NEW YORK TIME-In Ethiopia’s Capital, a Resurgent Jazz Scene

Across town, the Ethiocolor Band, dressed in leopard-print costumes and clutching wooden spears, was launching into an expressive hunting dance from the small town of Konso, in Ethiopia’s southwest. Every other Friday, the music and dance troupe performs something of a cultural variety show for a rapt local audience at Fendika Azmari Bet, a cozy bar where colorful fabrics cover the walls and braided palm leaves decorate the ceiling.

 

Ethiopia has been home to azmari bets — taverns featuring sung comedy
accompanied by a lyre — for centuries, but what the Ethiocolor Band does at Fendika is quite different. Led by the charismatic Addis-born dancer Melaku Belay, the 13-member group has reimagined traditional Ethiopian culture for the 21st century, combining tribal dances and indigenous instruments with jazz, rock, theater and lots of costume changes. On a recent late night, the crowd that gathered around the dancers — wearing spiky wigs made from the hair of gelada baboons — was invited to show off their skills at the eskista, a shoulder-shaking jig.

CAPITAL- Ethiocolor releases debut album

The local band Ethiocolor is getting well known for bridging the gap between past and present by mixing old musical traditions with new ones and coming up with a new form of modern Ethiopian music.


The highly anticipated Ethiocolor debut album was released on Thursday September 25th at the Fendika Cultural Club.
The band that is known for their vibrant live shows combines the Azmari culture from the northern part of the country with other regional sounds, and by using amplified versions of traditional instruments, they are pioneering a new way of playing Azmari music.
Ethiocolor consists of three generation of musicians and singers using the Kirar (a kind of lyre), Bass Kirar, Washint (flute), Kebero (traditional drums) and Massinqo.

TADIAS-Ethiopian Artist Melaku Belay’s Quest to Save Fendika

If Ethiopia is to have a cultural dance ambassador, Melaku Belay will likely be a front runner. The New York Times described the leader of the Fendika dance troupe as “a happily superlative artist” following his live show here three years ago at the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors concert stating “The rhythmic virtuosity of Mr. Melaku was often astounding.” Raving about his Guraginya performance, the newspaper added: “Sometimes the feet alternated, sometimes he hopped, and on one occasion, while hopping brilliantly, he mimed strumming on the other leg, which he kept stretched out like a guitar…At the climax of one amazing dance cadenza, his own body became a trill — initiated, it seemed, from somewhere around the diaphragm and midspine, but with the whole body shaken into a blur — and then he began to
turn in a traveling diagonal across the stage.”

 

LE POINT- Musique maestro : Melaku Belay, une icône éthiopienne

"Petit, je ne marchais pas. Je dansais." À 34 ans, Melaku Belay est un artiste reconnu. Une icône en Éthiopie, un danseur que les festivals internationaux s'arrachent. Au Fendika, le temple de la musique éthiopienne d'Addis-Abeba, le danseur a vissé ses larges lunettes sur son nez. Il épluche de vieux vinyles de Mulatu Astaqe et Mahmoud Ahmed, deux chantres de l'éthio-jazz. Les musiciens accordent leurs instruments. La soirée n'est pas encore commencée. Melaku est assis sur un fauteuil tressé, caché derrière les cymbales. Les premiers clients s'entassent sur les banquettes de paille. Melaku ne leur prête pas attention. Seule la musique importe. Discret, humble, il ne cesse de sourire.

L'artiste maîtrise tous les pas de la tradition éthiopienne

GAFFA- Fendika Roskilde Festival, Gloria

Veloplagte etiopiske himmelstormere

Jeg har lige set et orkester i sin vorden. Et orkester, som er ved foden af noget, der kan blive meget stort og vidtrækkende. Jeg har nemlig set Fendika fra Addis Abeba i Etiopien. Og mage til livskraftig og veloplagt udveksling med sit publikum, er det længe siden, at jeg har set magen til.

De fem unge kunstnere, som udgør bandet skabte et show, som havde karakter af både romantisk overdrevet teater og en råpunket cirkusforestilling. For der var udråberen og danserne, Romeo & Julie i østafrikansk regi, en trommeslager, der leverede det mest orgiastiske på et trommesæt, der havde helt andre klange, end vi plejer at høre. Befriende, simpelthen.

