Marsh Dondurma isn’t like any other band you’ve ever heard, or heard of – for one thing, its name was inspired by a Turkish icecream; for another, they have been around for the past five years, with no changes to their fifteen-strong brass band lineup.
It all started five years ago, in New York: Drummer Dotan Yogev happened to be in the right place at the right time when 22 people – the Hungry March Band – walked into the pub where he was sitting, and commenced an impromptu concert. So amazed by this, Yogev – a drummer – ran after the band, appealing for them to let him play with them, even to let him just clap his hands with them.
After a few months of playing with the Hungry March Band, in 2005 Yogev decided to bring their distinctive sound, idea and ethos to his home town of Jerusalem, where he began by gathering three other drummers, and slowly began to form what was to become Marsh Dondurma. As Udi Raz, the sausophonist with the group, told Billboard, “Even if some of us came with doubts [to the first rehearsal], after playing a song or two we were really into it, and the next time we brought our [musician] friends, and after that we performed our first gig.”
That first gig was played on Tu Bishvat, in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda. Raz recalls fondly, “People were dancing in the street, everyone was stopping and looking at us, and we had only a few songs in our repertoire back then, so we played them over and over... we were playing for hours, people were going crazy, we had so much fun!”
Their recently released third album, Shchuna, demonstrates just how far the band has come since their shuk debut. “At the beginning, with our first album,” Raz notes, “we were playing other people’s music and just starting to bring our own music, and by the second album we got better, but we were still looking for our sound. Now with Shchuna I feel there are a lot of pieces which are completely Dondurma, in that it doesn’t sound like any other brass band in the world – we have our own sound... it’s a much more ripe album.” Yogev also says something similar to this, that the first album, “was made more for ourselves, it was like we were just entering the world of brass bands. And we were learning how, as musicians, to become a brass band. Now, with our third album, we are ‘Marsh Dondurma,’ we’re unique in the brass band scene.”
Regarding the album’s name itself, as with any international band hoping to break into the English-speaking market, translation has been a slight issue. The transliteration of Shchuna, into ‘Neighbourhood,’ has caused some discrepancy: “’Shchuna’” can’t really be translated into English,” explains Raz, “Some people said it should be translated as ‘streetwise,’ maybe even ‘hood,’ as it has a lot of hiphop associations in it.” Yogev agrees, “We’re from the neighbourhood, and the album reflects the tastes and blends and spices of our band– we’re like a big kibbutz!”
But why Shchuna – ‘Neighbourhood’ or otherwise? “We chose the name from one of the songs on the CD, the third one, by Jacob Bronstein” says Raz, handing me my complimentary copy of the album, “because, although we’re really eclectic and play around many places in Israel, and we have loads of influences from outside of Israel, we’re still really connected to the place we’re from, in so many ways, musically and socially.”
And this is true - the album itself, although distinctly true to its
brass and experimental musical heritage, is definitely the musical
creation of a loving, nurturing Israeli family – you can tell the band
is actually enjoying the music they’re creating, and this comes off in
their stage performance.
But the final word has to go to Yogev,
the man behind this impressive – and effective – vision: “It’s the
people who make the music what it is – we’ve had the same band members
for the past five years, and there’s something very intense in going
through all the good times and the bad times together, and then going
out on stage together and playing – it’s not like we’re just reading
the music off the page, we’re actually communicating and working with
each other.”Marsh Dondurma play tomorrow night at Tel Aviv’s Comfort 13 at 9 p.m. NIS 50-60. Shchuna is out now.