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Music

Ethiopian Rhythms in City

The Trio Kazanchis Jeroen Visser with a saxophone
The Trio Kazanchis Jeroen Visser with a saxophone (left) and Endris Hassen playing a masingo, a single stringed Ethiopian instrument. PHOTO | COURTESY 

A multinational band brings an exciting fusion of global sounds to Nairobi early next month at a concert that innovatively combines the rich heritage of Ethiopian music with contemporary electronic rhythms.

The Trio Kazanchis is a group comprising musicians from Switzerland, France and Ethiopia who play an improvisation of Ethiopian music, modern and traditional, with a variety of global rhythms.

The band is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an East African tour next month that includes performance dates in Ethiopia, Kenya and at the renowned Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar. Apart from Ethiopia, this will be the first time the group performs in the other countries.

The tour presents an opportunity to showcase the repertoire of music from their three albums including their latest collection titled “Sheger” released in mid 2018.

“This shows in different countries will raise the profile of the band in East Africa, as it is our interest not just to present our music in Europe and other parts of the world, but also in Africa,” says bandleader Jeroen Visser.

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The band that was formed in the Ethiopian capital Addis, has extensively toured across Europe, playing in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic. In 2017, they performed two shows in Beijing, China including the soundtrack to a film about a Swiss aviation pioneer delivering a plane to Emperor Haile Selassie, However, Trio Kazanchis remains relatively unknown in much of Africa and they are keen to gain a foothold on the continent by providing a unique style of music that is based on the rich Amharic culture.

“We’ll be heading back to Europe after we conclude the East African tour, so these performances will be a good preparation for future shows,” adds Visser.

The band actually started as a trio of saxophonist Jeroen Visser from Switzerland, Ethiopian Mesele Asmamaw playing the 6-stringed traditional instrument krar and French drummer Fabien Duscombs.

They expanded into a trio when Endris Hassen joined them in 2012 playing the masinqo, a single-stringed lute from Ethiopia. A fourth member Cyril Moulas, a French bassist, guitarist and composer who has performed with several Ethiopian musicians and also plays the krar, joined the group to make it Trio Kazanchis +2. The band is undertaking the current tour with guest bass player Christian Weber.

Bandleader Visser is also a composer of electro-acoustic music who has a vast interest in Ethiopian culture. His first encounter with Asmamaw (the Jimi Hendrix of the krar) was when he heard the Ethiopian virtuoso play on the Ethiopiques series, a compilation of records originally released in Addis in the 1960s and 70s. Both musicians began exploring ways of fusing the traditional krar with electronic and acoustic sounds.

In 2008, Visser jammed with Asmamaw and Duscombs at various venues in Addis Ababa. Duscombs was no stranger to Ethiopian music having visited the country a few times before and even played at the Ethiopian Music Festival in 2006. He was also part of a musical project with Etenesh Wassie, an azmari singer from Addis, with whom he recorded the album “Zeraf”. Asmamaw’s mastery and innovation of the krar blended with the lively drums from Duscombs and Visser’s spirit of experimentation.

produced a psychedelic brand of Ethio-jazz and funk. They label the music ‘Ethiopian traditional impro-punk’.

The connection between these musicians of such diverse backgrounds led to the formation of Trio Kazanchis, a tribute to the district of Addis that has brought together many talented musicians and dancers. Kazanchis still reflects the swinging days of Ethio-jazz, a fusion of traditional Ethiopian music with contemporary styles like funk, jazz and soul. The music had its heyday in the 1950s and 60s and has been enjoying a revival in recent years and has now been embraced by a new generation of Ethiopian musicians.

Visser also recruited Hassen, one of the best players of the Masinqo, with whom he had been impressed since they first interacted in 2007. Hassen worked for a long time in Hager Fikir, the oldest theatre in Addis and played with many Ethiopian artists, past and present. His experience with the EthioColor Orchestra and the Imperial Tiger Orchestra of Geneva, Switzerland has exposed him to a wide variety of sounds that has blended perfectly with his traditional instrument.

The group’s debut album “Amaratch Musica” was released in 2012 on the Ethio-Sonic label that is reputed for the Ethiopiques series. That was followed by the second album, “Dinkenesh” in 2014 and eventually “Sheger” released in 2018.

Trio Kazanchis will be in concert at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi on February 8 at 7pm before heading off to the Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar.

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