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Shuk, Rattle and Roil?

June 22, 2011 By:
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Yoni Avital

Is the Shuk -- with its mantra of "Preserve, Perpetuate and Innovate" -- Israel's sand-dune version of "Survivor"?

This Jewish tribe has spoken; more importantly, it's sung. And in the marketplace -- shuk's meaning in Hebrew -- of ideas, this one thrives on sound advice.

As leaders of the band, Brooklyn-born Yoni Avital and Cherry Hill's Ami Yares are actually both Jersey boys in a way Frankie Valli wouldn't understand; both met while attending Rutgers University before making aliyah earlier this millennium.

Bringing their musical talents to market makes for an intriguing international sales pitch, having all to do with the timbre of their tunes and the tenor of the times.

The key, claim both, is interaction with their audiences -- and worldwide are those crowds, with the two music men and the rest of their band just returning from engagements in Amsterdam, Budapest and Germany.

Next world stop: World Cafe Live, where the Shuk is set to shake things up on June 28.

Anyone seeking middle-of-the-road Middle East music better be prepared for a detour -- the Shuk shattered preconceptions with their very first concert; since forming in 2008, the Shuk has refracted rock through a fusion prism, reeling in crowds with their offers of concerts, seminars, lectures and lessons.

"One of our interests," says Avital, avid vocalist, flutist, guitarist -- as well as director of operations -- of the Shuk era "is to provide appreciation for Jewish culture," amid Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.

The Shuk has applied a musical twist to the aphorism of "to get a good job, get a good education": To get a good concert reaction, learned the band mates, give audiences a good education.

Indeed teaching the way of their world is a major musical factor in the group's personal and public growth. And it has been since the Shuk's founding in Sweden, when Yares, on guitar, oud, banjo and vocals, participated in what was known as the Project Incubator of Paideia -- the European Institute of Jewish Studies.

Hatch job? That incubator bred a program appealing to educators and performers interested in enhancing Jewish identity throughout Europe.

The birth of the group took place right then and there. It is now completing its own circle of life as it has been given the hechsher by Birthright Israel as "an approved cultural program," adds Avital.

"Mixing the spiritual and the academic together with performances" is a dream for Yares, whose heritage is a mix of Spanish and Greek Jewish origins.

Mixing it up on stage is also a long-term commitment, which, Yares intones, is something the Shuk lets fans know from the get-go: "We tell them that we are not a hit-and-run music group."

But they do have their hits and a run of good fortune, as described on their website (www.the-shuk.com) and as is evident in their CD, "The Shuk: Experience Israeli and Jewish Culture."

And maybe American culture? The fact that both Avital and Yares -- who heads up the ensemble's programming/education -- are American-born is a selling point in their multi-faceted approach to music as well as their appeal. "I'm still very much American," says Yares, a founding member of the rock group HOLLER! giving a shout-out to his Jersey roots.

It is all just one part of a multidimensional game plan, in which the Shuk owns the court. Indeed, the group's eclectic marketing skills could be taught in an MBA program -- which, actually, Avital is about to complete at the University of Haifa.

It can only come in handy: As any broker will tell you, diversification is best for a portfolio; these Mideast marketing men take stock in that idea, diversifying their impact through education, seminars, and interactive concerts that encourage audiences to sing along with their soulful world Jewish music.

Unlike the New York Stock Exchange, the Shuk exchange of culture seems to be in an upbeat mood and mode these days. Is that a little dance music we hear going on in the background?

That sound is not the closing bell, but the opening wail of a Jewish wall of sound. Besides his work with music as muse, Avital is international director of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company at Kibbutz Ga'aton, in northern Israel.

The company is close to his heart in more ways than one. "My girlfriend, who's from Holland, dances in the company; we live together on the kibbutz."

Step right up, Yoni: Wouldn't it be a singular sensation to have both ensembles take to the stage together? Absolutely, he says.

After all, adds Avital, the Shuk is not just a marketplace for ideas but for the arts as well -- and for the hearts of those who enjoy them.

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