphardic,” an exhilarating experience of Middle-Eastern Latin Jazz fusions. Currently, he plays the clarinet and sings in the New York Andalus Ensemble. He aspires to recreate the cultural atmosphere of the “Golden Years” of Spain, thereby joining peoples of different faiths and cultures.

Samer Ali
Violin

Samer Ali is a virtuoso on Arabic violin. A native of Syria,he resides in New York City and currently performs with the New York Arabic Orchestra, New York Andalus Ensemble and the Orchestra of the Bronx. He began studying western classical violin at the age of eight and later pursued intensive conservatory studies with Ali Mukhtar Babayev. He performed with the Ugarit Ensemble and co-founded the Awj Arab Music Ensemble, based in Damascus, Syria. He has also directed workshops on Arabic music at institutions throughout Syria. Samer has worked with musicians in the US and Syria, including Moncef Genoud, Bassam Saba, Michel Merhej Baklouk, George Ziadeh, Amir Elsaffar, Zafer Tawil and David Vilca. Samer received his M.D. from Tishreen University.

Yoshie Fruchter
Oud, Mandolin

Yoshie Fruchter is a guitar, bass and oud player whose band, Pitom (Tzadik Records) has received critical acclaim from Jazz Times magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Guitar Player Magazine and many more. The unique blend of rock, jazz, experimental and jewish styles in his playing and composing is a defining characteristic of his music. He has toured the US and Europe with Pitom and other groups, playing the Atlantique Jazz Festival in France, the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, Saalfelden Jazz Festival in Austria and others. He is currently getting ready to release an album on Blue Thread Music of post-rock arrangements of old cantorial recordings entitled Schizophonia.

Eric Platz
Riqq

Eric Platz is a multi-faceted drummer and percussionist whose performing career encompasses a diverse array of styles including modern improvised music, contemporary pop, Arabic and North African music. He has performed extensively throughout North America and has appeared on over 30 recordings. Eric is currently on the faculty at the Brandon University School of Music in Canada where he teaches in the areas of World Music, Jazz Studies and Applied Music.

Daniel Ori
Bass

Daniel is a renowned bassist and composer, and a prominent voice in the New York contemporary jazz and world music scene. Daniel is a scholarship recipient and graduate of the Berklee College of Music as well as a winner of the 2009 ASCAP Jazz Composers Award.
He has released two solo albums, So it Goes (Art of Life Records 2010) and Emuna (BluJazz Records, 2012). He is currently leading and co-leading multiple projects, including the Daniel Ori quartet, electric groove trio Mindset and multinational acoustic Balkan group Tavche Gravche. Daniel’s music has been described as fresh, communicative, lyrical and rhythmic. He is known for blending modern jazz with Middle Eastern roots and pan African influences.