Ethiopian Music Festival V
The Ethiopian Music Festival (EMF) started a week early but before I go on, here is a brief history of EMF.
It was first started in 2001 by Alliance éthio-française in collaboration with the French Ethiopian-music guru Francis Falceto. Mr. Falceto is known for bringing Ethiopian music to the world with his Ethiopiques music series. I won’t be the only one to say Ethiopiques is one of the most spectacular music collections ever to surface in the music world. It is the perfect chronicle for the golden era of Ethiopian music. For those who don’t know the ‘Golden Era’, it was a brief period from the mid 60s and early 70s when the funkiest sounds were emanating form the streets of Addis. The era saw the birth and tragic dwindling of Ethio Jazz, a style that combined traditional Ethiopian music with everything else that was hip at the time.
Ever since its inception, the essence of EMF has been kept to honoring musicians from the golden era. The tribute festivals are comprised of exhibitions, symposiums, workshops, and concerts by local and foreign artists. Unfortunately, all those years I was not in the country to attend any of them. As a result I missed Mulatu Astatke and E/O orchestra at the 2004 EMF (Ethiopiques Vol. 20) play one of the most amazing Ethio Jazz concerts since the golden days.
Personally I love music festivals; I have no problems with doing my daily chores, sleeping, showering while wearing a wrist band like a mental patient on the loose. Festivals like EMF not only spice up the routine Addis life, it might also wake the dormant music scene. Music festivals at a time like this might seem hypocritical to some. The fact is music is self expression and more than ever now is the time we need to let our angst out in creative ways.
This year’s EMF honoree is Mahamoud Ahmed, the King of Tizita and the most documented artist by Mr. Falceto (Ethiopiques Vol. 6, 7 & 19). Mahamoud is not only known for his music; he is an inspiration for any starving artist. He started his career as a Listero (shoe shine boy) and made his way in to a club as dish washer until he got discovered. Ever since then, he has won the hearts of the Ethiopian music audience with anthem songs like Alawekshlinem (You Never Knew), Abet (???) and Ended Yeresashal (How Could You Forget) and has attained a cult status abroad.
The festival kicked off with an art exhibition at the Alliance Ethio Française head quarters. The festival drew mostly the international community, perhaps due to the choice of venues. Then again, lots of well-to-do Ethiopians spend their free time inside their cars sippin’ overpriced macchiato.
For those who ventured beyond caffeine and lactose, here is what the 2006 Ethiopian Music Festival had to offer.
Idan Raichel's Project /
Bang Bang… ta da da da
Who said being in the Israeli army is only about demolishing houses, shooting rubber and sometimes live bullets at intifada kids in the
More on his musical journey can be found on their website. I can’t say much about a show that I did not attend but word has it, this group is was exceptional.
Azmari Night / January 12, 2005 @ alliance
For your inner Dirty
If you heard the third track on Ethiopiques Vol 2 and thought the scratchy voiced woman moaning and screaming has sexual context, you are not a delusional sex maniac. That is azmari music at its purest, or shall I say, filthiest.
What makes Azmari music different is the improvisation and uses of sem’na werk (wax and gold) .lyrics are made on the spot directed at a member of the audience. Depending on how far you reach down your pocket, it’s possible to be crowned a king on the spot or go home with your tail between your legs
Big Five /
The night brought the five big names from the traditional and Modern Ethiopian music. Once again, I can’t say much because I wasn’t therem I wish I was. Amongst the modern performers were Mahamoud himself and 200? EMF honoree Getachew Mekuria (king of saxophone with a regal swagger) plus three other alumni of the golden era backed by Afro Sound Band. Seen it or not, my highlight definitely would be the traditional line up. Yirga Dubale is one of my all time favorites as well as Habtemichael Demisse and Rahel Yohannes. Wishing them good health and long life, I say to my self…perhaps next time.
Women voices / January 17, 2005 @ the Hilton
Ketefa goes to the Hilton
My first concert of the 2006 EMF and almost a disappointment. These women of voices were a stereotype unto them selves. The music was easily recognizable form the radio and local bars. Sure it’s upbeat, nationalistic and might even get you to shoulder shimmy but it’s not festival material. If I had known this was going to be Ketefa evening, I wouldn’t have gone. Fortunately, for once they left their synthesizers back at their ketefa bet and were backed by Afro Sound Band. Forget the music but their outfit deserves a rant. It’s too bad my Yilunta kept me from taking close up pictures; someone in there would actually think I am taking them for my personal pleasure.
