Elias Negash: Fusing Contemporary Western Melody With Ethiopian Music

A sure place to find Elias Negash, an accomplished Ethiopian musician, is in his Oakland Hills state-of-the art recording studio, where he creates, mixes, and produces innovative sounds for himself and other aspiring musicians. He has equipped his studio with the latest technologies ranging from diaphragm microphones to top-of-the-line simultaneous track recorders and acoustically well-padded walls and floors. It is no surprise to find Elias surrounded by the latest music technologies. He has had music in his heart and fingertips since the tender age of six when he started to stroke piano keys.

Inspired by his mother who was also a pianist, Elias formed his first group in the 1960’s. He continued to hone his skills through the 1970s and became one of the pioneering figures to bring reggae music to the Bay Area with the smash hit group Obeah and The Rastafarians. It wasn’t long before he started to work and perform with international stars including Dennis Brown, Linda Ronstadt, Steele Pulse, and Third World. He has also musically contributed to hit shows such as “Murder She Wrote” and Natalie Cole’s “Big Break”. Elias also composed the soundtrack for the movie “Glitz”, starring Jimmy Smits and Markie Post. In addition to the extensive collaborative work with many musicians, Elias has traveled the globe playing for thousands of people on cruise ships and large stadiums alike. His music has inspired listeners across the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

In 1997, Elias released his first instrumental CD entitled “Fikir” (which is Amharic for “Love”). Elias takes classical love songs and applies jazz and reggae sounds to create a contemporary fusion. He followed up that extraordinary work with the release of “Harrambe” (Let’s Pull Together). Harrambe symbolizes the trajectory that Elias has taken in his musical journey. The title song, depicts his experience in Kenya, his formal training in jazz improvisation, and his penchant for combining American jazz with African melodies. Critics have raved about his ability to retain the melodic integrity of Ethiopian music while adding contemporary arrangements to create new sounds.

Today, Elias is a highly sought-after music engineer who provides his special keyboard skills to support the work of other musicians. In fact, he just completed a soundtrack performed by a thirty-piece orchestra for an AIDS documentary, “Zemad’s Journey with Professor Adugna Worku”. JJ Hollingsworth produced the soundtrack that aired on December 30th, 2003 on KCSM Channel 60, and which will be broadcast nationwide in the spring of 2004. Presently, Elias is putting together his next solo album while still consulting other musicians at his state-of-the-art recording studio.

For more information, you may contact Elias at: enegash@aol.com

Elias in his recording studio
Elias on grand piano
The Dashens, 1969, Addis Ababa
The Rastafariens, 1981, Santa Cruz

Internet links