Debo Band - Debo Band
It's taken 6 years for Debo Band to evolve from what was originally a communal practice band based out of rehearsal spaces in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighbourhood, to the 11 piece Ethio-Jazz/groove collective that finally release their debut album Debo Band this month on Sub Pop's world music imprint Next Ambience. Their journey has taken them from the US to Zanzibar and back again via opening for Gogol Bordello (whose bass player Thomas Gobena takes on production duties for this album). But whilst 6 years may be a long gestation, on the evidence of their brass-laden fusion of re-imagined traditional Ethiopian folk music and more progressive funk workouts, this has been time well spent.
For an all too brief period from the late 60's until the political coup of 1974, there was a so-called golden-age of Ethiopian popular music that sprang up in the cosmopolitan circles of the country's capital, fusing Latin & Jazz rhythms with Ethiopian musical traditions, and a brass-heavy sound, something that can be seen as a strong presence in the albums opening instrumental track 'Akale Wube'. This traditional folk song reworked is underpinned by a guttural sousaphone that lays down a heavy bass rhythm while violins and accordion cut across it with an almost Frank Zappa-esque spasmodity. From here Debo Band really kick into gear as the second track 'Ney Ney Waleba' explodes out of the speakers, sounding like the soundtrack to a classic 70's cop-show car chase, but with the added spice of vocalist Bruck Tresfaye barreling out a call and response duel with the bands horn section, commandeered by band leader Danny Mekkonnen.
Indeed the bands energy, and a party atmosphere, is prevalent across the first half of the album. Songs such as 'Not just a song' and the album's lead promo track 'Asha Gedawo' serve up slices of funk-guitar laden jams and syncopated rhythms with soaring group vocals that take the world/traditional music template and inject it with a substantial dose of prog-rock craziness and punk rock fire.
However, it's when Debo Band slow things down in the second half of the album that things get perhaps even more interesting. 'Medinanna Zelesegna' is a beautifully sparse and haunting track where the sound is stripped back to just accordion and strings, over which Tresfaye's voice trembles and soars with an incredible hypnotic power. This feel is then developed further on the disjointed waltz of 'Ambassel' where the horn section seems to offer a menacing improv collapse around discordant 1920's Parisienne atmospherics.
Such stylistic variation within Debo Band show that this Boston based collective have produced a debut set that is more than a mere tribute to a golden-age of their musical heritage, but rather a set that creates a new vision for taking something from the past and turning it into something for the now by pulling in elements from all areas of the band's culture and experience, as well as providing the vital spark of great energy and musicianship.