Zenash Tsegaye walked in with a toit toit red dress with tinsels hanging from it looking like some thing out of a Philip K. Dick fiction. It left absolutely nada for my wandering imagination. After two songs she left the stage for Tigist Afwork, who seems to take pride of her god given generously proportioned behind. For a second, I thought she had forgotten her skirt, until I looked beyond the stage monitors and realized those skin tight things flare up at the bottom suggesting pants. And man…when she wiggled her hips and thrust her chest, it was like wrecking-balls working on a concrete bunker.
Tigist Afwork (8x zoom)
Endelibe Mandefro to my relief came in a traditional outfit and she also lived up to her music. Everything about her including her voice was authentic. She invited Mahamoud up for a steamy session of Eskista (shoulder shimmy) which he happily accepted.
As the saying goes “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings” and that’s just what I thought when Zuriash Abeyu walked in. With a voluptuous body like that, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, the myth applies only for opera and not for Ketefa. Zenash returned to the stage with an Arabic song with a lot of Ya Habibi; the ayatollah would condemn blasphemy.
We quietly exited before the wrecking ball returned.
Tigre des Platanes / January 20-, 2005 @ the Coffee House
Ethio Jazz on Khat
Its one thing that non-Ethiopians are putting together Ethiopian music cds, organizing music festivals to honor Ethiopian musicians but seeing this French quartet recreate some of the music from the golden era was an envious-joy.
They opened the night with Mulatu Astake’s (Ethiopiques Vol 4) Yekatit and throughout the night treated the audience with more Mulatu, Getachew Mekuria, Teshome Mitiku. In between the Ethio jazz they played other exotic tunes from Sudan (?) and included songs by Duke Ellington, Fela Kuti, and The Skatalites.
Even if they lacked the string section that gave the funky sound to the authentic Ethio jazz,
The regular saxophone player from Coffee House joined in halfway through the second set intensifying the horn section and morphing Fela’s Zombie to Zombie on E. He left after a well harmonized performance of Yekermo Sew.
The fact that
Jonny Ragga with
Beside a low key album release party/show at Club Illusion, this is Jonny Ragga’s first public concert since he released his remarkable debut album, Kulfun Sitchine (Gimmie the Key). This doesn’t imply Jonny is fresh to the live scene and he ain’t no stranger for EMF either. Back in the days, he was a crowd pleaser at the
As they have been doing through out the 2006 festival, Afro Sound backed Jonny proving their boundless musicianship. The band kicked things off with instrumental snippets from the new album until the architect himself usurped the stage with the title song. The rest of the set contained both new and unreleased material and went on to reminisce his old days with a cover of Bob Marley’s Upsetter day classic Soul Rebel/Run for Cover and shared Sean Paul’s lust for scrumptious women. The first set ended with
The rest of the band could learn a bit about relaxing from Sanje who was strumming the fattest deepest bass out of that stubby thing while grooving along to the beats. The two guys on keyboard seemed mortified with the sounds their instruments were making and guitarist Girum was lost in Fender heaven. Johnny’s obsession with getting everything right resulted a few unpleasant moments of stopping and starting in the middle of a song. It’s nothing that can’t be solved with more time together. Last but not least, honorable mention to the three back up singers who kept the stage alive.
Jonny handed the mic over to a new blood called Haile Roots for the intermission. I am assuming he is a sophomore at JR’s new promotion company. Haile had lots to say and lots of energy, definitely some one to look out for in the future.
JR returned for a short second set, which the band was ill-prepared for and ended playing Habeshawit twice. After haggling with the
Ethiopian Music Festival is a good start for a country that’s been devoid of any musical ambitions for a while. Assuming that the festival is not strictly profit oriented, it has better future in showcasing nameless artists with real talent unlike similar projects with money on their mind. While paying homage to the past is good, more emphasis is should be put to encouraging those who dare to stand out as artists and not commodities. The range of music covered should also extend to remote tribes who we owe most of the modern music to.
The choice of venues encompassed the cozy coffee house to the mini-amphitheater is fabulous with one exception. The Addis Ababa Hilton ball room. To my knowledge, non of these great musicians we honor started their career at the Hilton and while the places that hosted Mahamoud and the rest during their hay days - the National and Hager Fikir theaters - are still standing, a five star hotel shouldn’t be a priority.
Finally, on behalf of those who enjoyed the festival, my appreciation to The Artists, Alliance Staff and Mr. Falceto who made it happen.