ADDIS RUMBLE-Impromptu Addis: A Cinematic Portrait of Samuel Yirga and Melaku Belay

Melaku Belay is one of the sweetest souls I have ever met. I didn’t know him, but I had watched him dance at his traditional azmari bet‘Fendika’ in Addis (one of the best bars in the world!). He’s also in many video’s dancing with The Ex and with Getatchew Mekuria so I thought it would be great to work with him – to find a way to harness his energy into a very kinetic film – but also to show a bit of his skill at getting the people around him involved.

TCDAILY PLANET-Fendika dance collectively at the Cedar Cultral Center

Fendika put on a great show at the Cedar Cultural Club on Wednesday, July 10, getting the large crowd dancing and jumping and spinning all over the place. Before I went to the show I had never seen Fendika except for a video off the net. But I will plan to go anytime they come to the Twin Cities because I know it will be a great show that will make me feel like I have seen a band.

THE REPORTER-Clapping, dancing the night away
Ethiopia’ is a single by the renowned American rock band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This single was inspired when one band member visited Ethiopia and on his stay here performed at Fendika, and the energy he felt there inspired the band to do a song entitled ‘Ethiopia’.

This energy Red Hot Chili Peppers talks about is the feeling many feel when they come to Fendika located in Cazainchis (casa INCIS).

Once every fortnight on Fridays it is a common scene to see many people trying to get into the very small compound.

The small place is decorated with Ethiopian traditional garments like shemas and sefeds (straw trays.)  It is not only the music that is felt but the warmth of the people. (...)


As the owner of Fendika, Melaku Belay thinks one of the reasons is the introduction of the new cash register system.

He remembers twenty years ago how the Azmari places were famous, where the older generation used to come and the poems they used to give for Azmaris were matured ones. And also ten years ago all the Azmari places were flourishing; now most of the businesses have changed.

Melaku somehow tried to give new meaning to Azmaris, paying the Azmaris, since their livelihoods was totally dependent on rewards from the customers.

His dream was to see clubs, which are distinctive to areas like Konso,
Kunama and established Ethio color band with Missale Legesse and Endris,which can represent all the diversity like Konso, Kunama and Somal

YOUR PUBLIC MEDIA- Ethiopian Music And Dance Ensemble "Fendika" To Perform In Connecticut- October 05 2012

"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"

ADDIS STANDARD-Melaku Belay ,an acclaimed traditional dancer

Many refer to Melaku Belay as one of Ethiopia’s most famous traditional dancers. They are not wrong. The 36 year old who speaks modestly about his wealth of experience has now formed a traditional band named Ethio-color. The troupe has returned to Ethiopia from a successful tour
in Spain in July 2012.  Melaku performs with the band at Fendika,a local bar, once in a fortnight on Fridays. The small place, which is located off Zewditu Street, is packed with people who want to see the performance and without a doubt is a top choice for Addis Ababa’s traditional dance and musical entertainment.

EL PAIS-Etiopía Vis à Vis: en busca de nuevos talentos musicales- February 13 2012

Más tarde, de vuelta en Fendika, surgió la otra sensación del festival para los programadores españoles: la actuación de Ethiocolor, un grupo liderado por Melaku Belay,quien precisamente administra el Fendika. Es un proyecto que reúne a varios bailarines, músicos y cantantes etíopes tradicionales. Lo más llamativo es la danza en la que dos mujeres y dos hombres -incluido Belay- realizan un despliegue físico abrumador en la que destaca la 'eskista', un movimiento muy enérgico de hombros y cuellos.
A través del baile, los artistas representan escenas de la vida rural etíope -como una gallina que camina en busca de agua- y también muestran escenas de la vida social, como una 'lucha' entre los dos bailarines por el favor de una mujer.

EL MUNDO- Música etíope de la mano de Casa África- February 9 2012

Creado por el bailarín Melaku Belay, Ethiocolor sorprendió a los programadores por la intensidad y modernidad de su música tradicional, el nivel de su baile y la energía que transmiten en sus conciertos y actuaciones

ADDIS RUMBLE- Building bridges: the potential of making the contemporary move through tradition.

Melaku Belay welcomes us to his apartment in Addis a few hours before his next performance at the Fendika Azmari Bet. We have sat down with him to a talk about the potential and future of traditional dance in contemporary Ethiopia, and takes off with his most recent project, the video Ahun (“Now”). In Ahun, Melaku takes the dance from the usual venues and into the urban environment, and to the supposedly largest market in Africa, Mercato.

