Music is an extended family. Its genealogy includes percussionists, string and wind instrument players, dancers, singers, choreographers, producers, engineers, composers, lyricists and more. Many of our best records are family reunions of a sort, reuniting connected cousins, as when Marvin Gaye, originally a drummer, put out his important, groundbreaking recordings. Ethiopian singer/dancer/choreographer/producer Minyeshu gives us a wonderful new example of “family reunion” music on her new CD, “Daa Dee.”
World music is reaching out today, understanding and respectful of deep roots associated with unique cultures and traditions, but incorporating mainstream instrumentation and techniques familiar to a globally broad selection of ears. This album is a prime example of this exciting trend. Close your eyes and listen to any of the 13 songs on “Daa Dee” and find yourself transported … to a steamy jungle fireside, a theater, a concert hall or lasting-impact incidents from your own life, depending on your mood during the listening experience … the songs gently point to all those scenarios.
It is evident that Minyeshu is confident, proud and open to sharing her own lasting-impact incidents, narrated beautifully. Fragile, emotional moments are presented to us here by an artist who trusts us to understand, share, protect and celebrate them with her. A mother encourages her baby’s first steps. Loneliness is experienced and explored to the depths of the seemingly endless sinkhole that it is, and then the bottom is found and a rise back up into love and community begins. Homes are lost and missed and new ones are found and decorated here. Distinctively, each of these vignettes, from the bluest to the brightest, brings clear images of dance to mind. At no point is that part of musical cousin Minyeshu’s perspective anywhere but out front in the mix and emphasis.
Another integral part of this masterpiece is the perfect mix. Every instrumentalist and vocalist is part of a team, working together to express the artist’s vision. Jazz horns riff off of resonant drums and ringing, rubber-funky bass. Blended harmony vocals equally evocative of Balkan cities or bleak Scottish highlands encourage cerebral piano phrases. These respectfully yield to brief, tandem punches from string sections and high-register percussion touches to acknowledge an imperfect today while reflecting the lights of a happier tomorrow. And all with dance in the artist’s mind.
There is a lot of music here. “Daa Dee” is a more-than-memorable musical family reunion, hosted by a gifted artist.
Saliha Sami was born March 5th, 1978. She is from Assabot, Ethiopia, and later raised in Miessoo, Ethiopia. It was at the age of fourteen that this vibrant entertainer first sang passionately on stage. She released her debut album Dayima which in Oromoo means The Honey.
Neway Debebe’s musical career spans several decades. He writes lyrics for himself and his many professional colleagues, including Tilahun Gessesse. The songs are cleverly arranged. Sung mostly in his native Amharic, Neway Debebe’s music is wide and varied, from the traditional Ethiopian beats, rumba, raggae or garage, big band or Ethno-Jazz, calypso to Afro-pop. This array of musical styles, have made Debebe hugely popular outside of Ethiopia.
Mahmoud Ahmed’s story is that of a kid raised in the streets of Addis-Ababa who began as a shoeshine boy before becoming one of his country’s leading stars and the person who opened Ethiopia’s musical doors to the Western world.
The ten tracks of his album Live in Paris, recorded at the Theatre de la Ville, feature music at the crossroads of Afro-beat, Latin swing and oriental arabesques. However, it is Ahmed?s astonishingly rich, original and powerful vocals that are the true star of the show. In a field of great performers, no other artist captures the spirit of Ethiopian song like Mahmoud Ahmed.
Several of Mahmoud Ahmed’s recordings were reissued on CD under the Éthiopiques series: Volume 6, 7, 19 and 26.
Almaz, with Ibex Band (1973)
Alèmyé (1974) Erè Mèla Mèla (1975)
Soul of Addis (Earthworks, 1997)
Slow Collections (Sounds of Abyssinia, 1998)
Live In Paris (Long Distance, 1998)
Yitbarek (Yene Production, 2003) Tizita Vol. 1 (AIT Records, 2003) Tizita Vol. 2 (AIT Records, 2003)
Ethiogroove: Mahmoud Ahmed & Either/Orchestra (EthioSonic, 2007)
Éthiopiques Live: Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete & Badume’s Band (Innacor, 2009)
British producer and multi-instrumentalist Dubulah (a.k.a. Transglobal Underground founding member Nick Page), collaborated with outstanding Ethiopian musicians in Addis Ababa and the result is Dub Colossus.
