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Todd Simon's Ethio-Cali Ensemble presents Wax & Gold - Ethiopian Classic Selections curated by Sonny Abegaze

Todd Simon's Ethio-Cali Ensemble presents Wax and Gold
Ethiopian Classic Selections curated by Sonny Abegaze
(MP3 Podcast on 2014-01-18

Wax and Gold (aka Semena Werq) is a form of traditional Ethiopian poetry that has one surface meaning, known as wax, and multiple hidden meanings, known as gold. Musicians in Ethiopia have used Wax and Gold to explore topics such as spirituality, politics, and matters of the heart throughout the ages. On November 17, 2013, the Ethio-Cali Ensemble performed a special set of music at the Blue Whale (the best place in Los Angeles to go see live Jazz) inspired by the concept of Wax and Gold. Ethio-Cali's 'Minister of Information', Sonny Abegaze, curated compositions from the catalogues of Hailu Mergia and Walias, Alemayehu Eshete, The Police Orchestra, and other Ethio-Jazz luminaries to be performed on this special night. The mix below features these songs in their original form. Enjoy…

Track-by-track info :
01. Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Guebru - Mother's Love
Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Guebru is a classical pianist and composer who was born in Addis Abeba in 1923. She was ordained as a nun at the age of 21 and now lives in an Orthodox monastary in Jerusalem. Emahoy's music is intimate, delicate, joyful, and melancholy all at the same time. We draw a lot of inspiration from her music and personal journey. At 90, Emahoy is finally starting to get some of the recognition she deserves.

02. Lieut. Mesfin Haile, Hirut Beqele and The Police Orchestra - (track title unknown)
This song comes from a Voice of America reel that was recorded in 1961. It features Lieutenant Mesfin Haile and Hirut Beqele accompanied by the Police Orchestra, along with an amazing violin player. They sing, 'Life is Tough. This world is an unforgiving and bitter place, and now you are leaving me'. Sublime.

03. Getatchew Mekurya - Ambassel (Slow)
This waltz-like tune is by the most popular saxophonist in Ethiopia, Getatchew Mekurya. It was recorded in 1972 and was originally released on the Philips record label during the heyday of Ethio Jazz. It was later released on 'Ethiopiques Vol. 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax'. Getatchew draws much of his inspiration from Shellela, a traditional vocal style sung by warriors before going into battle. You can hear this sentiment in his melismatic style of playing. Getatchew still performs regularly in Ethiopia, Europe, and Canada.

04. Alem Girma Band ft. Alemayehu Eshete - Ambassel (Fast)
Referred to as the Ethiopian James Brown, Alemayehu Eshete is a talented and spirited vocalist who first got his break with Addis Ababa's famous Police Orchestra. Ambassel is an area found in the Amhara region of Ethiopia with the root word ‘amb' meaning fortress. It is also the name of one of the major musical scales in the country. There are various versions of Ambassel that have been recorded by different musicians over the years. The lyrics to this version speak of a man who is out of luck in his pursuit of love. Alemayehu Eshete also has a slow version of Ambassel that has a completely definitely feel... definitely worth checking out!

05. Mulatu Astatke - Yefikir Tezeta
This slow burner by Mulatu Astatke is a favorite amongst the members of Ethio Cali. So much so that one of our drummers/percussionists, Te'Amir Yohannes Sweeney, produced a tune that sampled this track. This song was originally released on Philips International as a 45. It was later reissued on the compilation 'New York - Addis - London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975'. Eternal gratitude to master Mulatu!

06. Alemayehu Eshete and Hirut Beqele - Temeles
This is a love duet that features Alemayehu Eshete and Hirut Beqele. The lyrics speak of a man who has left his lover for work. His lover misses him dearly and is pleading for his return. This is a classic example of an unrequited love ballad, a theme commonly found in Ethiopian music. Our interpretation of this tune has energy and intensity, and we substitute horns for the vocal lines.

07. Mahmoud Ahmed - Fitsum Dink Lidj Nesh
Mahmoud Ahmed is a beloved vocalist from the Gurage region of Ethiopia. He shined shoes as a boy before getting his break as a singer with Emperor Haile Selassie I's Imperial Body Guard Band. He later recorded with groups such as The Venus Band, Ibex Band, and Walias. Fitsum Dink Lidj Nesh finds Mahmoud Ahmed singing poetically about the beauty of an Abyssinian woman. He goes into great detail describing her lovely features. He wonders what her name is and finally calls her Fitsum Dink Lidj Nesh, which translates to 'you are an absolute miracle”.

(Thanks to Semere Ab-Etmet Yohannes for lyrics translations and for his enthusiastic support of Ethio Cali over the years!)

Credits :
Selection and comments by Sonny Abegaze
Mixed by the Todd Simon's Ethio-Cali Ensemble (
Mastered by Grant Phabao (
Artwork by Ben Hito (

About Todd Simon's Ethio-Cali Ensemble :
Ethio Cali is a Los Angeles-based Ethiopian jazz ensemble led by trumpeter/arranger/composer Todd Simon and featuring a cast of the finest musicians from Southern California. The ensemble's sublime sound is inspired by the Golden Age of Ethiopian music of the 1960's and 70's, filtered through a lens that is uniquely Los Angeles and roots-inspired. Acknowledging the diverse musical foundations of Ethio-jazz, the ensemble also draws inspiration from the rhythmic and melodic textures of Sudan, Somalia, Ghana, and Columbia.

Links :
Todd Simon's Ethio-Cali Ensemble : official | facebook | parisdjs | soundcloud | tumblr | twitter
Paris DJs : | bandcamp | facebook | pinterest | soundcloud | twitter | youtube
Ben Hito : official | discogs | facebook