Filed under: Ethiopia
Menelik Wossenachew was a member of the second incarnation of the Ras Band, which was lead by Girma Beyene. The Ras Band took their name, like The Ghion and The Shebelle Bands of the time, after the hotels that employed them.
The majority members of the first Ras Band came from the Haile Selassie I Theatre Orchestra,
who was then led by the famous Armenian Nerses Nalbandian. These included Girma Beyene, Wodajeneh Felfelu, Assefa Bayisa, Tefera Mekonnen, Tilahun Yimer and Bahru Tedla. Up to 1955 the last three were also in the Imperial Bodyguard Orchestra Jazz Symphony under Austrian Franz Zelwecher. The first Ras Band stayed in this form until 1965 when the entire band, with the exception of Girma Beyene, went on to form the Ghion Band at the Ghion Hotel.
Girma Beyene, was a lyricist, a music writer, an arranger, a vocalist, a pianist and bandleader. To most, if any name comes to mind with the word arranger, it is probably that of Mulatu Astatke. Yet, according to Ethiopiques Series producer Francis Falceto, in the heyday of vinyl records, Girma Beyene is credited to having arranged close to 65 titles, compared to Mulatu’s 40. Girma left a handful of recordings as a vocalist, but it was as an arranger and pianist that he is most remembered.
After leaving the second incarnation of The Ras Band, Girma Beyene was in The Girmas Band with Girma Zemariam for a brief period before forming The All Star Band in 1970. It members were for the most part taken from two popular bands, the second Ras Band, and The Soul Ekos Band with Menelik Wossenachew on vocals. But that only lasted for two years, before Girma Beyene left to form the Alem-Girma with Alèmayehu Eshété in 1972.
Catalog number AE 810, Amha Records of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. No release date given.
Filed under: Ethiopia
♬ Damtew Ayele • Wofe Yillala
♬ Samuel Belay • Keresh Endewaza
If one were to pick a specific point that marked the birth of the distinctive Ethiopian soul music, one could do worse than choose the late Emperor Haile Sellassie’s visit to Jerusalem in 1923. During his stay he heard European brass instruments, which made such an impression on him that he hired a group of Armenian players to become official musicians of the empire. One of these players, Kevork Nalbandian, even composed the current Ethiopian National Anthem in 1926 (Although, according to Wikipedia, it was Solomon Lulu Mitiku).
Thus a distinctly European flavour of brass band music was brought into a country whose traditional music bore heavy influence from Muslim forms, and its own modal pentatonic scale. Additionally, because it was actually impossible to buy saxophones, drums or other musical instruments under the Selassie regime, only the marching bands had access to them, giving the subsequently played music a foreboding, militaristic ambience.
Meanwhile in Europe, a new generation became that baby boomers started the cultural revolution of rock ’n’ roll, R ’n’ B and pop music in the 1960s. The same generation in Ethiopia, in their 20s during the early 60s, wanted to change the country and get connected with the world. But where Ethiopia was different was that they had about 6,000 Peace Corps from America. President Kennedy invented this civil service for youngsters in order to work in third world countries, so these people brought with them a lot of American flavours: long hair, bell-bottom trousers and plenty of vinyl records.
Thanks to the newly acquired influences from the West, the sound emanating from the clubs Addis Ababa was a heady stew of deep, hypnotic rhythms, distinctly Western guitar licks and soulful eastern melodies and vocals. The sound bore the unmistakable badge of American records (Stax and Motown artists in particular) plus something distinctly African and new.
Soon labels such as Amha Records and Kaifa Records sprung up around the city to capture the sounds produced by the more popular singers and performers. Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke, Alèmayehu Eshété, Tlahoun Gèssèssè, as well as others all brought their soulful sound to the clubs and cut records. But they disappeared from public view after Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military coup against Selassie in 1974. Under Mariam’s Derg, or ruling council, Addis Ababa’s nightlife died off.
Amha Ashèté, creator of the Amha Records label, was the driving force behind this brief creative burst and one of the main founders of the modernist movement which swept the Ethiopian scene during the end of the rule of the Emperor Haile Sellassie. The company released 103 singles and 12 albums between 1969 and 1975.
The song “Qeresh Endewaza” (which apparently translates to “You Are No More “) by Samuel Belay was featured on Budda Musique’s “Ethiopiques, Vol. 8: Swinging Addis”.. I am not sure if this is the same recording. As for Damtew Ayele, the only information I have been able to find says that he was “a traditional Ethiopian male singer. Ethiopian traditional songs include musical instruments such as the kebro, a percussion instrument, kirar and masinqo, both string instruments.” Which you can tell from this recording is incorrect.
Catalog number AE 710 on Amha Records of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All other information in Amharic, no release date given. This record (as well as many of Amha Records releases) was pressed on swirly green and purple vinyl, which unfortuanately does not sound all that great.
Filed under: Ethiopia
With the exception of Mulatu Astatke, Mahmoud Ahmed is probably the most well know musician from Ethiopia. He has been featured on three of the Éthiopiques volumes on Buda Musique (numbers 6, 7 and 19) and has recently released a live album. He still records and tours to this day, mainly in Europe.
Here is an excerpt of his biography from the Afropop Worldwide website:
Mahmoud Ahmed was born in the Mercato district of Addis Ababa, but he hails from the Gouragué people, who live south-west of the Ethiopian capital. The Gouragué are known for their cuisine, their diligence in business, and their exuberant traditional dances. Young Ahmed showed little aptitude for schooling. Only music interested him, and instead of studying, he would spend his hours listening to the Tèquali Radio, to bands like the Imperial Body Guard Band, and singers like Tilahoun Gèssèssè.
As a result, Ahmed soon wound up shining shoes alongside other poor, going-nowhere boys in the capital. In 1962, Ahmed took a position helping out at the Arizona Club, one of the semi-legal night spots that were popping up in Addis in those days. This was the time when Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, in power since 1930, began to sense that his country was slipping away from him. In an effort to appease roiling popular sentiment against him. Sellassie would ultimately relax restrictions on music production, formerly the sole province of the state cultural organization and recording company, Agher Feqer Mahber (“The Love of Country Association”). This paved the ways for Ahmed’s early releases on Amha Records. But first, Sellassie allowed state bands, like the Police and Army Orchestras, to create side branches that played popular music. Sellassie had had a hand in creating these brass orchestras when back in 1924 he invited 40 Armenian musicians refugees to come to Ethiopia as state musicians.
Despite their new liberties, these institutional bands were technically barred from performing except when on official government contracts. But many defied this law. As it happened, the Arizona Club where Ahmed worked became a favorite moonlighting hangout for the Imperial Body Guard Band. One night when the band’s lead singer failed to show, Ahmed persuaded the band to let him sing a few current hits. Arrangers Sahlé Dègado and Girma Hadgu took up his cause and gradually introduced him into the band’s official lineup, where he remained until 1974. Ahmed recorded his first 45-RPM single in 1971.
Here is a discography that lists just about all of Mahmoud Ahmed’s releases, including early singles and cassette only releases…But it does not look like this record is listed.