THE REPORTER-Dancer's saturday- January 07 2012

With their big hit, “Californication,” the renowned American Rock band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, were able to transcend boundaries through his music.

And recently the band included a song called “Ethiopia” in their new album. This song was inspired by their stay in Ethiopia, specifically a small traditional place known as Fendika.

Collaborating with the dancer, choreographer and owner of Fendika, Melaku Belay, the band performed there a couple of years back.

NEW-YORK TIMES-Where Feet, Beat and Joy All Soar Funkily- 12 August 2011

(...) It was a delight to watch them both, and the rhythmic virtuosity of Mr. Melaku was often astounding. He can turn either the upper or the lower body into an electrifying vehicle of rapid pulsation. One dance was all to do with his throwing his feet out before him (as if on hot coals). Sometimes the feet alternated, sometimes he hopped, and on one occasion, while hopping brilliantly, he mimed strumming on the other leg, which he kept stretched out like a guitar. (...)

THE REPORTER-Mercato through movements-04 June 2011

One such artist is Ethiopian dancer and choreographer, Melaku Belay. The dancer says that he likes to define life through movements.

“I only understand Mercato through its sounds. For me the place is one big pot of musical rhythms, which for others might only be a bunch of disturbing noises,” Melaku declares.

His inspiration and understanding of Mercato has led the dancer to come up with a seven-minute video clip entitled ‘Ahun’ (now).

THE REPORTER-Getting to know Melaku Belay-16 April 2011

“It’s an amazing, life.  It’s beautiful.” Melaku Belay, the legendary dancer and owner of seminal Azmari Bet Fendika in Kazanches, looks off into the distance as if he’s replaying his whole life up to now...

 

 

BBC folk- Ethiopia-26 February 2010

Another inspirational individual we met was a man called Melaku Belay. Melaku was a Sudanese refugee. His family was dispersed, and he ended up as an orphan and street kid in Addis Ababa. To survive he danced for tips at a music club, where he asked if he could sleep on floor. He managed to earn enough tips to eventually buy the club - an amazing feat! He is now a world famous dancer, performing with the Ethipiques, yet he always comes home to dance in his club and invest in the community. 

 

FORTUNE-"Astounding Azmari Bet strikes"-07 November 2009

One of the most famous azmari bets is Fendika in Kazanchies, Addis Abeba, owned by famous dancer Melaku Belay. Here, one can experience the azmari and his merrymaking in the traditional style.(...)

At Fendika, guests may be lucky enough to experience the genius of Melaku’s dances. He worked his way up from being a street kid who could dance, to dancing for nine years at Fendika earning only tips, to owning it as well as dancing and working with many musicians from countries all around the world.

RFI-''L'art et l'audace des regards sur l'Ethiopie''-22 July 2010

(....)Le dialogue se poursuit avec uKanDanZ, un groupe français qui joue de la musique éthiopienne avec un chanteur éthiopien et la star de la danse éthiopienne, Melaku Belay. Il mêle la danse traditionnelle avec du rock et du jazz et il se produit en France, Canada, Afrique et Etats-Unis.

SOUNDCLASH-''Bringing Addis to America''- 28 Sept 2010

I know that Melaku, the dancer and owner of the Fendika azmari bet, if you look at his website and read his bio, something that he talks about is that he’s not looking at the tradition in a very static way. He’s an innovative dancer. Rather than being in the cultural troupes of Addis, being at the tourist restaurants where you see all the flavours of Ethiopia in one hour, I feel that what Melaku is doing with his Ethio-color band, a 13-piece band that does folkloric music, and what he does with his performances alongside half a dozen groups from Europe and abroad like the Ex and all these other projects, I think that he’s really taking the tradition and pushing it to its limits

TADIAS MAG-Debo Band Gears Up for U.S Tour With Fendika-18 Aug 2010

(....)Fendika’s group leader Melaku Belay – the traditional dancer who accompanied saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya and the Dutch band the Ex at the historic 2008 outdoors show at NYC’s Damrosch Park – “has established himself as the top dancer in Ethiopia with more than 40 international concerts in the last three years, including performances at Chicago’s Millennium Park and New York City’s Lincoln Center,” the band said in a press release. “One of the most active artists on the Addis Ababa scene today, Melaku is an ardent supporter of Ethiopia’s diverse musical traditions and a savvy cultural entrepreneur who manages his own nightclub and is developing his own institute for the arts.”

