Lucid Culture


Ethiopian Dance Band Finally Calms the Crowd at Lincoln Center

New York office workers are just like preschoolers. Keep them cooped up in air conditioning for the better part of a week, then finally let them outside on a rare, pleasant summer evening, and they go nuts. Ironically, it was probably because Boston-based Ethiopian groove orchestra Debo Band is such a party machine that so many in the crowd at Lincoln Center Out of Doors tonight felt the energy to holler at each other over the music. And it was kind of weird watching the group blaze through one hypnotic groove after another, without people dancing – last year they turned the ordinarily sedate Joe’s Pub into one big Ethiopian disco.

It’s also impressive how Debo Band approaches the music of the world’s oldest civilization as eclectically as the natives. A lot of the band’s originals pulse along as circular, hypnotic vamps that could be part Afrobeat and part Indian. But they don’t limit their own songs to that style, and their covers are diverse as well. One 1970s track by the Imperial Bodyguard Band had a suspenseful, brooding, bolero-tinged groove; toward the end of the show, they slunk through a tune from late in that decade by Mahmoud Ahmed that blended American disco tinges into the mix, with an acidic, intense electric violin solo. As the piece wound out, the violinist hit her wah pedal and mimicked the dancers shimmying in front of the band with some musical shimmying of her own.

Frontman Bruck Tesfaye was a cool, suave presence against the maelstrom behind him, ornamenting his vocals with a brittle vibrato that reminded of Jello Biafra, whether on a darkly reggae-flavored tune early on, or the cinematic, chromatically-charged Henry Mancini-esque anthem they did toward the end. Midway through the set, the band brought up a duo to do guy/girl vocals with a lot of call-and-response; because the lyrics were in Amharic, the effect was pretty much lost on the Americans in the crowd, but the Ethiopian posse was very into it. The horns would occasionally go off on a tangent, sputtering and squabbling for a couple of bars as the bass and percussion maintained the trancey, rolling bounce, the accordion, guitar and violin adding subtly spicy textures behind the matter-of-fact intensity of the horns. By the time they wrapped up their hourlong set, they’d finally managed to get the restless audience to relax and watch, far more of an achievement than it would ordinarily seem.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debo Band’s New Ethiopian Dance EP is Predictably Amazing

More bands should do live albums. Boston-based Ethiopian groove orchestra Debo Band are as good a candidate as any. If their expansive new four-song ep Flamingoh (Pink Bird Dawn), recorded live on the band’s 2010 East African tour and available for five bucks at their bandcamp site, is any indication, their upcoming full-length concert cd will be unbelievable. Although they frequently indulge in the tricky polyrhythms in most Ethiopian dance music, this one grooves along to a pretty much straight-up 4/4. If these songs don’t make you move, you need to be defibrillated.

It’s amazing how interesting Debo Band can make a one-chord jam sound. Through all the catchy hooks, the hypnotic vamps, the funky grooves and sizzling horn motifs, there’s one chord change on the album. It’s on one of the songs’ choruses – that’s it. For those who listen to music from India, for example, that’s to be expected, but for music as funky as this, it’s quite a change. That it’s barely noticeable says a lot about how much fun it is. The six-minute opening track works a swaying, insanely catchy minor-key funk vamp with wah guitar, tight horns and incisive staccato violin accents from Jonah Rapino: he jumps on the hook and takes a juicy funk solo over the steady pulse of PJ Goodwin’s bass and the slinky shuffle of Keith Waters’ drums. Danny Mekkonen’s tenor sax sneaks in almost imperceptibly, then out, then in again with the rest of the section in tow. It’s a monster track. When’s the last time you heard a juicy funk solo played by a violin? Ever? That they’d have one pretty much speaks for itself.

The second cut has frontman Bruck Tesfaye singing lyrics in Amharic, careening along with wah-wah on the violin and snarling, distorted upper-register guitar from Brendon Wood. When it reaches the point where the interlocking guitar, horn and violin themes all mingle, it’s psychedelic beyond belief. The tension between squawking tenor sax and wailing electric lead guitar as the intensity rises slowly toward the end is typical of how this band works a crowd of dancers. A fervent, impassioned guest vocalist lends her powerful alto voice to the third cut, a bouncy, hook-driven joint with playful tradeoffs between the horns and Stacey Cordeiro’s accordion as it opens, followed by a seemingly endless series of oldschool funk turnarounds and a big fluttering crescendo at the end. The last cut works down to a mysterious, slinky reggae groove punctuated by a low ominous pulse from Arik Grier’s sousaphone, down even lower to a spooky dub breakdown, and out with a bang. Debo Band make frequent stops in NYC: their show last month at Joe’s Pub was characteristically fun. Watch this space for upcoming dates.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debo Band Rock Joe’s Pub, Ethiopian Style

Debo Band (pronounced “debbo”) first crossed our radar via powerhouse Balkan band Ansambl Mastika, who’d shared a bill with them at Don Pedro’s in Bushwick a few months back. In the far swankier yet confining digs of Joe’s Pub last night, it was incongruous watching the band lay down one irresistible groove after another while the practically sold-out house bounced in their seats. Finally, toward the end of the show, a guy sitting just to the right of the stage became the voice of reason, bounding up on his feet, the band’s guest vocalist joining him from about ten feet away onstage as there was no room to get past the tables. What a party this would have been if they’d cleared the floor for dancing.

In over an hour onstage, the eleven-piece band and their special guests from Ethiopia swung and bounced through one hypnotic, slowly crescendoing number after another. Their dapper, black-clad frontman smiled his way through several Amharic-language songs with an unexpectedly disquieting trill in his voice that reminded of John Lydon – did PiL listen to Ethiopian music? You never know. The band’s tuba player did three-on-four as the bassist played snaky triplets along with the rest of the band, which included two tenor saxes, two violins, accordion, Telecaster, drums and a percussionist wailing away on a set of three boomy tom-toms. At one point, one of the tenor players switched to baritone sax and despite the club’s characteristically dodgy sonics, it was low-register heaven.

Several of the songs ran circular, snaky themes that built slowly from hypnotic and swirling to bright crescendos, the saxes and violins hinting at how crazy they could get but never quite going there. One of the violin players had a wah-wah pedal, which he used to maximize the funk on the intoxicatingly catchy, intense minor-key vamp they closed the set with. The trio of guests up onstage with them (whom they’d met at a festival in Zanzibar) energized the crowd with their showy dance moves, one of the women delivering throaty, impassioned, wailing vocals when she wasn’t swaying and undulating, her several heavy, metal necklaces bouncing against her chest and adding yet another texture to the beat. In the middle, they brought it down a little with a reggae-tinged beat, adding some subtle dub echoes; at the end, the crowd screamed for an encore and this time the club gave them one, another bright, catchy, funky vamp that could have gone on three times as long as it did and everyone would have enjoyed it three times as much. If this show is any indication, their brand-new live ep must be amazing.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment