Ethiopian dance band calls JP home

November 6, 2009
By

Sandra Storey


Courtesy Photo Debo Band members include (standing, left to right) Danny Mekonnen, Bruce Tesfaye, Keith Waters, Arik Grier and Stacey Cordeiro; seated in the center is Keith Leppman; and kneeling are Kaethe Hostetter and Jonah Rapino. Not pictured are PJ Goodwin, Abye Osman, and Brendon Wood—the three newest members of the band who will join the full band for the first time this Sunday at the Midway Cafe.

Performs Nov. 8 at Midway Café

Jamaica Plain’s local Ethiopian dance group Debo Band will perform on Nov. 8 at the Midway Café.

Sunday’s show will be the first time 11-member Debo Band plays in its home base since the group took a month-long tour of Ethiopia and Tanzania this summer.

“We’ve been itching to play in our own neighborhood again,” said Debo’s founder, Danny Mekonnen, who is an Ethiopian-American and Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at Harvard. The JP resident, who plays saxophones, communicated with the Gazette mostly by e-mail last week.

Other JP resident band members are Stacey Cordeiro (accordion); Jonah Rapino (electric violin); Brendon Wood (guitar); Arik Grier (sousaphone); and PJ Goodwin (bass, sound engineer). Kaethe Hostetter (violina, aka 5-string violin) lives in Roxbury.The group rehearses on Green St.

Mekonnen said the group got its “big break” in JP at the Milky Way, playing three successful concerts in 2008. “In two of these occasions the line for entry extended all the way around the corner towards the Hi Lo market,” Mekonnen said.

He said in an e-mail that Debo re-creates the urban dance club scene of 1960s Addis Ababa. “In the 1920s, Emperor Haile Selassie fell in love with a brass band from Armenia and invited them home to become the national band of Ethiopia,” Mekonnen wrote.

In the decades that followed, the relationship developed into a “sound unlike any other, combining brass band instrumentation with the groove of American jazz and funk, all while preserving the traditional rhythms, modes, and indigenous dance of the fiercely independent Ethiopian people,” he added.

Internationally known band Ansambl Mastika will be on the same bill. Led by clarinetist Greg Squared, Matiska plays original tunes in the style of village folk dance music of Eastern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula and Caucus Mountains. Squared has traveled and studied with some well-known Balkan folk musicians.

“We’re so excited that Mastika is coming to our local bar,” Mekonnen said.

Debo Band with Ansambl Mastika will perform Nov. 8 at 10 p.m. with doors open at 9 p.m. at the Midway Café at 3496 Washington St. Admission is $10.

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