You’ve probably heard some of the great Ethiopian grooves over the past decade, whether you realize it or not. Jim Jarmusch used some classic tunes in his movie Broken Flowers. Rappers like K’naan and Nas have sampled some classic songs, aging masters like Mulatu Astatke and Getatchew Mekurya have been touring, and the popularity of the music continues to grow.
In Boston, an 11-piece collective of musicians, led by an Ethiopian-American sax player named Danny Mekonnen, is packing the dance floors with Ethiopian grooves. Mekonnen's group, Debo Band, is reinterpreting the music from the “Swinging Addis” heyday, a great creative period before the Derg military dictatorship effectively killed Ethiopian music for many years.
Debo Band is releasing its self-titled debut album on July 10 and, exactly one month earlier on June 10, they’re bringing the Addis swing to Toronto, performing at the Luminato Festival.
We asked Mekonnen to pick 5 Ethiopian classics that inspire his band. In addition to leading the band, he has a master's degree in ethnomusicology from Harvard, and is more than equipped to make some great selections. Check out his playlist.
Tilahun Gessesse, "Eywat Setenafakegn"
"Ethiopia's most treasured singer, Tilahun, popularized this song of Sudanese origin, making it his own with a characteristically emotional and powerful performance. His band here is made up of some of the brightest stars of the late 1970s, including the great bassist Fasil Wuhib. Classic all around, down to the "cutting edge" blue-screen video effects."
Bezunesh Bekele, "Lelitu"
"Known as the "first lady of Ethiopian song," Bezunesh often worked with the Imperial Bodyguard Band and composer and arranger Sahle Degago, who was a master of orchestrating the large ensemble to feature her huge voice. This performance of "Lelitu" shows Bezunesh glamorous and gorgeous as ever."
Firew Hailu, "Eyetegnu Nequ"
"The accordion has been welcomed into Ethiopian folk music, and Firew is its highest regarded pioneer. This song is in the "azmari" style, which is characterized by a soloist who plays a form of call-and-response usually accompanied by either a one-string fiddle (mesenko) or six-string lyre (krar)."
Tsehaye Yohannes, "Tsehaye Yohannes with Roha Band"
"Tsehaye is virtually unknown outside of East Africa, but he's one of the region's beloved singers. Here he performs a beautiful song with the Roha Band, a group that backed up many greats, including, most notably, Mahmoud Ahmed in the 1980s-1990s. The esteemed guitarist and composer Selam Seyoum tastefully accompanies Tsehaye's sentimental lyrics and smooth delivery."
Hizb le Hizb, "Akale Wube/Harar song Medley"
"Through brilliant musical direction and ambitious theatrical choreography, Hizb le Hizb, or "People to People," presented a wide variety of Ethiopian culture and brought together many stars of modern and traditional music, including Maritu Legesse and Shambel Belayneh. This piece is a medley of "Akale Wube," a traditional song set to an up-tempo beat from Wollo, a region in northeastern Ethiopia, and another song from Harar, in the central east."
Also playing with Debo Band on June 10 is Abyssinian Roots.
Ethiopian Music: An emerging force in popular culture
Ethiopia: A Musical Perspective
Spotlight on Danny Mekonnen
on Jun 09, 2012