Interview: Krar Collective

Krar Collective Website Banner

Ethiopian trio Krar Collective is made up of krar player Temesgen Zeleke, kebero drummer Grum Begashaw, and vocalist Genet Assefa. Known as the “Ethiopian White Stripes,” the group is known for their big sound, grounded by the krar, a five-stringed lyre used in traditional Ethiopian music. Krar Collective gives a modern sound to this ancient instrument by amplifying it, giving it the same effect as an electric guitar. We spoke to the band in advance of their show Friday, July 22nd 2016 with local composer and guitarist Siama Matuzungidi.

Q: How did Krar Collective come together?

A: Temesgen: Grum and I knew each other in Addis Ababa as we both worked in the National Theatre. When we moved to London a long time ago we met our singer Genet who was singing pop music, and we persuaded her to learn traditional songs and dance.

Q: What is your process of modernizing traditional songs?

A: Temesgen: We sing the melody of the songs as it is traditionally but the electric krar makes the sound more rocky and we don’t use other traditional instruments in the band so it looks a little bit like a guitar and drums band. Otherwise we don’t really think we are making it modern because we don’t use keyboards or bass guitar, we just play the songs in a dynamic modern way. In Ethiopia people consider we are playing traditional not modern music.

Q: The krar has a history of being played in smaller venues, how have you adjusted your sound to the large festivals that you’ve been frequenting?

A: Temesgen: We use electric krar so of course the sound is louder for big stages. I had some nice pickups built into my krar. And we use some pedals like wah wah for special effects to suit the music.

Q: You also performed at The Cedar in 2013, how does it feel to be headed back, especially as a part of African Summer with a number of other big-name acts?

A: Grum: It’s really good to be in Minneapolis again. We have some friends here and know local Ethiopian singers too. It’s always great when a venue invites us back. Hopefully it means they loved our music. It’s really great to promote African music too. There is a lot of variety and Ethiopian music is not heard so much say as west African music so we are really proud to bring some back to The Cedar.

A: What role does dance play in your music?

Q: Genet: Dance is really appreciated in Ethiopia. Many modern pop songs have traditional dance featured in their videos. Dance is just natural and important for everyone, so we’re very happy when the audience dance with us, and even join us on stage.