In DC, Ethiopian Jazz Supergroup Feedel Band Is Keeping Traditional Sounds Alive

Feedel Band has been playing in the District since 2010. (Abebe Tegegne)


Selam Berhea

Ethiopian Jazz Supergroup Feedel Band Is Keeping Traditional Sounds Alive In The District

Cutting through the chatter of passersby on 18th Street deciding where to eat or waiting in line at Songbyrd, the sound of a saxophone floats from Bossa Bistro + Lounge. It is the first Thursday of the month, and that means Feedel Band is playing.

Inside, about 20 people are gathered to see them, some of whom have been coming to Feedel’s shows since the band’s residency first started six years ago.

“It took two years to convince [the band members to do the residency], they were not used to playing Ethiopian jazz,” says Araya Woldemichael, Feedel’s founder. “We were just backing up popular singers for so many years.” Things changed after Feedel played its first show at the African Jazz Festival in 2011. “We got a very amazing response from the audience.”

Feedel Band is something of an Ethiopian jazz supergroup, made up of seven musicians with unique track records. Some have played for diplomats, for heads of state, and in music venues around the world. And for the past six or seven years at Bossa, their residency has been a chance to see top musicians of Ethiopian jazz and funk right in D.C.

Saxophonist Moges Habte, for example, was a former member of the popular Walias Band, whose 1977 album with vibraphonist Hailu Mergia, Tche Belew, remains one of the most well-known Ethiopian jazz records. Walias Band was also the first Ethiopian band to tour the United States in 1981. After the band split in 1983, Habte was one of the four members who chose to stay in the U.S. He spends his time with his six grandchildren, drives for Uber, and plays shows with Feedel.

Woldemichael, Feedel Band’s pianist and organist, has performed with the Black Eyed Peas, and was part of the band that backed up Beyonce when she performed in Ethiopia for the country’s millennium celebrations. He got his start playing music in church, and in the ’80s he studied music theory and composition in Moscow. He came to the U.S. in 1989, and has played music in D.C. ever since.

Feedel formed in 2010, and is named after the Ethiopian alphabet. The seven musicians had known each other for years from playing backup for the same singers in D.C. and around the world, including Mahmoud Ahmed, Aster Aweke, and Tilahun Gessesse, as well as pop artists. After years of backing up singers, Woldemichael decided to form an instrumental act.

“We just thought, ‘Why are we waiting until they call us? Why don’t we do something ourselves?’” Habte says.

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