The incredible 11-piece Ethiopian orchestra known as Debo Band returns to Troy for a free outdoor show on the art stage at Freedom Square on Friday, July 11, 2014 from 6 PM until sunset. Their performance at Freedom Square (101st Street where Fifth and Sixth Avenues meet in North Troy) comes between shows at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Green River Festival in Massachusetts. Bring lawn blankets and chairs. If needed, the rain location is several doors away in The Sanctuary for Independent Media at 3361 6th Avenue. Call (518) 272-2390, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mediasanctuary.org for directions and more information.
Remember their spectacular performance to inaugurate Freedom Square in 2011, long before our art stage was even a glimmer of an idea? Here's a clip from that show!
There’s something dangerous about tales of a Golden Age. The so-called Golden Age of Ethiopian popular music (or Ethio-jazz, or Ethio-groove), from the late 1960s to 1974 in Addis Ababa, was fed by exposure to American soul and jazz, and distilled by brass-heavy bands adding guitar and organ. The richness—the sheer grooviness—of this work has made the Ethio-jazz of this brief period the target of a growing field of cover and revival projects. Debo Band, however, takes a different approach.
No doubt, eminences from that time are core inspirations to bandleader Danny Mekonnen, lead singer Bruck Tesfaye and their nine partners in the Boston-based outfit. Debo’s first album from 2012 includes songs (some traditional) from these icons, alongside Azmari folk material, and Debo original compositions. But what’s different is... everything. The instrumentation, with Debo’s sousaphone, accordion, and electric and acoustic violins. The all-original arrangements, with elements from klezmer, avant-garde jazz, and groove-based musics of multiple provenances. So there are no covers here: rather, Mekonnen explains, reinventions. And one of Debo’s signal achievements is a collaboration with Fendika, a young Addis-based acoustic music and dance group in the ages-old Azmari folk tradition, that the band met in Ethiopia in 2009. Debo with Fendika went on to perform in Ethiopia again in 2010, on multiple tours in the US, and at a major African music festival in Zanzibar.
All this is a long way from the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston—and from the rock and folk roots of many of Debo’s non-Ethiopian members. But it’s far as well from Angers, France, where Tesfaye attended high school and university; and even further from Fargo, ND, and Paris, TX, where Mekonnen, who was born in Sudan to parents who were fleeing the Ethiopian military dictatorship, ended up spending his teenage years. He always thought of himself as Ethiopian, Mekonnen says, but it’s through Debo that he has figured out for himself what that meant. “Debo” is an archaic Amharic word that signifies collective effort, and a good 20 people have contributed to the band since 2006, some Ethiopian, others not; all, Mekonnen says, have helped his discovery at the same time as making their own. Jonah Rapino, for instance, has taken his violin and wandered solo for months through several African countries. Bassist P.J. Goodwin worked as sound designer on an award-winning short film shot in Ethiopia’s rural South; Rapino and Mekonnen later scored the film. And violinist Kaethe Hostetter has gone further, packing up her Boston loft and setting down roots in Addis where she has started a school and a trio with Fendika members.
The band’s cultural commitments include an idea of Ethiopian music that overflows the limits of the Golden Age story and gives due to the pop sounds that followed and also to the renewal of old and rural traditions. So it makes sense to find Debo Band challenging the easy classifications and manufactured orthodoxies of the world-music scene on the festival circuit, or tearing up the stage in rock clubs from SXSW to the Lower East Side. Whatever the Golden Age might be, Debo Band is in it, today. (excerpted from Siddhartha Mitter)
What people are saying about Debo Band:
“What’s amazing about Debo Band is that they play that music (Ethiopian pop) without any sort of…precious reverence… They play it like it’s NOW, as music of right now, and they play it with incredible energy and passion and excellence. And it just totally rocks. It’s amazing.” – NPR
“A different archival impulse paid off for Debo Band, a Boston group devoted to the Ethiopian funk of the late 1960s and ’70s: fierce, jagged, complex and galvanizing music. With a beefy horn section, biting violins and a lead singer with a convincing Ethiopian quaver, the group brought back a live version of a style that was never recorded as vividly.” – The New York Times
"It's not an easy feat to pay tribute and transcend that same tribute simultaneously, but over the course of their debut, this band manages the trick." – Pitchfork
“The Boston-based band Debo Band gives the psychedelic music heard on the Ethiopiques collections a high-spirited revamp.” – Village Voice
“Buda Musique opened a door to the strange, foreign-yet-familiar music of Ethiopia to world music fans across the world, delighted by the mixture of classic funk, Arabic-sounding scales, and trance-like African grooves. Boston’s excellent Debo Band has become standard bearers for the Ethiopian sound on our shores.” – WNYC
“If George Clinton had come from Ethiopia instead of outer space, the result might have been what Debo Band gives you.” – Boston Globe
Freedom Square is an urban cultural and spiritual oasis located at the mystical corner where 5th and 6th Avenues meet 101st Street a block from the Hudson River in North Troy, NY. Map it at: www.tinyurl.com/freedomsquare
This presentation is made possible by volunteer labor, thousands of small donations from patrons of The Sanctuary for Independent Media, and support from the New York State Council on the Arts.
Click here for a slide show of Debo Band at Freedom Square in 2011 with photos by Ellie Markovitch.