Based in San Francisco, CA, MWE puts a modern and eclectic twist on Turkish and Balkan folk music. As a five member acoustic wind ensemble, MWE plays traditional and original songs with the rarely paired clarinet and the double-reeded zurna. Add one more clarinet, a saxophone , and a davul (a shoulder slung marching drum), and you’re about the closest to heavy metal you can get without amplification. MWE’s shows are loud, wild, and raucous affairs known for drawing entire audiences to their feet in one song or less.
MWE has performed at many of the Bay Area’s world music venues such as Ashkenaz, Amnesia, the Red Poppy, and Yoshi’s Lounge to name a few. In addition to performing locally, MWE has gone on three tours which have taken the band all over the west coast to cities such Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC among others. They’ve also performed at Golden Fest in New York- the largest Balkan music festival in the United States. MWE has also been lucky to collaborate with music luminaries Peter Jaques, Faisal Zedan, Paul Bertin, Samuel Atchley, Tobias Roberson, Eva Salina Primack, Marco Peris, and Matt Darriau. MWE also plays an important role in the belly dance community, providing live music for some of the most well-known American dancers including Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Mira Betz, Elizabeth Strong, Jill Parker & The Foxglove Sweethearts, Laura Albert of Luciterra, and Danielle Elizabeth.
Calvin Lai began playing the zurna over ten years ago after hearing it on a recording and feeling immediately fascinated and mystified by its unique sound. He quickly gained an understanding of how to make the finicky Turkish double reed instrument work, and gained valuable experience performing with the dynamic Middle Eastern dance troupe, Hahbi ‘Ru. To further expand and deepen his knowledge, Calvin spent extensive time in Turkey studying the Zurna, and after being inspired by its use in modern day ensembles he co-founded MWE in 2009.
San Francisco Bay Area native, Gregory Masaki Jenkins was first exposed to Balkan music by his parents (longtime Balkan folk dancers), and at the age 13 he attended his first workshop at the EEFC‘s Balkan Music & Dance Camp in Mendocino. It was there that Greg began playing the clarinet, and discovered his passion for performing through two of his primary influences; Christos Govetas and Michael Ginsburg. Greg has since become an in demand performer and educator equally adept on the clarinet, saxophone, and as a singer, which have led him to lead Balkan workshops and tour throughout the US. Aside from being one of the founding members of MWE, Greg also performs with the Greek folk band Agapi Mou, the Greek laika band Helios, and is director of the Balkan Brass Band Fanfare Zambaleta.
A Vermont born Bay Area transplant, Morgan Nilsen has quickly risen on the music scene as one of the most diverse and able clarinetists around. She holds a B.M. in clarinet performance and ethnomusicology from the Eastman School of Music where she studied under the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s former principal clarinetist Jon Manasse, as well as with internationally acclaimed Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer. After moving to the Bay Area in 2009, Morgan furthered her studies in Abaric and Balkan music with the Aswat Ensemble and at Balkan Camp Mendocino. In addition to MWE, she currently performs with the Balkan bands Inspector Gadje and La Peche among many others. When not found playing music in a packed club or in the streets until 3am, you might be lucky to see her zipping by while on a bicycle-music tour across the country.
Originally from Tucson, AZ, saxophonist Teddy Raven is the newest member to MWE having moved back to the Bay Area in 2013 after living in Bulgaria for one year studying folk music on a Fulbright Fellowship. While in Bulgaria, Teddy studied kaval (traditional shepherd’s flute) with Prof. Lyuben Dossev, and performed on the saxophone with the renowned Karandilla Gypsy Brass Orkestar. A jazz musician at heart, Teddy graduated from the Thornton School of Music at USC with a B.M. in jazz studies, and has since toured throughout the U.S., Western Europe, and the Balkans. When not performing with MWE, Teddy can be heard with the Jazz Mafia, Kuckaw, and a multitude of other Bay Area bands.
Bay Area native Sean Tergis has been studying and performing Middle Eastern percussion since he was a teenager. His love of Turkish music eventually led him to Istanbul to study Darbuka, where he lived for nine months starting in 2006. Upon his return to San Francisco, Sean began studying and performing with acclaimed Roma musican Rumen Shopov. With the help of Rumen, Sean refined his Tupan/davul skills, preparing him to become a founding member and the percussive backbone of MWE. Sean is also a member of Balkan/fusion group Stellamara and the brass band Inspector Gadje.