Influenced by the Ethiopian music golden era, Dub Colossus explored traditional Azmari styles, 60s Ethiopian pop, Ethiojazz and 1970s Jamaican Dub Reggae. A Town Called Addis, their critically acclaimed debut album was released in October 2008.
Echoes of such diverse acts as The Abyssinians, Sun Ra, Tlahoun Gesese, Pablo Gadd, Hirut Beqele, Dick Dale and King Tubby can be heard amongst the ever-changing musical backdrop that is the album.
Debo Band is a Boston-based Ethiopian music collective led by Ethiopian-American jazz saxophonist Danny Mekonnen, featuring Bruck Tesfaye on vocals. The group explores the music that was popular in Addis Ababa in the 1960s and 70s. Danny was fascinated by the combination of contemporary American soul and funk music, traditional East African polyrhythms and pentatonic scales and the instrumentation of Eastern European brass bands.
Debo Band attracts audiences from both mainstream American and Ethiopian American communities. They have opened for legendary Ethiopian greats such as Tilahun Gessesse and Getatchew Mekuria.
Debo’s instrumentation includes horns, strings and accordion, influenced by the big bands of Haile Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard Band and Police Orchestra as well as modern Ethiopian music.
Egigayehu Shibabaw, better known as Gigi, is a multi-talented singer from Ethiopia. Gigi’s music is inspired by Ethiopian tradition, culture and a sense of heartfelt spiritual freedom music. Her music is a unique blend of African, jazz, slight reggae and futuristic sounds.
Going against her father’s strict traditional wishes and Gigi’s refusal to buy into gender specific roles, she pushed the envelope towards musical freedom allowing funk, hip-hop, West African and South African music and the Ethiopian church (where she sang even though women are not allowed) to influence her work.
Gigi settled first in Nairobi, Kenya and then Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, where she soon established herself as one of the city’s leading singers. Cast in an all-Ethiopian theater production, Gigi toured East and South Africa, and eventually France, where she was invited to perform at a Paris world music festival. She was also involved in a French theater production of Solomon and the Queen of ShebaLater, she resettled in San Francisco, and soon caught the attention of Chris Blackwell, who signed her to Palm Pictures.
Gigi considers her music to be representative of the world and her international band reflects such with musicians from Ethiopia, West Africa, and the United States of America, including Native-Americans.
GiGi already has credits in two feature films in Ethiopia and a song for the soundtrack of the movie endurance.
On her first recording for Palm Pictures, produced by Bill Laswell, Gigi teamed up with some of the finest American jazz musicians: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Henry Threadgill, David Gilmore, Aiyb Dieng, Nicky Skopelitis, Pharoah Sanders, Art Baron, Hamid Drake, Bill Laswell and many more.
In 2003, Illuminated Audio came out. It was a complete reconstruction of Gigi’s debut album by producer and dubmaster Bill Laswell. In the same spirit as his noted interpretations of Miles Davis (Panthalassa, 1998), Bob Marley (Dreams of Freedom, 1997), and Carlos Santana (Divine Light, 2001), Laswell went back to the original multi-track masters and re-imagined new versions and perspectives to highlight Gigi’s singular vocals.
“It works perfectly,” says Gigi of Illuminated Audio. “We wanted to capture the whole spirit of each track, and Bill’s remixes translate the original melodies and create a different music language that really put you in a pleasant place.”
Laswell’s reconstructions are long and patient, taking the essence of the original songs and building towers of dub around them. The floating vocals of “Abay” are reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins at their peak, while the deep basslines of “Sew Argen” and “Mengedegna” build on the groundbreaking studio stylings of Lee “Scratch” Perry and The Orb’s Alex Patterson. “//I really love what Bill does in the studio//,” says Gigi. “//He plays me the tracks and we discuss them – but I trust him completely. When it comes to remixes you can’t touch Bill//.”
After the great response to the original album’s release, Palm Picture’s founder, Chris Blackwell, suggested that Laswell and Gigi go back to the studio and “re-think” the entire album. The result is an ambient reinterpretation.
In early 2003, Gigi started to work in Axiom’s Orange Music Sound Studio on her second album of original material. Gigi was once again working with producer Bill Laswell and long-time collaborator Karsh Kale.
