View From Arada | Dec 16,2023
A classic yet alluring, calm yet vibrant space rests at the heart of the Kazanchis area, the sovereign republic as the long-time residents refer to it, where performing art comes to life.
It seems to hit the spot for those who dared to dream outside Bole for early evening entertainment, tired of the packed nightclubs with blaring music through the speakers.
Breeze Bistro hides in plain sight on the quiet minor road from Tito Street to Elily Hotel as the dim red light reflected off a window gives a subtle hint to passerby.
The right corner is dedicated to visual arts where a series of paintings are hung on the walls. The cosy red couch reveals a side view of the rest of the area with the ambience of a modern cafe.
The Bistro begins to warm up during sundown on Wednesdays, with musicians making an early appearance to set the stage. Slowly but surely, seasoned residents of the capital from different walks of life make their way to quench their thirst for Jazz music.
Consisting of bass guitar, drums, saxophone and keyboard, a quartet from Kayn Lab, an experimental jazz group that has been playing at Fendika Cultural Centre since 2016, grace the bistro with their presence on Wednesdays.
The base guitarist Henock Temesgen is the veteran with the most experience, playing jazz from the historic venues in Harlem to the streets of Addis Abeba. For two years, he lived in the heart of New York City, where many of the Jazz greats became stars.
Henock, 61, is a familiar face to many. He worked with several Ethiopian musicians, such as Aster Aweke, Tilahun Gessesse and Mahmoud Ahmed. He started playing music professionally while pursuing his Civil Engineering undergraduate studies at Howard University. He then focused on music and graduated from Berklee College of Music.
Berklee has made its mark on many musicians to explore the fascinating world of jazz including Mulatu Astatke who is pronounced the father of Ethio-jazz. He managed to harmonise the pentatonic scale-based melodies of Ethiopian music with the harmonies and instrumentation of Western and Latin. The approach has taken off through the years, prompting many artists to take up the baton.
Henock co-founded Jazzamba Music School with his colleagues Abegazu Kibrework Shiota and Girum Mezmur, dedicated to raising the next generation of Jazz musicians. The school has fostered many talents including Mehari Brothers that are making marks in the Ethiopian music industry. Teaching music is his way of leaving a mark.
His weekends are usually reserved for his wife and two sons unless a special occasion arises.
"That's dedicated to my family," said Henock.
A couple of years ago, Henock started featuring musicians through his YouTube channel, jamming to several songs from the studio near the Beklo Bet area with three of the members from the band.
Although they have had previous acquaintances with him, Henock strongly states that it is a band full of freedom with everyone suggesting ideas during sessions.
The band starts playing around 8PM and lasts two and a half hours.
Abiy Woldemariam, 40, on the keyboard, was one of the first students of Henock in the earlier days. He is a father of four who came to play after assisting his children with their schoolwork. He loves that the show starts earlier than most places, as he gets to go back home at a reasonable hour.
"That's how I maintain work-life balance," he said.
It is evident that their passion for Jazz has kept the band close. Their harmonious coordination is palpable, which could be attributed to the practice and playing together in different settings. However, the space is open for any talented person willing to jam with them.
Customers seem to enjoy the thrill of not knowing who would grace them with a performance.
Another alumnus from Berklee Music School is the saxophonist Abye Fassil. Born and raised in Huston, Texas, he first met with Henock at Coffee House around the Bole area, when he moved eight years ago. They played together the same night which turned into years.
"Music has connected us," he told Fortune.
Abye, 35, stands out from the quartet with his unruly afro hair that bobs and weaves to the rhythms. He was a self-taught pianist who used to favour soccer in his early years. He got acquainted with the saxophone in middle school, where it was mandatory to enrol in performing arts; little did he know it would be his calling.
Solidifying the quartet, Dawit Adera, 33, takes on the drums.
Substituted for his childhood dream of becoming a soldier, he is content with marching the drum set. He rolls the drums effortlessly, bringing the pulse and the groove to the tracks.
"All it takes is practice," he told Fortune.
The inception of the golden age of music and creativity marked until the mid-70s can be traced back a couple of decades when the Armenian Nerses Nalbandian was head of the National Opera. He composed the melodies that created a solid basis for the evolution of the Ethiopian music industry.
Since then, the live music scene has steadily gained popularity reaching its peak in Addis Abeba's nightlife. The industry was strongly affected during the pandemic in 2020, losing its momentum. It was slowly revived following the ‘Great Ethiopian Home Coming Challenge’, a call from the government aimed at bringing one million diaspora community to celebrate the Ethiopian Christmas.
"It has grown even stronger now," said Abye.
The youngest member Mahdere Dawit (Nani), joins the band, usually singing on the left side of the stage. Nani gets her groove on as soon as she holds the mic. From soft La Vie en Rose to the powerful Fever, she gets lost in the music and takes the audience into deep relaxation.
The 21-year-old eclectic singer comes from a musical background. Her father, the renowned keyboardist Dawit Senbeta has earned a place in the hearts of music lovers with his classical hits. Nani's musical journey began when she was a contestant in the singing competition Balageru Idol. Passing with flying colours, she chose to pursue an alternative route working with live bands in different lounges of Addis Abeba where the nightlife blooms.
She loved the thrill of performance to the point of booking two separate stages at the same time and going back and forth between breaks. However, the pressure had put a toll on her voice and she had to hit the brakes, settling for four gigs a week.
Nani believes working with a band of experienced musicians elevated her talent, trying to match their years of experience.
"It's intimidating yet exciting," she told Fortune.
PUBLISHED ON Apr 15,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1198]
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