Inspired by Stewart Lee’s recent playlist, I got sidetracked by my reflections on Dang. But unlike the Bolton Choral Society failing to Summarise Proust, here at last are some hot tracks of Ethio-jazz.
Gétatchèw Mèkurya and Melahku Belay, 2008. Source.
Lee’s playlist features sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya (1935–2016). He came from a traditional background of kra lyre and masenqo bowed fiddle, played by azmari bards.
Here’s a scene in an azmaribet:
Mèkurya developed his style on sax and clarinet through the 1950s in Addis Abbaba bands, joining the celebrated Police Band in 1965 (for brass bands around the world, see here).
Police band, 1965, and Imperial Bodyguard Band. Source.
This playlist is based on his album Negus of Ethiopian sax (1970):
The opening track of this album is Just the Ticket to play your gran when she asks to hear a nice waltz and you fancy giving her a heart attack:
Mèkurya elaborated on shellela (as on #2 there), sung by warriors before going into battle; the Smithsonian album Folk Music and Ceremonies of Ethiopia (1974, recorded among peoples in the southwest in 1972), opens with a traditional version (playlist):
From 2004 he worked with Dutch punk band The Ex, as in their 2006 album Moa Anbessa (playlist):
Alas, I can’t regale you with the music of the pioneering Nerses Nalbandian (1915–77), whose family were refugees from the Armenian genocide (see here for the Armenian diaspora in Ethiopia).
Kevork Nalbandian and the “Forty children”. Source.
Having been based in Aleppo, he made his home in Addis Ababa from 1938, where his uncle Kevork was a leading musician.
Mulatu Astatke with Black Jesus Experience, Addis Ababa 2015. Source.
More readily found on YouTube is Mulatu Astatke (b.1943) (wiki, and here). He developed his style in London and the USA; after a period working in Addis in the 1970s on the eve of the Mengistu dictatorship, he has largely toured abroad.
Among musicians with whom he worked was singer Mahmoud Ahmed (b.1941), another regular with the Imperial Bodyguard Band.
Lots more to explore on Francis Falceto’s Éthiopiques series, starting here:
For further leads, see Francis Falceto’s useful survey in The Rough Guide to world music: Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as introductions by Robin Denselow and Culture Trip, and playlists from the Vinyl Factory and Songlines. For some quirky piano music from Ethiopia (also in the Éthiopiques series), see The honky-tonk nun.