About AsefaMusic

AsefaMusic encompasses several different aspects of the work of Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas, including concert performances, music for private events, educational programming, albums, and research publications. This page includes information about the players and facilitators that regularly work with Dr. Thomas to present the range of AsefaMusic programming.

Festival of Sacred Song, Brooklyn Arts Council


Samuel R. Torjman Thomas, Ph.D
leader, scholar, artist

Dr. Torjman Thomas is a multi-instrumentalist (saxophone, oud, vocals, nay, clarinet, percussion), composer, bandleader, and a professor of ethnomusicology, Jewish studies, and interdisciplinary studies. 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. Dr. Torjman Thomas is bandleader of ASEFA, ASEFA-Jazz, and Traveling in Pairs, as well as artistic director of the New York Andalus Ensemble – a multiethnic large ensemble featuring a choir and instrumentalists performing traditional musics of North Africa and Spain, in Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish.

Dr. Torjman Thomas is the Director of Curriculum and Institutional Programming at the Brooklyn Music School, as well as an adjunct Assistant Professor of ethnomusicology and Jewish studies at several campuses of the City University of New York (Hunter College, John Jay College, and Brooklyn College) and Montclair State University. He teaches courses on a range of topics, including Muslim-Jewish relations in music, philosophy, and poetics, American popular music, jazz history, jazz improvisation, theory, and composition, and diaspora and sound studies.

Dr. Torjman Thomas is a frequent guest speaker, at cultural institutions, universities, and in ecumenical spaces. For synagogue communities he leads weekend retreats as a chazzan and facilitator of Jewish song traditions – Sephardi piyyutim, niggunim wordless melody singing, Klezmer music, and chazzanus styles – and as a guest speaker on Sephardi-Mizraḥi historical and cultural topics.

AsefaMusic Members

As a core and a collective, AsefaMusic includes both a main ensemble with regular members and a customizable ensemble fit for the occasion.
Laura Townsend

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.

Eylem Basaldi

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.

Elie Massias
vocals, guitar, effects, soprano saxophone

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 he grew up with. During his live performances, Elie sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar, soprano saxophone and Wavedrum while using a sampler to create loops in real-time.

A core component in Asefa’s recording is the presence of Elie Massias’s voice and production work. His work in the wedding ensemble brings authentic vocals to everything from Chassidishe dance tunes and Ladino ballads to Israeli Pop music.

Eric Platz
drumset, percussion, riqq

Eric Platz plays drums and percussion and is the featured boom boom guy in Asefa. Eric combines the mastery of jazz and pop styles together with African drumming and middle-eastern percussion. Eric creates the foundation for the house to rest upon.

A graduate of Brown University and the New England Conservatory of Music, Eric Platz has performed with pianist Michael Cain and percussionist Bob Moses. Currently Eric teaches jazz studies at Brandon University, and performs internationally in a wide array of settings.

John Murchison
Bass, guimbri, bendir, nay

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.

Yoshie Fruchter
guitar, oud, mandolin

Yoshie grew up in a musical family and began taking guitar lessons at age thirteen. He played in a number of rock bands throughout high school, and joined his fatherís wedding band, Kol Chayim, at eighteen. After high school, he went to a Jewish Yeshiva in Israel, concurrently playing in groups there and studying with guitarist Johnny Hill. Upon his return, he began school at the University of Maryland. After his freshman year, he began taking classes through the jazz program studying guitar, and took lessons with faculty guitarist Gerry Kunkel. During this time he also studied with area jazz guitarist, Paul Wingo. While in college, Yoshie became involved in a number of musical projects including Juez, an avante-Klezmer group in which he played electric bass, Bellflur, an ambient post rock group, and M-Theory, a jazz/fusion quintet. He also freelanced in the DC area, and had a regular gig with the James Robinsson trio at Utopia CafÈ. He now leads a new rockin/avante/jazz/ klezmer group called Pitom, and performs material from his latest record with his father, Beyond the Book. Yoshie has also gained experience as a Jewish educator teaching music in various Hebrew schools and doing shows and workshops at Jewish events.

Rich Stein
hand percussion

A regular part of Asefa, Rich brings amazingly creative energy and grooves to the heavy percussion sound of Asefa’s concert ensemble. Rich studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where his love for hand percussion was kindled by the great master drummers Carey Schervell, Joe Galeota, and Jamey Haddad. Rich also studied in Ghana, West Africa with Ewe master drummer and dancer Emmanuel Agbeli, Dagomba, master drummer Abubakari Lunna, and Ga master drummer Shamsuddin Adeji, and in India with the world renowned mdrangam player Sri Karaikud Mani.

He has also shared the stage and recorded with Academy Award nominee Lila Downs, Grammy award winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, Grammy award winning hip hop vocalist Lauryn Hill, master sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan, and singer-songwriter Clare Muldaur.

Daniel Kurfirst
drumset, hand percussion

Dan Kurfirst is an NYC based percussionist, composer and improviser. His playing incorporates aspects of Middle Eastern, West African and Indian music, while being clearly rooted in the American traditions he grew up with. He began traveling to Istanbul in 2009, immersing himself in Middle Eastern music and the spiritual traditions associated with it. A former student of master drummers Shane Shanahan, Nasheet Waits, and Tariq Snare, he continues to learn and perform throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. He regularly performs with top musicians in NYC’s world-music scene including Tom Chess, Matt Darriau, Brandon Terzic and Kane Mathis. Daniel currently serves as creative director of the American Sufi Project.

Daniel Ori

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.

Noah Jarrett
upright bass, guimbri

Bringing his deep knowledge of African bass styles to the band, Noah’s grooves permeate every listener’s soul. Born and raised in New Jersey, after five years studying the violin, he switched to the electric bass at the age of nine. Appreciating the communicative and communal attributes of music led him to playing jazz, reggae, Indian, African, Gnawan, and Sufi music.

He can be found accompanying the virtuosic Malian kora player, Mamadou Diabate in many group settings at festivals and events all over the world. Noah also lays down propulsive grooves in the BROOKLYN QAWWALI PARTY and leads his own group, KNU GMOON PROJECT. He also plays regularly with FAT LITTLE BASTARD, THE INBETWEENS, and in a progressive rock trio called BARKY. Noah is a graduate of New England Conservatory.

Shanir Blumenkrantz
bass, oud

Shanir plays bass and oud and is the featured string player in Asefa. With new conceptions in oud playing that incorporate avant-garde improvisation and southern Moroccan guimbri, Shanir brings a special spice to the Asefa collective. He is one of the founding members of the group, providing harmonic foundation and melodic interaction par excellence.

Shanir has recorded and performed extensively with Satlah, Rashanim, and Pharaoh’s Daughter, all who have made many records on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Other CDs recorded for Tzadik include a compilation of music by Israeli composer “Sasha Argov”, a compilation of music composed by Zorn called “Voices In The Wilderness” for the tenth year anniversary of his band Masada, a compilation of unheard Masada compositions called “Unkown Masada”, a compilation of music by Brazilian composer “Jacob Du Bandolim”, and “John Zorn: Filmworks XV” featuring Zorn and Cyro Baptista.