Debo Band

Debo Band

Next Ambience, 2012

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


No one knows what to make of the term Ethio-jazz, and very few know what to make of Debo Band. This group sounds nothing like anyone has ever heard before. This is a collective that has its roots in the little-known Ethio-jazz musical movement that took place – in Ethiopia – in the late ‘60s but was fleeting, lasting all of less than a decade. But the sheer energy that this 11-piece ensemble packs in their music speaks the universal language of rhythm and will surpass all geographic and musical boundaries, even for those listeners who don’t consider themselves particularly receptive to “world music.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The word “Debo” is an archaic Amharic word that means “collective effort,” as per bandleader and band saxophonist Danny Mekonnen. And Debo Band is in the truest sense a collective. They are a group of musicians out of Boston that comprise disparate (Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian) origins, jamming out this awesomely cool concoction of Ethiopian music, jazz, funk, and rock. With its jazzy, free-flowing nature and the prominent horn section, Debo Band can be sort of equated with Dave Matthews Band, if a contemporary equivalent is to be sought to give a sense of familiarity to their music; however, Debo does make DMB sound like featherbrained pop fluff for sure.

Debo’s music is intense to say the least. The utterly electrifying vocalist Bruck Tesfaye sings with utmost passion, at times as if he is channeling Jello Biafra’s fieriness, shooting words out of a machine gun mouth in a beautifully strange language. The combination of the brawny brass section and the crazy time signatures on this album is like a freight train that delivers numerous hard and satisfying blows of sheer amazing moments.

However, the album’s red-hot spirited cuts – like “Akale Wube,” “Ney Ney Weleba,” and “Asha Gedawo,” to name just a few – are simply so phenomenal that their mellower counterparts “Yekefer Wegagene” and “Ambassel” sound weak and tepid, but only in comparison. This doesn’t do justice to these slower cuts, as this is a record without any mediocre numbers that couldn’t be any more perfect. This band and this album are truly special phenomena in music.

Rating: A

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