WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DO YOU MAKE?
I was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Brooklyn, and have lived for the past 14 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. These places are my sonic homelands and I make music that touches all of them. I am inspired by the unique melodies, rhythms and scales of Ethiopia. I am moved by the improvisation of Jazz.... the way it lets you make the music new every single time you play it, and the connection it gives me to the heart and history of the US. I am a singer-songwriter at the core, deeply influenced by that American folk ethos that anyone can sing their truth if they can strum a chord or two. Good music is good music. And if you look at anyone's favorite playlists these days, chances are you're not going to see only one genre. So why play only one genre?
You're from Ethiopia, Do you play WORLD MUSIC?
I make the music of in-between, striving for a sound connected to this time in history, when identities are blurring, and when we need concepts of global citizenship more than ever. I believe that all music is world music. My friend Marco Werman, host of PRI's The World, first said that to me when he booked me for his SXSW showcase of the same name in 2011. Rock music is world music... so is Jazz, Du-Wop, Hip-Hop, Classical.... so is Carnatic, Son Jarocho, Pizzica, High Life, and more. Get my drift? We cannot classify Western Music as outside of the World Music sphere without looking at histories of Colonialism that made us feel like Europe and North America are separate from the rest of the world. But humans need categories, so let's make some new ones up.....
SO IF I COME TO A CONCERT, WHAT WILL I HEAR?
Live shows are where we shine the most! It's all about bringing the music to the people! My new body of music, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, was inspired by Dr. Mulatu Astatke (the Godfather of Ethio-Jazz), who asked me one day in Addis why I was playing Ethio-Jazz as he and others had created it. He urged me make my own contribution to this music, and the songs are a response to that request. They are a danceable celebration of Ethiopian grooves and pentatonic melodies, with bumping horn lines and poetic impact. I play vocals, acoustic guitar and krar, and the band features upright and electric bass + trumpet + saxophone + drumkit + percussion. I dance a lot, and we hope you do too.
WHY DO YOU DO SO MANY COLLABORATIONS?
Music is collaborative at heart, and every collaboration is a chance to tap into a part of yourself that lies latent. Right now, I am focusing on my songwriting as it has been featured on When the People Move, the Music Moves Too. But I am bringing in everything that I have learned from my ensemble projects. It's a moment of culmination.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION
Music lies at the intersection of discipline and mystery. You must be moved to your core to compose from it, but then work diligently to bring that movement to a form that can be heard and enjoyed. Inspiration comes from everywhere: from the sense of a musically alive world, from the everyday sounds of nature, language, and the experienced environment.... from artists like Aster Aweke, Mulatu Astatke, David Byrne, Bjork, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Cesaria Evora, Caetano Veloso, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. I am also inspired by artists of multiple disciplines, including many visual artists - like James Turrell and Wangechi Mutu, writers - like my sister Meron Hadero, and poets - like Czeslaw Miloszas, as well as scientists like Jon Jenkins (who created the sonic light curves I turned into the StarGuitar) and otolaryngologist Charles Limb, who studies music and the brain.
WHAT IS A CULTURAL ACTIVIST? WHY DO YOU CALL YOURSELF ONE?
I believe in the pure need for music for its own sake. But I am also interested in the questions that music lets us ask about where we are at and where we want to go. That is my definition of a cultural activist. Check out this website's section on Culture Projects to learn more about what I've got going on in that sphere.