Brooklyn to Ethiopia: Doncker, Gigi, Selam, Laswell, and more

Guitarist Selam Woldemariam (left), former member of legendary Ethiopian bands, Ibex and Roha, with New Yorker Tomas Doncker (front) performing at the City Winery in Manhattan last year. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Sunday, October 9, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Brooklyn based musician Tomas Doncker’s new album entitled Power of the Trinity, which features well-known artists hailing from Ethiopia including Gigi and legendary guitarist Selam Seyoum Woldemariam, is as much a tribute to Ethiopia and its history as it is a soulful blend of R&B, spoken word and global urban sounds, reflecting the culturally eclectic neighborhood where he grew up. The CD also features Grammy award winning producer and bassist Bill Laswell, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, and Electro-dub specialist Dr. Israel as well as reggae artist Tsegaye Selassie.

“Musically speaking, being able to work with Bill Laswell and Selam Woldermariam was like taking a journey into the heart and soul of Ethiopian groove, ” Tomas Doncker said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. Bill Laswell was the producer of Gigi’s 2001 album, which propelled the vocalist to worldwide acclaim. Selam Woldermariam, also known as Selamino, was a member of the storied Ibex and Roha bands.

According to Tomas, a theater production about Emperor Haile Selassie and his role during World War II, following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, gave impetus to his new album. The drama was never staged but he said it inspired him to learn more about the Emperor. “I was asked to score a play called Power of the Trinity by New York Playwright Roland Wolf and in my research I realized that collaborations with this particular group of artists would really capture and enhance the feeling that I was looking for,” Tomas said. “It was the most rewarding artistic experience of my life.”

Tomas said he fell in love with Selam Woldermariam’s work long before he met the guitarist, whom he said he discovered through one of the earliest editions of the Ethiopiques series – number seven – which spotlighted the award-winning singer Mahmoud Ahmed and the historical band Ibex.

“Tomas Doncker had this CD and was searching for musicians that played with Ibex in those days,” Selam told Tadias. “A common friend knew where I resided and told Tomas about it, that’s how we connected.”

The name of the album, Power of the Trinity, is the English translation of Emperor Haile Selassie’s name. The CD cover shows a globe embedded with a giant map of Africa filled with a photo collage of the late emperor. Tomas Doncker’s own name is written using a combination of English and Geez alphabets. “Graphic Designer Michael Luciano and I worked very closely on this,” Tomas said. “We wanted to highlight Ethiopia as being one of the most important places in world history, perhaps even the cradle of civilization. You can’t do that without making H.I.M. a focal point.”

Selam, who majored in History at Addis Ababa University and is currently researching “the music history of the Horn of Africa,” says the collaborative project is more than a nod to the former king. “As we all know Ethiopian music is now a fashion throughout the world,” he said. “It is not surprising to see bands whose members are mainly western musicians playing Ethiopian music repertory of the 60s and 70s.” He adds: “This phenomenon was partly the result of the distribution of Ethiopiques CD series, produced by a good friend, Francis Falceto. And, fortunately, I was part of the group known as ‘Ibex’ that performed during the early 70s at Ras Hotel. It included the renowned performer Mahmoud Ahmed and we recorded his Ere Mela Mela on LP which later became Ethiopiques number 7 in 1989.”

For Tomas, it is also about crossing cultural boundaries. “I grew up in Brooklyn NY, in Crown Heights” he said. “I attended St. Ann’s school from 1st grade until the 12th grade. Crown Heights at that time was a very dangerous neighborhood. Lots of gangs and violence, but we still managed to maintain a sense of community, at least among the families on my block. Receiving a scholarship to attend St. Ann’s made it possible for me to meet people and learn about other cultures. It changed my life and helped to mold me into the artist that I am today.”


Tomas Doncker and Selam Woldemariam at the Blue Note in NYC on April 12, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Selam Woldemariam)

Regarding his new album Tomas said: “It is what I like to call a global soul meditation about Ethiopia and how I feel that we are all connected.”

