Debo Band, Fendika | International | Chicago Reader

Debo Band, Fendika Free All Ages Soundboard

When: Sat., Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m. 2011

When the ten members of Debo Band took the stage at Martyrs' last fall, it looked like two or three different groups had all walked out at the same time by accident. On the left were an accordionist and a couple fiddlers you half expected to play an Irish jig, and on the right was a big horn section that looked fit for a Daptone Records revue. But it was the folks in the middle—a kit drummer and a dapper young fellow named Bruck Tesfaye who sang in mellifluous Amharic—who called the tune. Founder and baritone saxophonist Danny Mekonnen convened the ensemble five years ago in Somerville, Massachusetts, to play songs like Mahmoud Ahmed's "Belomi Benna," which he'd culled from the record collection of his Ethiopian immigrant parents. Debo Band took its engagement with its material to a new level in 2009, traveling to Addis Ababa to play the Ethiopian Music Festival; while there it commenced a partnership with Fendika, a troupe consisting of two dancers, a singer, and a traditional drummer. Fendika's members have mastered Ethiopian music's intricate grooves as well as an east African dance style called Eskista (which involves at least as many gyrations of the shoulders as it does the hips), and they're a nonstop source of energy onstage—during her turns on the mike, vocalist Selamnesh Zemene matches Tesfaye's fluency and tops him in authority. Tonight Fendika's leader, Melaku Belay, will give dance lessons from 6 till 7 PM. —Bill Meyer

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