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Addis Acoustic: Tewesta 'Remembrance' Review

Ethiopian music has been in fashion since the release of the Ethiopiques album series, so an album like this was perhaps inevitable. The Addis Acoustic Project was started by Girum Mezmur, a guitarist and accordion-player who set out to revive favourite Ethiopian songs from the 50s and 60s and rework them with cool, contemporary and mostly instrumental acoustic settings. He surrounded himself with some equally classy musicians – playing double-bass, percussion, mandolin and clarinet – but in the process he has ignored the energy and passion of the original music.

The result is an album that's well-played and pleasant, but too often soporific and forgettable, despite the strength of the melodies. It's all very easygoing, with passages of laidback, jazz-tinged guitar and gently sophisticated mandolin and clarinet work, but it only comes alive on the rare occasions when Dawit Ferew gets a chance to sing, or on the more robust instrumentals Ambassel or the finale, Yigermal. The rest often sounds like high-class, late-night mood music with an Ethiopian edge.

Addis Acoustic Project show soon in Israel

The Addis Acoustic Project, the African version of Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club, is an ensemble comprised of some of the finest and most experienced musicians working today in Addis Ababa. It has been active since 2008.

The group musicians played with several of the great Ethiopian vocalists: Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Ashete and Aster Aweke as well as Angelique Kidjo from Benin. The ensemble, under the direction of guitarist Girum Mezmur, presents fresh new arrangements of Ethiopian classics from the 1950s and 60s, with influences from various East African traditions in addition to jazz and Latin elements.

The group released its first album, Tewesta ("remembrance" in Amharic) and performs every week at the Jazzamba Lounge jazz club in Addis and at world music and jazz festivals across Europe. Girum Mezmur on guitar, accordion, arrangements; Ayele Mamo on mandolin; Henock Temesgen on bass; Nethaniel Tesemmah on drums; Misale Legesse on percussion, kebero; Aklilo "Johnny" Woldeyohannes on clarinet, flute.

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Quick spin: 'Tewesta - Remembrance'

Much in the spirit of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club, this six-piece ensemble from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa breathes new life into the music of a bygone era: the pre-electronic sounds popular during the twilight of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the 1950s and ’60s. Warm, subdued and nostalgic, each of the 15 tracks is built on an uncluttered bed of rhythms furnished by traditional percussion and double bass. Jazz- and folk-inflected arrangements leave ample room for agile but unhurried exchanges between the band’s leader, guitarist Girum Mezmur, and its mandolin, accordion and clarinet players.

European, Middle Eastern and Central African themes percolate throughout the album. A plea for national harmony, “Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin,” showcases mandolinist Ayele Mamo, who appeared on the original hit version in the 1960s, and has something of an Anglo-Celtic lilt. “Ambassel,” featuring mandolin and accordion, named for both a musical mode and a well-known African folk song, blends Balkan and Latin elements. “Yene Hassab” is an Armenian love song; a pair of tracks originated in Sudan, Ethiopia’s neighbor. The warm, breezy melody of “Fikir Ayarejim” is supplied by its composer, Sudanese oud player Ahmed Elmak.

A few numbers, such as the stirring party anthem “Alemoush Mambo,” feature vocals. The focus here, however, is on the spirited interplay among the band’s instrumentalists, and maybe nowhere so much as on “Yigermal,” an Ethiopian folk song galvanized by a gamboling pas de deux written for clarinet and mandolin.

Recommended tracks: “Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin,” “Fikir Ayarejim,” “Yigermal”

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Ethiopia's Addis Acoustic Band to participate at WOMEX

Addis Acoustic Project has been selected to participate at the World Music Expo (WOMEX) 2009 which is due to be held at the Concert Center (Koncerthuset) in the Danish city of Copenhagen, from October 28 to November 1 , 2009.

The Addis Acoustic Band was chosen from the nine hundred bands that applied to participate at event, becoming one of only forty bands that will participate at the event. WOMEX is the most important international professional music fair of its kind. The fair will take place in Copenhagen for three consecutive years, starting from 2009. Over 2800 delegates (musicians, agents, mangers, recorders and the like), and 1425 companies from more than 90 countries will participate at the event this year.

The founder and Musical Director of Addis Acoustic Project, Girum Mezmur, informed Ezega news that the WOMEX show will open a big opportunity for them to introduce the 1950s and 1960s Ethiopian pop music, and to share their experience and build network with other musicians from all over the world.

Explaining why his group was selected among many the competed for WOMEX event, Girum said "we play authentic Ethiopian music which I believe is the main reason that made us one the participants in this prestigious event". Girum Mezmur also told Ezega News that Addis Acoustic band will take part on "Selam Africa Festival" which will take place November 6 to 9, 2009, in Stockholm, Sweden. Addis Acoustic band is expected to play with Oumou Sangare (the reknowned singer from Mali) and other well known artists from all over the world.