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Hear this: MWE

MWE describes itself as a Middle-Eastern marching band. That’s a description of its music, by the way, not its members. The San Francisco quintet plays Turkish and Balkan party music, the soundtrack to belly-dance ragers in the street, maybe.

To quote the about on Facebook: One zurna, one davul, one saxophone and two clarinets. One million decibels.

The band plays 8 p.m. TONIGHT, at the Caris School of Dance. We emailed to get the low down on what this Balkan party band is all about.

How did the band come together? How long have you been playing, etc.

This band came together four years ago at a music camp, with a group of us that have been long-time friends and lovers of Turkish, Balkan, Greek and Middle Eastern music. It started with three clarinets, a zurna player, a tupan player and a doumbek player. Doumbek is a goblet shaped drum that is used for belly dance music. But it can also be very versatile. Predecessor of the oboe, the zurna is a double-reeded wind instrument that is known for is loud and shrilly sound. The tupan is a shoulder slung drum that is loud and driving. Zurna and tupan are actually quite common in music all throughout the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. For centuries, this pair of instruments has been used in processions, weddings, festivals or any other kind of ceremony that usually takes place outdoors. Adding clarinets and saxophone is actually a more contemporary adaptation to this music, and we were influenced in this direction from the band Kumpania Istanbul. We suggest looking them up. (Note: We tried)

While you are playing with obvious Turkish influences, are these traditional songs? Songs written in the traditional style? Do you feel the need to adapt to appeal to contemporary, more mainstream audiences?

We draw from all of the different places that the zurna and tapan are native. And we go beyond. Besides for the saxophone player, who is French, we are all American, so we inevitably are influenced by Western music. But we try to be as true to the origins of this music as we can. The songs we play are traditional songs from Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and the Middle-East, but we add our own feel and arrangements to make them ours. One of the songs on our last album is a Yiddish song that we arranged with hip-hop beat. Our next album will feature a song with an Indonesian influence. We wouldn’t say that we feel the need to make our music more contemporary. We don’t think of it that way. We play music that we have fun with and that inspires us. Sometimes it is the traditional music that does this for us and sometimes this comes from adding something to the music that is from a whole different spectrum.

Is there a scene for this style of music in the Bay Area?

The Bay Area has a very rich scene. In Balkan music in particular, but there is also a very good Greek and Middle-Eastern scene. Although groups like Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello have helped to draw a new audience to the Balkan scene, it has been very much alive before these bands were popular. The Balkan brass band Brass Menazeri was one the top bands representing the Balkan music scene, but they recently disbanded. Kafana Balkan, which his hosted by DJ Zeljko, is one of the  more well known events keeping the young audience interested. There are number of Balkan, Greek, Turkish and Middle-Eastern bands that perform regularly. To name a few, we have Inspector Gadje, Fanfare Zambaleta, Agapi Mou, Disciples of Marcos, Edessa, Orkestar Sali, Aswat and many more.

Where does the name MWE come from? Does it have particular meaning?

Many Wonder Exactly what MWE stands for…. and we like to keep it that way.

Is there anything else people need to know?

We are currently raising money via kickstarter for a new album. You can search MWE on kickstarter.com to learn more.

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