The E/O to Pay Tribute to Nerses Nalbandian​

Above: Members of the Armenian Diaspora of Ethiopia (1929)
included the conductor K. Nalbandian – whose nephew Nerses
Nalbandian later became music director at the main Theater.

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011

New York (Tadias) – The Either/Orchestra, which in 2004 became the first U.S. big band to appear in Ethiopia since Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in 1973, has launched a campaign to raise funds for a return trip to the country. This time, the group hopes to participate in a musical tribute celebrating the work of Nerses Nalbandian, an Armenian musician who found a home as Ethiopia’s maestro from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Seven decades prior to the E/O’s arrival in Ethiopia, Mr. Nalbandian, who had cultivated hundreds of musicians and arranged numerous Ethiopian compositions, had left an imprint on modern Ethiopian music. Nerses Nalbandian, was the nephew of Kevork Nalbandian, the bandleader of Ethiopia’s first official orchestra. The elder Nalbandian moved to Addis from Jerusalem in 1924 as a music instructor for Arba Lijoch, a group of 40 Armenian orphans who had survived the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, and were later adopted by Haile Selassie then Crown Prince Ras Tafari. Wiki notes: “He had met them while visiting the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem. They impressed him so much that he obtained permission from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem to adopt and bring them to Ethiopia, where he then arranged for them to receive musical instruction.”

Kevork Nalbandian would eventually compose the sound for Marsh Teferi, the Imperial Anthem (words by Yoftehé Negusé), which served as the national hymn from 1930 to 1974. His nephew, Nerses Nalbandian, who was appointed the first music director of Ethiopia’s National Theater in 1956, is also credited for his contribution to modern Ethiopian music through his mentorship of some of the country’s talented musicians.

Photo courtesy of

The Either/Orchestra recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and in a recent press release stated that the band was invited by Alliance Ethio-Francaise to return to Addis Ababa. The upcoming tour will be the second collaboration between the Addis Ababa branch of the French cultural organization and the Either/Orchestra. During their previous trip to Ethiopia the band was introduced to Mr. Nalbandian’s children who suggested that the group, under the leadership of its founder Russ Gershon, help to revive the works of their late father. Per the E/O: “Daughter Mary and her siblings invited the band to their home for a sumptuous Ethio-Armenian feast during the visit, and after dinner began pulling out boxes of their father’s old scores. By the end of the festivities, Mr. Gershon had been convinced that the E/O should play one of Maestro Nalbandian’s arrangements at their concert. A few days later, they performed a song called Eyeye in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, the first time this arrangement had been played in a half century. ”

The songs from that performance, along with the rest of the concert, were later released on the Ethiopiques 20: The Either/Orchestra Live in Addis, a double CD set which received rave reviews. It was described at the time by Paul Olson of as “the best live album of the year — in any genre.”

The band hopes to repeat the same experience in May of 2011. The campaign aimes to raise $10,000 in 30 days to partially fund the tour. The band is also preparing for two more concerts this month featuring Mahmoud Ahmed. The E/O and Mahmoud have been collaborating for five years, but this is the first time they will perform together in the band’s home state of Massachusetts.

If You Go:
The E/O and Mahmoud Ahmed – March 24 at the Regattabar in Cambridge; March 25 they head west to Amherst College. You can learn more about the band at:

Cover Image:
Photo courtesy of

Video: Mahmoud Ahmed and the Either/Orchestra: Bemen Sebab Letlash


















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