Gold & Wax came out in 2006. It is an organic blend of African songs mixed with elements of Jamaica, India and the United States of America. Featuring a stellar roster, bassist Bill Laswell assembled an eclectic array of musical talent for Gold & Wax. India’s great sarangi player/vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan, tabla player/drummer Karsh Kale, funk keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell, African multi-instrumentalists Abesgasu Shiota, Moges Habte, Aiyb Dieng and Assaye Zegeye; digital futurists MIDIval PunditZ and Skizz Fernando, and avant-guitarist Buckethead all contribute to this CD.
Vocalist Gabriella Ghermandi dedicates this album to charismatic Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II. Born in Addis Ababa to an Italian father and an Ethiopian mother, Gabriella Ghermandi combines fascinating Ethiopian music traditions with modern elements.
Ethiopia – Celebrating Emperor Tewodros II features a mix of Ethiopian and Italian musicians who perform a wide range of instruments.
The lineup on Ethiopia – Celebrating Emperor Tewodros II includes Gabriella Ghermandi on vocals; Yohanes Afework on washint (flute); Endris Hasan on masenqo; Michele Giuliani on piano; Marcello Piarulli on bass; Fasika Hailù on krar; and Cesare Pastanella on drums, talking drum, shaker, metals, rattles.
Ethiopian American singer-songwriter and composer Meklit Hadero, beter known as Meklit, will be performing on October 5th in Los Angeles, California. She will be presenting her new musical project “This Was Made Here” (TWMH) at the Skirball Cultural Center. TWMH is described as a danceable celebration of Ethiopian beats and pentatonic melodies, with striking horn lines and inspirational lyrics.
Meklit has released two solo albums and three collaborative albums. She was born in Ethiopia and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Meklit is currently based in San Francisco. In addition to her musical activities, Meklit is also a cultural activist, TED Senior Fellow, and Co-Founder of the Nile Project.
Meklit talks to World Music Central about her musical background and upcoming concert:
Angel Romero – You’ll be performing “This Was Made Here” at the Skirball Cultural Center. How would you define this new project?
Meklit – This is Ethio-Jazz infused music, with groove and pentatonic melodies at the core. In 2011, I met Dr. Mulatu Astatke, the Godfather of Ethio-Jazz, and he pushed me to add my own vision to the continuum of this music. I’m inspired by him musically, but also in terms of what he did, experimenting with bringing his sonic lineage into contemporary expression. He lived for years in the 1950s and 60s New York, when American Jazz was moving and shaking. He brought that spirit back to Addis, and that’s how the bloom happened. So, he’s deeply in this music not only in the sound, but in the approach.
What band will you be taking to Skirball Cultural Center?
My band is myself on guitar, and even playing a little bit of krar (the traditional Ethiopian harp); Colin Douglas on drum kit; Marco Peris on percussion; Howard Wiley on tenor and bari sax; Michael “Tiny” Linsdey on bass; and LA’s own Todd Simon of Ethio-Cali on trumpet. The fabulous Dexter Story will be sitting in with us on electric guitar for a few tunes as well. It’s gonna be hot!
How did the band come together?
We’ve been working intensely on this music for the past year, when we had the debut at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco back in May. Tiny is a new addition. This was also a chance to collab with Todd Simon, who has been doing so much cool work with Ethio-Jazz down in LA. It’s exciting to have him on board.
What do you consider as the musical essentials, those songs or performers that you draw on as a group?
We are definitely very inspired by the music that came out of Addis Ababa in the late 1960s and early 70s. But I also listen to a lot of traditional music, and I’ve had the whole band listen to a lot of that as well. That’s where the swing comes from. One of my favorite bands is Ethio-Color Fendika, who makes a home at the Fendika Asmari Beit (traditional music house) in the Kasanchis neighborhood of Addis. They are my dear friends and deep inspirations.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
My first EP was called 8 Songs, and it was just me singing and playing simple guitar, with a few songs also featuring Yair Evnine on cello. We almost called it Songs from a Hallway, ‘cause most of it was recorded in a hallway with great acoustics. Those were my first tunes, but it was a big musical moment. We released it in the last days of 2007. I had 17 Bay Area artists hand paint the first 300 covers, and the release party was an art show. You could pick your cover off the wall itself and then go get it filled with a disc at the counter. I’d love to do something like that again.
My musical evolution came later. I always sang but didn’t really go for it professionally till I moved to San Francisco, and found a community of artists from all disciplines and all walks of life. They were deeply involved in creative work, and also in the ways that art helps us explore community and the world around you. It was a heady time, and I dove right in.
