Debo Band Reimagine Vintage Ethiopian Sounds Through Funk & Soul In 'Ere Gobez'

'Ere Gobez,' is an experimental mash-up of 1970s & 80s Ethiopian sounds from Debo Band.

Debo Band. Photo courtesy of the group.

Boston’s 11-man, Ethio-groove collective Debo Band breathes new life and funk into Ethiopia's musical depository with their latest album Ere Gobez, the follow-up to their self-titled debut album which dropped in 2012.

Dipping into Ethiopia’s colorful musical past, the band creates what they refer to as “imaginary mixups and mashups,” consisting of artful reimaginings of late 1970s and early 80s Ethiopian sounds. Using this illustrious musical era as a nucleus, the band produce a sound completely their own.

“Imagine what Duke Ellington, while on his famed African tour, might have played with the Addis Ababa Police Orchestra. [We] invent the jams of the Ethiopians who served in the Korean War and brought back influences from East Asia,” the band mentions to Okayafrica. The outcome is an energizing amalgam of Amharic lyrics and rhythms with elements of folk, soul, rock 'n' roll, and a hint of early 70s, Miles Davis-esque jazz fusion.

Luckily for us, the band will have endless material to draw inspiration from with the overabundance of Ethiopia’s undiscovered decades-old records. “Ethiopian musical cultures are so diverse that [we] could only scratch the surface even after ten years of dedicated study," the band says. "In Ethiopia in the early 70s, you had a lot of different styles and artists and arrangers. You had such wealth. You can never stop digging; there will always be new material to introduce people to. That’s something significant. We’re digging much, much deeper. We’re still unearthing new sounds after a decade.”

Today we're premiering Ere Gobez's "Ele," which band member Danny Mekonnen describes as a track "inspired by the rocking gurage music from Southwestern Ethiopia."

"'Ele' is a song about the celebration of cultural diversity. It features a beautiful gurage girl who crashes a dance party and mesmerizes the crowd with her traditional dancing. The resounding cries of 'Abet Abet' (which can be translated as "Yes! I am here!") encourage each and everyone of us to embrace our cultural identity as a way of enriching one another," Mekonnen adds.

Stream Debo Band's "Ele" above. Ere Gobez is out May 20 on FPE Records.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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