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Press Releases 2010

American and East African Collaboration Heats up the Stage at Sauti za Busara!

February 17, 2010
Debo Band from the United States gives an energetic performance at the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar. (Photo: U.S. Embassy, Dar es Salaam)

Debo Band from the United States gives an energetic performance at the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar. The eleven piece Ethiopian-groove ensemble collaborated with four Ethiopian artists to bring their unique style to Tanzania for the first time.

Debo Band, an eleven piece Ethiopian-groove collective from the United States, joined forces with four Ethiopian artists to provide a stunning performance of a style never before seen at the Sauti za Busara [Sounds of Wisdom] festival Sunday night in Zanzibar.

The festival allowed Debo Band make connections and collaborations with musicians in East Africa, while presenting Ethiopian music for the first time to the venue. Debo's travel from the United States was supported by the American people through a "USArtists International" grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the United States' National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funds provided by individual American donors.

After the show, Debo leader Danny Mekonnen said, "Sauti za Busara totally exceeded our expectations: the world class stage and programming, the friendly and supportive staff, and the amazing performances from across the African continent and beyond. Moreover, the festival was brilliantly conceived, organized, and efficient."

Since its formation in 2006, Debo Band has earned a growing and enthusiastic following in the USA while immersing itself in the unlikely confluence of traditional East African poly-rhythms and pentatonic scales, classic American soul and funk music, and the instrumentation of eastern European brass bands to produce a unique form of dance music. With an uncommon instrumentation - including horns, strings, and accordion - that is a nod to the big bands of Haile Selassie's time, Debo Band is carrying the torch of classic Ethiopian music by giving new life to these old sounds. But that's not all Debo brought with them to Busara.

After a May 2009 visit to Addis Ababa to perform at the 8th Ethiopian Music Festival, Debo band began collaborating with four traditional Ethiopian musicians – vocalist Selamnesh Zemene, traditional azmari goat-skin drummer Asrat Ayalew, and traditional dancers Zinash Tsegaye and Melaku Belay. All accomplished musicians in their own right, these musicians work together at Fendika, a leading azmari bet, or traditional music house, operated by Melaku in Addis Ababa.

After receiving an invitation to perform at Busara, Debo Band decided to continue their collaboration with the Ethiopian artists by bringing them along to the Zanzibar festival. There, the group grew into a forceful and authoritative fifteen-piece ensemble that provided an energetic, one-of-a-kind performance.

Accordian player Stacey Cordeiro summed up the visit, saying, "It’s remarkable how our humble efforts to work with our four friends from Addis Ababa has, through our performance at Sauti za Busara, been recognized as a cross-cultural collaboration worthy of the attention of European festival organizers, international press, and the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. We honestly never expected a response like this!"