Interview: Debo Band

“If George Clinton had come from Ethiopia instead of outer space, the result might have been what Debo Band gives you.” — The Boston Globe

Debo Band

Kicking off this year’s African Summer at The Cedar is Debo Band, an eleven piece ensemble that has won rave reviews for their groundbreaking take on Ethiopian pop music, which incorporates traditional scales and vocal styles, alongside American soul and funk rhythms, and instrumentation reminiscent of Eastern European brass bands.

We spoke to band leader Danny Mekonnen in advance of Debo Band’s show at The Cedar with Hustle Rose on Friday, July 8th.

Q: How did you choose your band name? What does it mean to the group and how you work together?
A: We chose our band name because it’s an archaic Amharic meaning “collective effort, communal labor,” which reflects the way our band works and our interest in digging into Ethiopian cultural history.

Q: What was the process of pulling together your current lineup?
A: Historically the band has been comprised of a group of friends from Jamaica Plain’s community of artists and musicians who came together around our shared love of music and food from Ethiopia. Our current lineup includes a founding member and violinist based in Addis Ababa, a new guitarist based Chicago, a saxophonist based in Brooklyn, and a number of Boston-area based musicians who’ve been with the band for several years.

Q: How does your sound stay tied to its Ethiopian influences even as it continues to grow and change?
A: At our core, our sound is rooted in the music of 1970s Ethiopia. Though all of us juggle multiple projects, and the band brings together musicians from a broad range of interests and backgrounds, we’re committed to uniquely exploring these Ethiopian influences.

Q: What has been your most memorable performance?
A: Playing in Stone Town Zanzibar with our friends Fendika from Addis Ababa. It was so magical and we played in a fort overlooking the Indian Ocean!

Q: What’s inspiring you right now?
A: I am loving the work of Mikael Seifu, an Ethiopian producer making ambient electronic music in Addis Ababa. His recordings are richly layered and so creative!

Tickets ($18 advance, $20 day of show) are still available for Debo Band with Hustle Rose at The Cedar, Friday July 8th at 8pm.