Throughout history, live concerts by rock stars have provided unique and diverse entertainment to a global audience. In Ethiopia, however, it is only recently that rock ‘n roll live concerts have started to elate audiences to higher levels of music thrill unseen before. This opportunity came about when a group of young musicians were put together as Jano band, whose name is now a household acquaintance. And Saturday January 18th presented a packed full audience with that feeling of ecstasy when Jano held their second live concert at the Tropical Garden off Bole Road.
The stage was set in an open space with professional light and a sound system that brought Jano’s inherent vibe closer to perfection throughout the three hours long live performance. Initially planned to start at 8pm, the band made its first presence on the stage at exactly 10pm and the audience, who seemed to have understood the likely time when the band will be on the stage, slowly started to jam-pack the huge open apace.
But once the band members set foot on the stage, it suddenly felt like there were too many people in a small space. Hundreds of youngsters who connect with the youth and energy of the band members surged forward and back in one relentless wave like the wild waves of the ocean during a high tide.
An unusual encounter with many live concerts in Ethiopia, the giant speakers in and around the stage helped stream the bouncy sound of the band as clear as the night’s sky. It was astronomical. Every time the bass drum was struck, the crowed felt the impact as it continued screaming and jumping to match the tempo radiating from the band members on the stage. The floor beneath seemed to move with the beat of each song and the pulse that each sound produced felt like a current passing through one’s body. The unique and energetic 10-piece Jano band members made sure that throughout their presence, the stage remained a constant flurry of excitement with each experience deeply felt by the crowed like a festival of sensory overloads.
Born and raised in Ethiopia, the band’s members: Dibekulu Tafesse (vocals), Haleluya Tekletsadik (vocals), Hewan Gebrewold (vocals), Hailu Amerga (vocals), Kirubel Tesfaye (synthesiser), Michael Hailu (lead guitar), Gemechu Mezgebu (guitar), Gudeta Bezabih (bass guitar), Yohannes Mekonnen (drums), and Edward Gazeri (synthesiser), are all young, something that can be seen in the wild, yet captivating energy that echoes from their every movement.
While rock was a product of the 1950s, the genre was never a popular one in Ethiopia, a country where jazz is a more noticeable Western influence in local music than any other genre. But, Jano’s Amharic lyrics and its distinctive traditional beat bring rock ‘n roll close to an Ethiopian touch.
Music that transcends culture and time with a new rock edge is now shown by Jano, formed in 2011 with the mission to create a fusion of traditional Amharic music and to shape it into the future rock ‘n roll vibe. The members say they share a similar musical passion with each other since their early childhood days. In January 2012, the band completed its first full LP titled, Ertale, all written in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. Their music focuses on the topics of love, adventure, loss and the journeys we all take through life, played with the African rhythm of their youth as the backdrop to a new, vibrant rock sound.
The concert on Saturday Jan.18th witnessed the finest large-scale high-end audio system that showed what a difference a state-of-the-art stage setup can make in live concerts. Most important, the emotional connection between the audience and the music and the band’s ability to create and covey that made the whole night experience inherent in a musical performance.
As part of a yearlong tour sponsored by African liquor giant Diageo, band members will be travelling to cities they did not cover in their previous tour, according to Kirubel.
“The trend in our country’s artists is that once their album is released they promote it for a while and then release another album. But what we are trying to do is to promote our first album and perform on different stages then we will work on our second album”, he said. The band will release its second album in the next four to five months but it will release four single hits before releasing the album, Kirubel said.
This time the Jano band will tour to Gondar on February 1st, and Bahir Dar a week after that; but the days have not yet been decided for Dessie and Dire Dawa, two other cities the band is scheduled to perform. They are also planning on adding Nekemete, according to Addis Gessese, the band’s manager.
“We expect a huge crowd but we cannot predict how many people will be attending the concert because last year in Mekelle we planned for 1,500 people to show up but we had 7,000 people in the gathering”, Addis told Addis Standard.
The band was initially sponsored by a troubled real estate mogul Ermyas Amelga, founder of Zemen Bank and board chairman of Access Capital, who left the country after his real estate, Access Real Estate, went bankrupt. “We love and respect him [Ermiyas], we did not have any problems with him but due to his situation our communication is no more”, Addis told this magazine. “But there is nothing we are worried about. We are doing great”.
Whether or not rock recycles its genres to find its place in the history of Ethiopian music will now depend on the hard work from the members of Jano band, who are the first and so far only group to have dared the mix. Rock is a style that is constantly changing and Jano seems set to fine-tune itself just to that.
Photo: Mesfin Adugna