Zabe i Babe

Dateline: 11/06/98

Zabe i Babe brings the music of the Balkans to America. The band features music drawn from Bosnian traditional and popular sources, include sharp and memorable Balkan vocal pieces, many of which can be found on Drumovi, the band's latest album.

I spoke to Donna Kwon, keyboardist and vocalist with Zabe i Babe. She has performed as a vocalist/percussionist at such venues as the Metropolitan Musem of Art (NYC), San Francisco's Asian American Jazz Festival, Stanford, and recently was a guest soloist with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. We spoke about the band's history, projects, and goals.
Paula: How and when did the band get together?

Donna: The band got together about six years ago as an experiment at Wesleyan University's Music Dept. in Middletown CT. It was founded by Sarajevo born, Mirjana Lausevic, ethnomusicologist. I joined the band about four years ago through friendship and love for this intense vocal music. The summer of 1997 we were at a music camp in Mendocino hanging out with these Macedonian "Gypsy" Rom musicians the Ensemble Teodosievski and it turned out they wanted to record with us on our first debut CD, which Drumovi is the result. (Drumovi means "pathways" in Serbo-Croatian)

Paula: What is it like performing Balkan music in America?

Donna: It has been a fascinating experience, that has generated a lot of stories and adventures. With the exception of Mirjana, we are all Americans from different backgrounds and our philosophy is not to simplify or romanticize the music or what we are doing to but we are trying to do justice to the complexity that the music of the former Yugoslavia deserves. We have performed for many different audiences: peace conferences, Balkan special interest groups, students at university music departments, churches, festivals, community arts centers and all of them are rewarding in their own way. It has been particularly meaningful getting warm feedback from the former Yugoslav immigrant community as well as from back in Sarajevo and we also enjoy presenting a different side of what has been portrayed of Bosnia in the media.

Paula: What is your live show like? Donna: Our live show is usually divided between the a capella traditional songs from the villages and urban areas around Sarajevo and the more contemporary rock-tinged techno folk material of our second set. Our shows tend to be very high energy and loud and not for the faint of heart.

Paula: Who and what are your musical influences?

Donna: I think we all have different musical influences. What has been particularly exciting for us at this stage is that we are now all beginning to incorporate these influences into writing completely new songs. We are all inspired by the raw and genuine energy of the traditional music from the former Yugoslavia and strive to keep this intact as we add influences from techno, punk, alt-rock, new music, etc...

Paula: What are your goals as a band? What do you hope to achieve?

Donna:Our goals are to have good times together always and make decent music. We want to raise awareness of the music of this region and make it real in a way that works for all the members of our group.

Photo courtesy of Zabi i Babe.

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