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Country Ethiopia USA Genres band fusion jazz Website Festival Sauti za Busara 2010 Recordings
Debo Demo, 2008
Debo Band is a nine piece Ethio-groove collective that has quickly earned an ever-growing and enthusiastic following in the USA performing for American, Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. Since 2006, Debo Band has been immersed in the unlikely confluence of traditional East African polyrhythms and pentatonic scales, classic American soul and funk music, and the instrumentation of Eastern European brass bands, which produced a unique form of dance music that Ethiopian audiences instantly recognise as the soundtrack of their youth, carried from party to kitchen on the ubiquitous cassette tapes of the time. Increasingly in the meantime, erudite American and European audiences are also getting hip to the Ethiopian groove, largely through CD reissues of classics on the Ethiopiques series.
With a unique instrumentation – including horns, strings, and accordion – that is a nod to the big bands of Haile Selassie's time, Debo Band is carrying the torch of classic Ethiopian music by giving new life to these old sounds. Their lead vocalist, Bruck Tesfaye, has the kind of pipes that reverberate with the sound of beloved Ethiopian vocalists like Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayehu Eshete. But Debo Band is not content simply “covering” the older styles – they also perform original compositions and new arrangements of songs from modern and contemporary artists such as Teddy Afro and Roha Band. Their expansive repertoire and spirited performances have earned them respect and recognition, leading to invitations such as opening for concerts by the legendary Ethiopian greats Tilahun Gessesse and Getatchew Mekuria.
Danny Mekonnen, an Ethiopian-American jazz saxophonist and a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Harvard University, created Debo as a way of exploring the unique sounds that filled the dance clubs of “Swinging Addis” and as an outlet for experimenting with new arrangements, configurations, and compositional techniques. In addition to their dedication to Ethiopian music, the other members of Debo Band are involved in a huge array of musical projects, ranging from free jazz and experimental rock music to chamber and orchestral music. Band members have composed full orchestral works, scored silent films and documentaries, recorded albums with homemade electronic instruments, and for fun, study folk music traditions from around the world, including Balkan folk music, Balinese Gamelan, and Brazilian percussion ensembles.
For the last several months, Debo Band has committed itself to spreading its music to audiences far and wide. In early 2009 Debo toured the East Coast of USA, taking their Ethiopian grooves to diverse venues in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The band inspired all kinds of people to get up and dance, whether they had never seen iskista, the Ethiopian shoulder dance, or had been dancing it since childhood.
In May 2009, Debo travelled to Addis Ababa to perform at the 8th Ethiopian Music(s) Festival and 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 – vocalist Selamnesh Zemene, drummer Asrat Ayalew, and dancers Zinash Tsegaye and Melaku Belaye. All accomplished musicians in their own right, these musicians work together at Fendika, a leading azmari bet, or traditional music house, operated by Melaku in Addis Ababa. As will be seen at Sauti za Busara 2010, when working with these four musicians Debo Band grows into a forceful, energetic, and authoritative thirteen-piece ensemble capable of delightful, one-of-a-kind performances.
This engagement is supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.