Every step I took towards music, music took ten steps towards me. It was a magnetic relationship. I got an audience through the Mission Arts and Performance Project (MAPP), a free street level arts festival that I also co-organized. I played every MAPP for three years, and suddenly folks were coming to my other shows too. Those folks became my audience. It was very organic.
What musical instruments do you use?
I play guitar. I have started playing krar, but I am really at the beginning of that journey. I am constantly writing basslines, so I want to be a bass player, but I haven’t done it yet. This new music is very dance oriented, which makes both drums and percussion a natural fit. And finally, I am eternally in love with horn sections. They just feel so good.
Most of the music we currently receive from Ethiopia is Ethiojazz, rap and a great pianist named Samuel Yirga. How’s the current musical scene in Ethiopia? What artists would you recommend?
I love Sammy, by the way. He’s not only an amazing musician – we featured him in the tune Kemekem that came out on my last record – but he’s also a beautiful human being, deeply dedicated to art. I can’t say enough about him.
Other folks I love are Fendika, as I mentioned above, the saxophonist Jorga Mesfin, the traditional flute player Tasew Wendem, the masenko player Endris Hassen, and the krar player Messele Asmamaw. These are all geniuses. Also the singer Selamnesh Zemene is seriously one of the most powerful voices I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Also – my dear friend Munit Mesfin is a wonderful singer-songwriter really doing her thing out there. The talent is huge. Too many folks to name.
Music video for “Kemekem” (I Like Your Afro) featuring Samuel Yirga:
Which are your favorite musical festivals, and what makes them so special?
I love the Lotus Festival in Bloomington Indiana. It’s amazing. It’s like the whole town comes out to welcome you. I love Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park, I used to go there and listen to music as a kid. When I was 6 or 7, I got lost there with my best friend, and we wandered backstage. It was my first time ever hanging out in a green room. They gave us ice cream cones and announced our names from the stage. I’ll never forget that!
I love Stern Grove in San Francisco. Dragonflies enjoy themselves while the music is rocking, and it’s incredibly diverse with folks from every corner of the Bay. Also – I’ve never been to Afropunk but I sure do love what it stands for.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with who would that be?
Well a few of the folks that I really would have loved to play with died this year – David Bowie, Prince, Getachew Mekuria. Sad losses, all of them. Others include, Dr. Mulatu Astatke, Girma Beyene, The Roots, Leonard Cohen, Bjork, Nona Hendryx, Cindy Blackman, Caetano Veloso.
What music are you currently listening to?
Somi, Alsarah and the Nubatones, Esperanza Spalding, A Tribe Called Red, Quetzal, Noura Mint Seymali, Gregory Porter, Bezunesh Bekele, that Duke Ellington & John Coltrane record, Shabazz Palaces.
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?
I was recently commissioned by Lincoln Center to create a body of music called There Is No Sound Barrier, based on the concepts of a musically alive world that I explore in my TED talk. But that won’t be out till 2019 or so. For now, it’s all about Ethio-Jazz.
Meklit’s TED talk, The Unexpected Beauty Of Everyday Sounds:
Seleshe Damessae (also known as Sileshi Demissie and Gashe Abera Molla) is an extraordinary singer and musician from Ethiopia. He uses a complex vocal styling, sung in Amharic, his native language. He accompanies himself on the krar, a 6-string lyre which dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Nile.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Seleshe Damessae began studying the krar at an early age with his father, and later attended the Yared School of Music. He spent nearly four years studying traditional Ethiopian culture in northern rural areas, and today is highly respected for his knowledge of the vocal and instrumental music of his native land.
Seleshe is also a skilled instrument maker who builds and plays a variety of folk instruments such as krars, fiddles, harps and drums. He has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Africa.
Seleshe Damessae founded the Gashe Abera Molla Association, upon returning to Addis Ababa after 20 years as a successful singer in the United States and decided to address the social and environmental problems that plagued his home city. He set up the new organization and named it after a character in his songs – Gashe Abera, the old man who takes care of his local community.
Tesfaye: a future hope (Music of the World MOW 107, 1987)
Songs from Ethiopia today (Wergo/Haus der Kulturen der Welt SM1516-2, 1993)
Sorene: Children’s Songs from Ethiopia (1999)
Yamiral Hagere (2013)
Photo by Lorraine Tipaldi
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion