Roaring improvisation

2010-10-01 15:59

It probably sounds wacky that a Geneva-based band is growing a following for its brand of ­Ethiopian jazz.

And if seeing is believing, I suggest you catch this six-member band when it tours southern Africa this month.

They call themselves Imperial Tiger Orchestra and, no, they don’t do cover versions of Ethio-jazz favourites.

The Tigers, as they are also known, intend to “preserve the natural beauty of the Ethiopian melodies and sound” in its own style.

According to their press release: “Improvising and experimenting, the musicians explore uncharted territories with powerful instrumentation of horn, percussion and keyboards, adding distortion and noise to the revamped and reworked original vocal songs, with the sax or keyboard replacing the singer.”

The Tigers have recorded two albums – one self-titled and the other titled Addis Ababa in honour of the Ethiopian capital.

Their first album comprises songs written by Ethio-jazz legends Mahmoud Ahmed and Getatchew Mekurya.

The second has two songs that were recorded at Club Alizé in Addis Ababa.

The Tigers also performed at the Musiques Ethiopiennes festival in the capital last year. On their tour this month to SA, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the band will perform songs from what’s regarded as the “Golden Age of Ethiopian modern music” dating from 1969 to 1978.

Ethiopian musician Endres Hassen will join the band on tour with his “masenqo” – a traditional single-stringed violin.

Hassen, who hails from Wollo, a region treasured for its Ethiopian traditional music, has been part of the Hagar Fikir Theatre, a traditional Ethiopian orchestra, since 1997.

Raphaël Anker, founder of The Tigers and trumpeter, says the masenqo was “really important in traditional Ethiopian music and it presents a challenge for us to incorporate this into our sound”.

The band members do not play the violin.

» The Tigers will play in Maputo on Thursday and at Bassline in Joburg on Friday. They will end their tour at Durban’s BAT Centre on Saturday

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