It’s not every day that President Reuven Rivlin posts a music video to his social media accounts. But it’s also not every day that Bahrain makes peace with Israel. The two coincidentally coincided on September 11 when Rivlin posted Israeli band Yamma‘s aptly named new video, “Atem Shalom” (You Are Peace).
Yamma lead singer Talya G.A. Solan told The Times of Israel Podcast that Rivlin’s social media coordinator had reached out earlier in the week to notify the band of her intention to post the video ahead of the Jewish Sabbath — but only if no breaking news preempts it. (The Bahrain announcement came shortly after “Atem Shalom” was posted.)
The video for “Atem Shalom” is a cooperative project between the band, currently locked down in Israel, and dozens of grassroots fans from across the globe. With participants from countries such as Iran, Egypt, Serbia and scenes from the tropics to the deserts, the video embodied a message of peace and cooperation that caught the president’s ear. It’s a message that is set in an “ear worm,” a tune catchy enough that it burrows into listeners’ brains.
This week on The Times of Israel Podcast we’re speaking with two members of the world music ensemble Yamma (literally, “to the sea”), singer Solan and winds player Yonnie Dror, about how the decade-old band has become viral among world music lovers — and what they’re up to during the pandemic lockdown.
שִׁמְעוּ בָּנִים נִינֵי אֵיתָנִים כִּי נֶאֱמָנִים דַּרְכֵי שָׁלוֹםאַתֶּם שָׁלוֹם, בֵּיתְכֶם שָׁלוֹם, וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לָכֶם…
Along with band members Aviv Bahar, Nur Bar Goren and Avri Borochov, the band incorporates Jewish music traditions from across the Mediterranean and Africa, and draws on the musicians’ musical and ethnic backgrounds.
Incredibly enough, their runaway hit is a setting of Psalm 104. The YouTube video alone has gotten almost 6 million views. Winds player Dror explains that it’s based on an ancient Babylonian Jewish tune he began carrying around with him about 15 years ago. He played it to his Iraqi-born father, Dror said, who remembered it from his childhood.
Dror said that he despaired of ever finding a band that could manage his arrangement of such a complex tune. And then, a decade ago when Yamma was formed, all the pieces fell into place. The result is a five-minute musical journey that begins with a whisper — a minute-long oud solo — and ends with a bang as the full band belts out the ancient Hebrew lyrics.
Solan explains that while she prefers to sing in Hebrew — ancient or modern — several of the band’s songs draw on members’ Sephardic roots and are sung in Ladino or Arabic dialects. Likewise, the pieces reflect the band members’ diverse musical styles, injecting jazz improv into a traditional Bukharan niggun, or a Klezmer trill into a psalm.
Learn more from band members Solan and Dror and hear song samples on this week’s episode of The Times of Israel Podcast.