September 14, 2019
6PM doors open; 7PM
5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W.
September 15, 2019 7 PM
3111 N. Western Ave.
GIRMA BÈYÈNÈ & AKALÉ WUBÉ come to Chicago after performing at more than 200 concerts in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US. They are considered leading ambassadors of what is called Ethiopian groove. Here, Picture this Post (PTP) talks with the groups’ spokesperson Oliver Degabriele (OD) , bass player with Akalé Wubé, who gives this background on Girma Bèyènè and how he came to perform with Akalé Wubé--
(PTP) How did your group come together? What is the background of each of the performers in your group?
(OD) Akalé Wubé was formed a bit over 10 years ago in Paris. It started with a simple curiosity about Ethiopian music from the 60/70s. The first session featured the same musicians that are still present in Akalé Wubé today, truly a perfect match since the very beginning. The band has since played well over 250 concerts in clubs and festivals all over the world, recorded 4 albums and is currently preparing a 5th one.
In September 2015, we invited Girma Bèyènè to Paris and worked on rearranging some of his best repertoire for the stage. Girma is a singer, pianist as well as one of the major composers of Ethiopian music from the golden era in the 60s. After a successful but brief career, he exiled himself in the US and stayed away from the stage for over 25 years.
Working and playing with Girma was a great experience and we hit it off immediately. Girma felt “born again”, as he enjoyed telling us during rehearsals.
After a hugely successful first series of concerts in Paris, an album was recorded and released as part of the famous Ethiopiques series (the same series in which we (Akalé Wubé) had found our first inspiration 10 years earlier!).
Please tell our readers about your group—how many musicians? What instruments to they play?
Girma Bèyènè is the singer, pianist and composer of all the songs we’ll be playing. The band, Akalé Wubé arranged the music and is made up of Etienne de la Sayette (saxophones, flutes), Paul Bouclier (trumpet, krar – a traditional Ethiopian lyre like instrument), Loïc Réchard (guitar), Oliver Degabriele (bass) and David Georgelet (drums).
There are a lot of fascinating things about Ethiopian music from the golden age of the 60s and 70s. There are 30 albums in the Ethiopiques series which document this music incredibly well!
Girma’s music stands on the more urban side of the spectrum. We have included traditional Ethiopian elements which we love (including the krar, a tradition Ethiopian string instrument) but at its core, Girma’s music is western looking, a nod towards all the great American and British crooners which Girma loves so much. All of that with a unique Ethiopian colour and a constant flux of genres (jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, afrobeat… ) all of which complement Girma’s music, stories and youthful energy.
Many Chicagoans think of the World Music Festival as a way to see and hear the world without a passport. What would you most like Chicagoans to know and appreciate about your culture and how your music is a part of it?
This is a truly international project! Girma is Ethiopian but lived most of his life in Washington. The rest of us are all from France (and one form Malta…myself!), but we have been immersing ourselves completely into Ethiopian music and culture for the past 10 years. There is much to say about the uniqueness of Ethiopian music and how it fits apart from all other African music. The influence of American crooners is also evident in Girma’s music. So do not expect anything stereotypical in any way! This is a real melting pot of music that was written nearly 50 years ago by Ethiopian musicians influenced by western music which has now been rearranged to breathe new life, half a century later.
Is this the first time you are performing in Chicago? Do you have any particular plans of what you will do in Chicago when you are not performing?
Yes it’s the second time in the States with Girma but first time in Chicago. We’re only going to be around for a few days but we want to take in as much of the city as we can! As well as catching other concerts in the festival.
Photos courtesy of Girma Bèyènè & Akalé Wubé, unless otherwise indicated.