Friday, August 20, 2010

ONE NIGHT ONLY Ethiopian Music at Mesob Restaurant October 1st!

Zena Bel Band is a three piece group, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group is the result of the continuing collaborations of two Ethiopian azmari musicians, and one violin player from Boston's Debo Band, a ten-member collective influenced by 1970s-era Ethiopian funk. Zena Bel Band's members first came together when Debo Band collaborated with some traditional musicians while on tour in Ethiopia in May 2009.

The traditional drum "kebero" is played by Asrat Ayalew, while Kaethe Hostetter's five-string acoustic violin evokes the Ethiopian "masinqo," a one-string bowed instrument. Selamnesh Zemene, the vocalist, sings in a variety of traditional Ethiopian styles. Her mother and grandmother both having been azmari singers, she is steeped in this tradition, which often incorporates humor and improvising during its performance. The azmari are traditionally wandering musicians from the countryside, who sing, play, and dance for money. With witty lyrics rich in innuendo and double entendre, Azmari musical traditions have been documented in a few volumes of Ethiopiques, the renowned CD series out of France.

Zena Bel Band plays familiar folk songs that most Ethiopians vehemently cherish. The trio's repertoire includes the beloved "Tizita" and "Ambassel," songs by Bezunesh Bekele, Birtukan Dubale, and Maritu Legesse, and some regionally specific songs that display the rich variety of Ethiopian traditions. They also play some original songs by Selamnesh and her husband, who is also an azmari

The music is by turns dreamily mesmerizing, circular, heavy, exhilarating, compelling and whimsical. Selamnesh's sure and powerful voice reaches across political borders and musical backgrounds. Kaethe's masinqo-like 5-string violin playing presents an innovative, modern ambiance. Asrat's kebero provides the project's strong backbone, as he highlights the contour of the songs while offering propulsive verve.

Joining Zena Bel Band on some numbers are Melaku Belay, Ethiopia's top dancer, and his dance partner, Zinash Tsgegaye, both members of Fendika who, along with Zena Bel's members, are on tour with Debo Band in September of 2010. The physical home and performance venue of the Fendika group is "Fendika Azmari Bet," artist-owned and operated by Melaku. In Ethiopian culture, an "azmari bet," literally meaning the "House of the Azmari," is a place where people come to listen and enjoy traditional Ethiopian music. Under Melaku's direction, Fendika completely revolutionizes the artistic world of Addis Ababa by creating a home for music that presents a symbiosis between tradition and modernity. In special projects and collaborations, Fendika's traditional azmari music has continually shifted and reinvented, while being enriched by Ethiopian-influenced jazz and rock bands from abroad, including Imperial Tiger Orchestra (Switzerland), The Ex (the Netherlands), le Tigre des Platanes (France), Debo Band and Ukandanz (France), among others.

Zena Bel Band is exemplary of the vibrancy of the Fendika scene in Addis Ababa, where cross cultural exchange has encouraged the development of new groups and projects. This is Zena Bel's first North American tour and they are thrilled to bring their music to new friends, and introduce a new take on the tradition of which they are so proud.

"Enjoy Yourself!"

Thursday, August 19, 2010

VIDEO: Today's Ethiopian Children's Holiday, "Buhe"

Buhe is an Ethopian children's holiday, usually celebrated August 19, much like the American Halloween. “Hoya Hoye” comes from a children’s song chanted during a holiday.

Kids travel door to door in groups singing this traditional call and response. They pound walking sticks to the beat and take turns singing praises in rhyme to earn coins and dough. This custom is much like the American tradition of children going door to door and saying "Trick or Treat" to receive candy and treats.

Every Ethiopian knows this song regardless of tribe. Normally, people also celebrate it with lighting a few wooden torches commonly known as "Chibo" in their houses after returning from the church ceremony that is held, that is much larger.

Berekti Mengistu, owner of Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant of Montclair, NJ wants to share her rich Ethiopian culture with you, to enhance the experience of eating Ethiopian food and injera that we all love.

Will you please share your comments and thoughts with her here for her first blog post? She'd love to hear from you!