Debo Band Bring Their Darkly Bristling Update on Classic Ethiopian Dancefloor Sounds to Williamsburg
What do you associate Ethiopian music with? Those slinky triplet grooves? Stark, ancient, otherworldly bluesy modes? Shivery, melismatic vocals and fiddle? Debo Band take all those tropes and rock them out with both blazing brass and strings over an undulating pulse. Their new album Ere Gobez is streaming at Storyamp, and they’re opening a killer twinbill at Brooklyn Bowl tonight at around 8, with similarly minor-key fixated original first-wave Afrobeat dancefloor groovemeisters Antibalas headlining afterward. Hopefully you have $15 advance tix; it’s more at the door.
On the album’s opening track, Endris Hassen’s hypnotically circling, oscillating massenqo fiddle riff underpins the blaze of horns, and then guitarist Brendon Wood fires off a succinct solo. The second number, a Somalian tune, is similar, but with a trickier, syncopated beat. Track three – in purist Ethiopian fashion, most of the song titles are in frontman Bruck Tesfaye’s native Amharic – sets a joyous mix of upper-register violins and saxes mingling with Marie Abe’s accordion over bassist PJ Goodwin and drummer Adam Clark’s dancing, waltzlike beat.
Track four, Yachat, is a hard-rocking detour toward psychedelic 60s garage rock – it’s their Psychotic Reaction, Wood’s rampaging, bluesy lines front and center. Blue Awaze makes more or less straight-up hard funk out of an uneasily modal, proto Middle Eastern riff, Danny Mekonnen’s judiciously smoky baritone sax solo leading up to a swirly, string-fueled psychedelic breakdown where everything goes haywire, then finally back. From there the band segues into Goraw, a defiant Amharic-language Ethiopian-pride anthem which sounds like the ancient roots of Isaac Hayes at his most psychedelic – or what Hayes might have done had he collaborated with Mulatu Astatke.
The band builds Sak ominously over a brooding bati vamp, like a thunderstorm on the horizon, counterintuitively growing more spare as Mekonnen launches into a growling baritone solo. The album’s most epic number, Oromo swings along on a mighty minor-key blues groove, following a long, triumphantly majestic upward climb punctuated by a thoughtful massenqo break. The band follow the joyously circling, lushly orchestrated Hiyamikachi Bushi with the slinky, bitingly latin-tinged Yalanchi and close the album on a searingly trad note with the hauntingly propulsive Eyew Demamu, arguably its strongest track and a lauching pad for Tesfaye’s intense, expressive vocals.
Since Ethiopia is where it all started, at least as far as the human species is concerned, it’s not an overstatement to say that music from this part of the world resonates on a deep level, quite possibly in our collective DNA. This is the rare album that will hit the spot with people who like energetic, upbeat music as much as with those who gravitate toward the dark and mysterious.