What’s in a name?

Israeli band Marsh Dondurma makes its mark.

Marsh Dondurma 311 (photo credit: Noga Cohen Alloro)
Marsh Dondurma 311
(photo credit: Noga Cohen Alloro)
If you’re looking for a snappy name for a new group, something people will latch onto easily, then Marsh Dondurma plainly leaves something to be desired. Drummer and leader of the 15-piece Jerusalem brass band Dotan Yogev admits, with hindsight, to having some misgivings about that. “I suppose if I’d thought the band was going to last so long – we’ve been together for five and a half years now – I might have come up with a shorter name.”
Titular protraction notwithstanding the merry Marsh Dondurma troupe will play at this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat which, Yogev says, is quite a feather in its hat – not that the band hasn’t already graced some major venues. “We played at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2007. When I got the call that we’d been booked for the festival I almost fainted. You know, you come out of your hotel room in Montreal and you meet all those idols of yours, musicians whose CDs you’ve listened to dozens of times at home, and you’re playing at the same festival as them. That was truly amazing. But, somehow, playing at the Red Sea Jazz Festival – our festival – is really special. Over the years I’ve seen the cream of our jazz and other musicians play there, and now it’s our turn to appear there.”
It is difficult to describe or categorize Marsh Dondurma.
It is not, by any means, a straightahead jazz outfit and is far more akin to an east European gypsy brass band. And there are world music, folk, Arabic, Indian, Klezmer and Latin influences in the mix too. But the improvisational, go-with-the-flow approach is the core of the troupe’s credo, and that certainly ties in with the jazz philosophy.
There is another important link with the very roots of the jazz traditions. Marsh Dondurma started out playing in the streets of Jerusalem, which naturally conjures up images of the marching bands striding and playing through the streets of New Orleans, the cradle of jazz.
There were some early memorable gigs at the Mahanei Yehuda market and the public eagerly fed off the band’s captivating joie de vivre right from the word go. While joyous musical execution can sometimes add up to a fun time and not much more, Marsh Dondurma has never lost sight of its creative quest.
“We have evolved so much over the years,” Yogev continues.
“When I think about it I am completely flabbergasted that we’re still together, and being a success. We started out in our early twenties and, since then, we’ve all grown up, some have gotten married and had kids, life priorities, making ends meet – all these things can have a profound way on your outlook on life. But, somehow, we’ve stuck together through thick and thin.”
They have indeed. They recently released their third album, Schuna, to general acclaim and have followed an impressive artistic trajectory since 2005. Yogev explains that the band is run along democratic lines, and that the artistic output is very much a collective affair. “Each one of us can offer a song, and we’ll all listen to him. As far as their song is concerned they run the show. And all of us know we will get the same attention and consideration when we suggest something new.” That isn’t to say things have always been rosy in the garden. “We have our differences and squabbles,” says Yogev, “but we always manage to get along, and respect each other.”
THERE IS something enchantingly off the wall about the band’s appearance and sound with the latter enhanced by the inclusion of a gargantuan sousaphone in a lineup.
“That was one of the first instruments I thought of having in the band,” recalls Yogev, “but I wasn’t even sure if there were any available in Israel. I knew ensembles like army and police bands probably had a sousaphone, but I thought that might be it. Luckily tuba player Udi Ran managed to get his hands on one, and the die was cast.
The band’s orientation and name were sparked by experiences Yogev had just before Marsh Dondurma was born. The name came from a type of ice cream he came across on a trip to Turkey. The artistic intent and energetic mindset were the result of a fortuitous confluence between Yogev and an impromptu act at a New York club.
“I spent five months in New York before I came back to Israel and started the band,” he explains. “One evening I went out to see a show – I see a different show every evening I was there – and, when the gig ended, suddenly about 20 musicians burst into the club, got on the stage and unleashed this amazing burst of energy and sound. It literally blew me away. You have to remember this was back in 2003 when the second Intifada was happening and things were pretty dismal in Jerusalem.” With typical Israeli get up and go Yogev soon found himself offering his percussive skills to the Hungry March Band and he shared a month of memorable gigs with them around the Big Apple before returning to Jerusalem.
“I kept telling my friends about the Hungry March Band, and how much I’d love to get something similar going here. One day a friend basically told me to shut up and do something about.” The rest is history, and a prestigious Red Sea Jazz Festival beckons.
Marsh Dondurma will play at the Red Sea Jazz Festival on August 23. For more information about the band: http://www.marshdondurma.com/eng/