Ethiopian talent takes centre stage at Glenn Gould Studio
Ethiopia: a musical perspective
Presented by Batuki Music
February 11, 2012 at the Glenn Gould Studio
From traditional songs through the Golden Age of Ethiopian funk and beyond to today’s innovative Ethiojazz and pop, a driving bass line and irresistible rhythms were common threads in Ethiopia: a musical perspective, a unique showcase presented by Batuki Music Society for Black History Month. The elegant Glenn Gould Studio was full for the show, whose line-up drew on the city’s rich depth of Ethiopian talent and included five vocalists and both traditional and modern instrumentalists. Several of the musicians were graduates of the renowned Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa and popular performers in their native country as well as among the city’s thriving Ethiopian community.
Toronto is home to tens of thousands of people of Ethiopian and Eritrean descent and the song selections showcased the music of several generations and the evolution of their uniquely funky sonic heritage. The music is based on four versions of the pentatonic scale in various modes, sometimes bright and sometimes minor and moody. Each of the singers brought a different flavour to the mix, from the often haunting traditional styling of Fantahun Shewankochew Mekonnen and his krar (a six-stringed lyre) to Martha Ashagari’s classic Ethio funk songs that featured her nimble vocals over an irresistibly hypnotic rhythm section.
Husband and wife duo Abebe Fikade and Eyerusalem Dubale are Azmaris, an ancient tradition of improvisation, storytelling and social commentary they brought to life in playful songs that hit home with the Ethiopians in the audience. What translated into any language was their warm stage chemistry and the expressive power of Eyerusalem’s voice as she sang to Abebe’s masenko, a single stringed bow lute.
The ensemble also played strictly instrumental selections where the tenor sax duo of Girma Woldemichael and John Maclean held down the melodies over the churning rhythms. Girma is a composer and musician whose career began with a stint in the Ethio Stars Band and includes recording and playing with some of the industry’s best, like Mahmoud Ahmed and Aster Aweke. The more contemporary songs featured classic jazz structures and in young singer Henok Abebe, a bouncy pop sensibility. Underneath it all was the bedrock of Daniel Barnes on drums and Yared Zeleke on bass, with keyboardists Dawit Tesfamariam and Bereket Gebredemn (aka BK) adding to the harmony. Dancer Saba Alemayehu lit up the stage with both traditional and contemporary Ethiopian dance styles, conveying not just the moves but the joy of the music.
Ethiopia has a proud history as the only African nation to successfully resist European colonization efforts and has a rich culture which includes a written language, the Ge’ez script whose earliest examples date back to the 5th century BC.
With Fantahun Shewankochew Mekonnen (acoustic krar, vocals, composer), Henok Abebe (vocals, composer), Martha Ashagari (vocals, composer), Girma Woldemichael (saxophone, composer, arranger), Daniel Barnes (drummer, composer, arranger), Dawit Tesfamariam (keyboards), Bereket Gebremedn (keyboards), Yared Zelenka (bass), John Maclean (saxophone), Abebe Fikade (masenko, vocals, composer) and Eyerusalem Dubale (vocals) and dancer Saba Alemayehu
The show will be broadcast on CBC Radio:
Big City Small World with host Garvia Bailey on Feb 25th on CBC Radio 1
Canada Live with host Andrew Craig on February 28th on CBC Radio 2