In the past decade, West African sounds and rhythm have become part of America’s musical mainstream. Less well-known is music from East Africa which blends African drumming with Middle Eastern melodic inflections.
A music and dance ensemble will bring the sounds of Ethiopia to Connecticut this weekend.
Endris Hassan is practicing his single stringed fiddle called the masenqo. He's part of Fendika, a collective of musicians and dancers.
They hope to bridge the gap between traditional Ethiopian music and culture and contemporary life, says dancer Melaku Belay. "We learn from past from our father and mother and we put out talent to transfer from next generation."
Belay’s interest in dance began as an orphan on the streets of Addis Ababa. He started to work at a local club which he now owns called Fendika Azmari Bet. That means “House of Music”.
Belay says an Azmari singer is similar to a West African Griot. But the Azmari like to improvise clever lyrics about current events. "Griot, storyteller. But Azmari people, like a newspaper."
Melaku Belay has received international acclaim for his startling dance performances. He moves in the “eskista” style which isolates portions of the human body in ways that seem nearly impossible
"This instrument is called a krar. Krar means a string." Musician Seleshe Damessae says his instrument can be played in two ways. "One is you can sit on a chair, and also you can sit on a horseback and you play a lot of galloping strumming and you ride the horse and you play it that way."
Fendika also includes a drummer, singer and dancer. The ensemble performs tonight at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford and on Saturday at Lalibela Restaurant in New Haven.