Since 2006, Debo Band has presented their unique interpretations of classic Ethiopian popular music to Boston-area audiences. Made popular through the renowned Ethiopiques series, the musical inspiration behind Debo Band is an unlikely confluence of Ethiopian pentatonic scales and vocal styles, American soul and funk, and the instrumentation of Eastern European brass bands, including accordion, violins, horns, and drums. Founded by Ethiopian American Danny Mekonnen, a Harvard University educated ethnomusicologist, Debo's performances bring together the best of the last forty years of Ethiopian funk, jazz, and pop, with a reverence for the vintage sounds of the 1970s and a commitment to discovering contemporary gems, as well as developing new compositions -- in 2009, Debo wrote an original score for the award winning Ethiopian short film, "Lezare" (For Today).
Up until now, Debo Band, a ten-plus member collective, has primarily existed as a live band, playing at venues across New England and the U.S. East coast. Last year, however, Debo began taking steps towards actively documenting and releasing recordings, remixes, and collaborative projects with guest producers, evident most recently in a 7" single on Electric Cowbell Records. Currently producing a CD/DVD set and LP version of performances recorded in Boston, New York, and East Africa, the group is also working with a documentary filmmaker on a project about the band’s mission to bring Ethiopian music and musicians to the forefront of world music. This September, Debo Band will release it's first EP, Flamingoh (Pink Bird Dawn), a live recording that documents the brief period around the group's trip to East Africa in Winter 2010.
The group paid their dues playing neighborhood bars, church basements, and loft parties, and has since emerged as an internationally recognized touring band, with performances at two international festivals in the last year alone. Sponsored by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Debo traveled, in May 2009, to Addis Ababa for a performance at the 8th Ethiopian Music Festival, as well as several other locations throughout the Horn and East Africa. These performances affected Debo Band’s creative and professional development in significant ways, particularly in the collaboration they began with several traditional musicians from the group Fendika, a project that led to a prime-time performance at the 7th Sauti za Busara music festival in Zanzibar in February 2010.
Fendika is a four-member traditional “azmari” ensemble founded in 2008 by Melaku Belay, Ethiopia’s top dancer and highly respected cultural ambassador. “Azmari” music is the name for a folk music traditionally performed by the azmari, or wandering musicians from the countryside, who sing, play, and dance for money and praise. Under Melaku’s direction, Fendika revolutionizes the artistic world of Addis Ababa by creating music that presents a symbiosis between tradition and modernity. In special projects and collaborations, Fendika’s traditional azmari music has continually shifted and reinvented itself, 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), and Debo Band (USA), among others.
Fendika's members include: Melaku Belay, who has extensively toured Europe as a dance performer and instructor; Selamnesh Zemene, a powerful female vocalist with azmari roots in Gondar, the old capital of Ethiopia; Zenash Tsegaye, Melaku’s feisty female dance accomplice; and Asrat Ayalew, a young and spirited new drummer from Addis Ababa. Fendika’s members also perform in Melaku’s Ethio Colour, a thirteen-member traditional music troupe that offers a vibrant image of Ethiopia in all her diversity.
In 2007, the group worked with the Japanese Visual Anthropologist Itsushi Kawase to research and document "Ethnic Dance Performance Scene in Urban Ethiopia" under UNESCO/Norway Funds-in-Trust project. The outcome of the research (a film) was presented at the Library of Congress in September 2007. Additionally, the group's work with Debo Band will be featured in a documentary (currently in post-production) by Boston-based independent filmmaker Ashley Hodson. On the world stage, Fendika has performed in France at the Africolor Festival (2009) and in Zanzibar at the Sauti za Busara music festival (2010). Now in 2010, the Fendika group has standing invitations at some of the United States’ biggest “world music” venues and festivals: the Chicago World Music Festival, Milwaukee’s Global Union, and Joe’s Pub, to name a few.
Debo + Fendika Complete Personnel:
Bruck Tesfaye - lead vocals; Danny Mekonnen - tenor and baritone saxophone; Stacey Cordeiro - accordion; Kaethe Hostetter - five-string violin; Jonah Rapino - electric violin; Dave Harris - trombone; Arik Grier - sousaphone; Brendon Wood - guitar; PJ Goodwin - electric bass; Adam Clark - Kit drums; guests include Fendika members, Melaku Belay - dancer, director; Zinash Tsegaye - dancer; Selamnesh Zemene - vocals; Asrat Ayalew - "kebero" (traditional drums)