Wudasse Brings Back Sounds of Ethio Jazz

Above: Their album, Wudasse, “heard from the front stoops of
a brownstone in Harlem, feels very much like the crisp sounds
of summer jazz.”

Tadias Magazine
CD Review
By Nebiyu Kebede Shawel

Updated: Thursday, December 10, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Wudasse is the brainchild of Ethiopia’s bass legend Fasil Wuhib, paired perfectly with the emerging virtuoso Jorga Mesfin on sax & keyboard and Teferi Assefa, the seamless polyrhythmic drummer.

Wudasse’s debut album titled Selam (Amharic for peace) is piloted with great deft and command. Selam’s bold inroads into jazz is accomplished by the impeccable performances of Ahsa Ahla on percussion, Dale Sanders on guitar and David Bass on Baritone sax, alto sax and flute.

The Music
This is a momentous occasion after decades of stagnation in the Ethiopian music scene, during which uninspiring regurgitation of music from the “classic era” stifled creativity and left the pallets of many music lovers unfulfilled.

The last few years have witnessed a slow but steady shift in the opposite directions. Led by groups such as Wudasse and Bole 2 Harlem, this nascent revolution in Ethiopian music, towards originality and authenticity, shuns the superficial boundaries set by unauthenticated music producers perched atop a musical hierarchy with a jaundiced view of what constitutes marketable music. We will demand more!

The popularity and genius of musicians of “the classic era” as well as their contributions to Ethiopian popular music cannot be denied. The Nostalgic feelings evoked by these artists and their music, however, should not obscure the work of bands such as Wudasse, who are forging a new way forward, by returning to the originality and authenticity, which are hallmarks of the classic era.

The Album

The arts, notably music, have always been at the frontiers and at the root of a cultural identity. Music has always been a forum where intricate negotiations occur within and between cultures. Music sets the tone for a respectable and equitable transmission of cultures. This quality enables music to create a distilled and romantic self -portrait, from a delicate collage of different cultural influences.

Selam, Wudasse’s debut album, demonstrates how this process works by using familiar Ethiopian jingles and a gentle, uninterrupted mingle with jazz, to lure the listener deeper into a far-reaching album.

Opening track, Megemeria (Amharic for the beginning), revolves around a recognizable melody, which creates a comfortable buffer zone for a pleasant musical journey. An engaging conversation between the saxophone, percussion and guitars, is the central building block of this track. The intensity of this conversation is punctuated, at key junctures, by superb virtuoso excursions of each instrument.

Title track Selam, possesses an awesome power to evoke and provoke listeners into roundtable discussions. Selam, which is sixteen minutes long, provides ample room for experimentation and lengthy virtuosos. The track fluctuates between the cadence of a serious jazz work and the relaxed, intimate atmosphere of a jam session of musicians intimately familiar with each other’s vibe.

As Jorga Mesfin on Sax and Dave Bass on Baritone flaunt their Fukera (war call) style dialogue, intruding occasionally into the discussion is the Idir trumpet used to summon the town’s attention and a major cultural bridge in this composition. Bassist Fasil Wuhib responds to the idir’s call, by coaxing chords of the spiritual beguena from his bass guitar, while simultaneously keeping a close leash on Teferi Assefa’s unbounded drumming. Midway through the composition, the flute makes an entry to warn us all about the virtues of peace, accompanied by ruminations from keyboard and percussions. The dust finally settles in a chorus of peace, Wudasse Selam!

Track four, Ete Mete, is an adaptation of a childhood song about a girl’s coming of age, in which her suitor promises to abandon his marriage and elope with her, Ete mete yelomi shita, ya sewye minalesh mata? ……tidarun feto lewsedish alegne….

This track is littered with snippets, which point to the seamless chemistry prevalent within the group on this particular endeavor. A fabulous bass line, laden with chords, and soaring lyrical phrases across bar lines by the Saxophone, beckon to more than just a casual listen.

They are an invitation to delve deeper into the meaning of this song, an exercise that, in my view, has been obscured by the mere fact of its popularity within Ethiopian society. Throughout this meditation, as guitarist Dale sanders deftly drives a slim nail into a crystal ball with precession so not to shatter the glass, the rhythm section, hindered by no such constraints, is constantly stepping on the accelerator.

Heard from the front stoops of a brownstone in Harlem, it feels very much like the crisp sounds of summer jazz, versatile enough to create room for coexistence between the upstairs neighbor’s pulsating turntables and the chorus of young girls from Ethiopia chanting, Aywesdishim tidarun feto melolegnal gasha toroon defto…

The lyrical and abstract hypnotic sounds of the Imbilta (long mono note horns), alongside that of drums, play the dual role of keeping time while making time irrelevant, in Aba Gerima a soulful pearl which tops off Wudasse’s debut album.

This album is not only a tour de force as debut albums go; it thrusts Wudasse into a distinguished group of musical innovators, noticeably absent in the Ethiopian musical orbit over the past decade.

About the Author: Nebiyu Kebede Shawel is a writer currently residing in Harlem, New York.

The album reviewed above is available for sale on-line at cdbaby.com and additional information on the artists’ bio is available at wudasse.com

6 Responses to “Wudasse Brings Back Sounds of Ethio Jazz”

  1. 1 Charles Boyer Jan 16th, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Liked your review. Caught Wudasse on Utube and they’re terrific. I’m hoping to hear a lot more of them.

  2. 2 Frank Aug 29th, 2008 at 3:21 am

    From a Jimi Hendrix-wannabe to Funkadelic and fusion jazz fanatic (in the mid-late 1970s)to playing with R&B group “D Train” (circa 1983), guitarist Dale Sanders is a mere shell of his former self (compared to how and what he plays now).

    A mere shell of his former self…


  3. 3 Lex Jul 29th, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Where can you buy this CD?

  4. 4 Luxe Aug 12th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I stumbled upon Wudasse on YouTube & I bought the album on iTunes.


    Good work guys! And I look forward to hearing more of your work!

  5. 5 Tewbel Dec 21st, 2009 at 4:06 am

    They are fantastic. This is some great jazz! Hurray for Wudasse! Ethiopian genius at its best.

    I love you – Betalak Akbirot

  6. 6 John Osborn Feb 11th, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I just got turned on to Wudasse by a friend in Sacramento, CA. First of all, I can’t believe no one’s left a reply since December of 09′….which I sincerely hope is wrong. Neverheless, if you love great music, how come you’re not here on this site, demanding more of it? Wudasse is “the bomb”.

    Am I dating myself here using that phrase. Well, if I am, to hell with it. Until the younger generation finds something better, I’ll keep using it.

    But that’s not the real reason I’m here. The reason I’m here is because I am the Executive Producer of an Annual Jazz & Art Festival in Springfield, Massachusetts and I would be honored to introduce my audience to these extraodinary musicians. If there’s any one out there that knows them – or how I can contact them, please pass on my info. I’d be very grateful.

    John G. Osborn
    President/Artistic Director
    Hoop City Jazz, Inc.
    215 Norfolk St.
    Springfield, MA 01109

    As for any other readers of this message, I’m doing my thing July 8th,9th & 10th. Go to the website, scout around and see how I do what I do. But even more importantly, swing though, mention you read this message and I’ll make sure you have an good time. I promise!

    Peace…I’m out!

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