Girum Mezmur: playing for the resurgence of the ethio-jazz

Off to Ethiopia as we’re starting our little #JazzaBM tour to meet one of the greatest guitarists of East Africa, who’s personally contributed to the resurgence of ‘ethio-jazz’


Addis Ababa: a world class jazz place

As we’re starting our little ‘Jazz focus’, the idea is to get you travel in Jazz through the world, introducing some brilliant but rather less known artists (or are they, really?!)

And this week we’re flying to East Africa to meet Girum Mezmur in Ethiopia!

You’ve said Ethiopia…but isn’t Ethiopia the cradle of rastafaris and a reggae place? It totally is. But as usual a culture is a billion time richer than it looks. At actually Ethiopia, or at least Addis Ababa the capital city, is on the top of the world Jazz places.

It’s called ‘ethio-jazz’, fusion of ‘classic’ jazz and traditional music, and was created back in the 60’s by Ethiopian artist Mulatu Astatké, when the instruments like the saxophone first arrived in Ethiopia. Technically it’s a mix between the sophisticated Jazz scales with 12 tones and the pentatonic scales of Ethiopian traditional music. It’s absolutely unique, and although it’s been threaten to disappear few times in the past, it’s very thanks to one man, Girum Mezmur, that it’s still alive!


The only music school in the country did not have a guitar department

Like many musicians, Girum fall in love with music when he was a kid. He really wanted to play the guitar, but the only music school in the country, Addis Ababa University’s Yared School of Music, did not have a guitar department. Not discourage a penny, Girum graduated in 1997 with a minor in Krar (the traditional Ethiopian string instrument), a major in piano, and teached himself how to play the instrument.

Considered as one  of the best guitarists of East Africa, Girum went touring abroad. And strength through few trips in Europe, he moved back to Ethiopia to get involved in many projects notably playing a key role in the resurgence ‘ethio-jazz’.


 The New Ethiopian Jazz Scene

After the communist regime, the music scene was barely surviving. Girum, while teaching at Yared, launched the ’Thursday Jam sessions at Coffee House’, one of Addis Ababa’s jazz houses from the old days. This had two consequences. First to put the students on stage. And secondly to settle the audience back into listening to live music.

Girum also has his own projects, including the ‘Addis Acoustic Project’. Created in 2008 the objective is too resurrect popular tracks from the 1950s and 60s and re-arranged by Girum to make them accessible to listeners of all ages and backgrounds.

‘Addis Acoustic Project’ plays in the iconic Jazzamba Lounge Club,which aims at showcasting Ethiopian artists, financially support them and pays for scholarships for students of the Jazzamba School of Music.

Or played should I say, because that iconic Jazz place burned in 2015. But as Girum has mentioned in an email:

‘it’s a tragedy; but we’re not down yet. Ethio-jazz is like a phoenix, it will get back from its ashes’

And truth is, we will see each other at Karmakol Festival in Sudan this December !


A complicated situation about freedom & music in Ethiopia

Even if the situation is complicated in Ethiopia nowadays, especially when it comes to freedom & support of music, Girum is a proper Ethiopian & modern African music ambassador, and proudly on our fair music streaming platform !

And to put you in the real atmosphere we’ve got in our discography some live recording of an Addis Acoustic Project’ gig in 2012 at the Jazzamba Club! Totally collector 🙂

Listen & support here on Bustle Music:


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