Selam, who also served as a Production Consultant, worked on the Amharic translations for most of the compositions on the album. He described the genre of the new CD saying: “It is mainly a fusion work of Tomas’ compositions with Ethiopian rhythm and sounds. He uses the slow and fast Chik-chika rhythms on most of his compositions. This rhythm is extensively used in most Ethiopian music. Moreover, most horn sections on some of the tunes resemble the unique sound of Ibex Band from the Ethiopiques number seven volume. Therefore, I think we can safely label the new album as ‘global soul,’ a fusion of western R&B and African and Ethiopian music.”

Selam adds: “I would like to thank Tomas for dedicating his song, Seven Sons, in memory of Ibex.”

Thomas Doncker’s “Power of the Trinity” is now available for purchase on I tunes. You can learn more about the artist at www.tomasdoncker.net.

Watch: Tomas Doncker introduces guitar hero Selam Woldemariam at the Blue Note in NYC

Watch: Inside Tomas Doncker’s “Power of The Trinity Project”

14 Responses to “Brooklyn to Ethiopia: Doncker, Gigi, Selam, Laswell, and more”


  1. 1 Samuel Claiborne Sep 29th, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Tomas is the real deal. Each project is a new journey, a stretching of musical boundaries, a new education for the performers and the audience. He keeps moving forward, expanding his palette and challenging himself to continue to grow and evolve as an artist – and challenging his fans to keep up with him!

    He’s also a great bandleader, bringing disparate performers together in a pressure cooker that yields new, alchemical gold.

    Power of trinity is one of his very best, fueled by his passion for history, equality, personal empowerment and his love of music from all over the world. The band is amazing live and on the CD, and the Blue Note performance was especially electrifying.

  2. 2 Mimi Negash Sep 29th, 2011 at 10:38 am

    It so wonderful to see Selamino still kicking and Kudos 2 him….he still performing like a trooper! Thanks to Tomas Doncker for reaching out to contemporary Ethiopian stars. It’s people like you that keep the truth and the banner of Ethiopia alive!! Thank you for the love!!

  3. 3 Ras Mitat Sep 29th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    IBEX AND ROHA are irreplaceable. Selam Woldemariam is my hero. Gigi is fikir!

  4. 4 NJ Sep 29th, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Good for you Selamino!

  5. 5 Tirusew Oct 6th, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Jah forever

  6. 6 Metasebia Oct 6th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Congrats Selam and Tomas – you make a great team. Well done on your achievements. This is a wonderful interpretation of a great concept!

  7. 7 Danny Oct 9th, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Great fusion of homegrown R&B and Ethiopian melodies. Love the collaboration.

  8. 8 T.gebregzi Oct 9th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Somebody wrote againest the selling of land, he said that we Ethiopians are spiritual, that is the only thing I have and because of this deep root spirituality I am very proud.

  9. 9 Haile Selassie Oct 9th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    “Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the most high of creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other.” – Haile Selassie.

  10. 10 Ras Mitat Oct 9th, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    “I crave for knowledge
    I envy tolerant, peaceful folks.
    I am frightened by ignorance
    I loathe violence.”

    - Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, 1936-2006
    Poet Laureate of Ethiopia

  11. 11 T.Gebregzi Oct 21st, 2011 at 6:58 am

    I can not get enough reading specialy the last,one by Haileslassie and the second about the man I liked and admired,Tsgaye G.Medhin,I felt real blessed.T.Gebregzi.Thank you.

  12. 12 Yared Abraham Nov 4th, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I love it Selamino! Just can’t get enough of ur projects as I continue to learn from you, my big hero!! Please contine on updating me on your projects!

  13. 13 chefena Jan 20th, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Semamino
    Please keep up speaking your guitar language which you have been doing eloquently well to link the local with the global you are a wonderful transnational artist and a warm social being.
    Trihus beAl Timket

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