THE REPORTER-'' Drop me at Fendika''- 10 Sept 2010

The contemporary club scene in Addis has been overflowing with Jazz music. Even on week days one can easily find clubs that play exclusively jazz and jazz-fusion. (....)Melaku Belay, a dancer and choreographer, and two of his friends Misale Legesse and Idris Hassen    established a band called Ethio-color hoping to demonstrate the diversified culture of Ethiopia.

 

 

WORD MUSIC by Petr Doruzka- "Rudolstadt festival" - September 06 2010

(...) Další “balíček” byl směrován naopak k etiopským kořenům. Skupina Azmaris of Addis je průvodcem všemi barvami místní tradice. Jedním z frontmanů není hudebník, ale tanečník Melaku Belay, navzdory svému mládí tvůrce vyzrálý a zkušený - s jeho taneční partnerkou ho spojuje 13 let společné profesionální dráhy. Pozoruhodné je, že jeho kreace nemají folklorní pachuť, stejně dobře by vyzněly i v kontextu nějakého experimentálního představení.

WORD MUSIC by Petr Doruzka- "Festival des musiques d'Ethiopie" - August 16 2010

(...) Etiopané, podobně jako třeba Indové, mezi tancem a hudbou nerozlišují, a tak nás nepřekvapí, že vedoucím Ethiocolor není muzikant, ale tanečník Melaku Belay. I když procestoval půl světa a videa jeho skupiny najdete na YouTube, jeho životní osudy jsou šokující. Vyprávěl mi o nich v klubu Fendika,
dle médií “hudebním srdci Addis Abeby”, který byl dějištěm nočních festivalových jam sessions. Zapomeňte na západní underground, protože pokud si některý z hudebních klubů naší planety toto označení přivlastňuje, nárok má jedině Fendika, jejíž drsná vizáž harmonicky splývá s okolními slumy. Zvenčí vlnitý plech, zevnitř útulná křivolaká místnost velikosti dvou obýváků s barem, u kterého se čepuje sytě žluté a osvěžující etiopské víno tej vyráběné po domácku z medu.

FOCUS- "Festival Esperanzah 2010" - August 09 2010

(...) S’ils sont une dizaine, côté cour, pour épauler LA Légende vivante, tout le monde après coup parle surtout du danseur élastique. Contorsionniste à la transe communicative. Rien de tel pour accompagner Aynamaye Nesh et secouer un public enthousiaste. « Le langage corporel est plus direct et spontané que les mots et la musique, » lance le très zen (du moins à la ville) « Traditional Dancer » Melaku Belay en nous glissant sa carte de visite dans les jardins de Floreffe où on le croise pendant le concert de Goran Bregovic.

NOT FOR TOURIST-"Getatchew Mekuria & the Ex + Guests au Café de la danse" - June 7 2010

(...) Lorsqu’un danseur d’Eskesta investit la scène, il ne manque pas de susciter autant d’admiration que d’excitation sur un public qui cherchait depuis le début comment donner une illustration gestuelle de la musique et trouve enfin une réponse dans ses mouvements dissociés et saccadés d’une maîtrise incroyable…Et lorsqu’il invite le chanteur de The Ex à l’imiter dans une sorte de danse guerrière, on s’émeut presque de la complicité qui unit ces deux artistes.

CAPITAL-"Jazzing up eskesta with a gallic touch "-January 2010

(...) The two dancers, Melaku Belay and Zenash Tsegaye, assisted the group with coming up with original tunes incorporating the unique Ethiopian rhythm -eskesta. The group says it successfully worked to integrate eskesta into new forms based on traditional azmari numbers.The second group, the Addis Ababa Ethiocolor group, brings multi-ethnic Ethiopian dance and songs in a dynamic showcase of the country's cultural diversity. The group's founder, Melaku, says his band serves as a showcase ofEthiopia's culture injected with artistic passion.

COUNTERFNORD- The EX, Getatchew M. & Melaku Belay concert at the Cabaret Sauvage- Sept 12 2008

(...)And then there was Melaku Belay. His first appearance was all about shoulder shaking, and he even brought a guy from the audience on stage, possibly from Ethiopia as well from the shoulder moves. His second involved an amazing display of balance while throwing his legs up and front, and of humor when he grabbed his outstretched leg and air guitared with it while Terrie and Andy were in full swing. He’s great as a dancer, but what made his performance so special for me was his interacting with the others.(...)