Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brooklyn to Ethiopia: Doncker’s Musical Journey Featuring Gigi, Selam, Laswell

Tomas Doncker and Selam Woldemariam at the Blue Note in NYC on April 12, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Selam Woldemariam)

New York (TADIAS) – Brooklyn based musician Tomas Doncker’s upcoming album entitled Power of the Trinity, which features well-known artists hailing from Ethiopia including Gigi and legendary guitarist Selam Seyoum Woldemariam, is as much a tribute to Ethiopia and its history as it is a soulful blend of R&B, Blues and global urban sounds, reflecting the culturally eclectic neighborhood where he grew up. The CD also features Grammy award winning producer and Bassist Bill Laswell, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, and Electro-dub specialist Dr. Israel as well as reggae artist Tsegaye Selassie.
“Musically speaking, being able to work with Bill Laswell and Selam Woldermariam was like taking a journey into the heart and soul of Ethiopian Groove, ” Tomas Doncker said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. Bill Laswell was the producer of Gigi’s 2001 album, which propelled the vocalist to worldwide acclaim. Selam Woldermariam, also known as Selamino, was a member of the storied Ibex and Roha bands.
According to Tomas, a theater production on Emperor Haile Selassie and his role during World War II, following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, gave impetus to his new album. The play itself was never staged but inspired him to learn more about how the Emperor framed opposing colonialism as a global fight against fascism and racism. “I was asked to score a play called Power of the Trinity by N.Y.C. Playwright Roland Wolf and in my research I realized that collaborations with this particular group of artists would really capture and enhance the feeling that I was looking for,” Tomas said. “It was the most rewarding artistic experience of my life.”
Tomas says he fell in love with Selam Woldermariam’s work long before he met the guitarist, whom he says he discovered through one of the earliest editions of the Ethiopiques series – number seven– which spotlighted the award-winning singer Mahmoud Ahmed and the historical band Ibex.
“Tomas Doncker had this CD and was searching for musicians that played with Ibex in those days,” Selam told Tadias. “A common friend knew where I resided and told Tomas about it, that’s how we connected.”
The name of the album, Power of the Trinity, is the English translation of Emperor Haile Selassie’s name. The CD cover shows a globe embedded with a giant African map filled with a photo collage of the late emperor. Tomas Doncker’s own name is written using a combination of English and Geez alphabets. “Graphic Designer Michael Luciano and I worked very closely on this,” Tomas said. “We wanted to Highlight Ethiopia as being one of the most important places in world history, perhaps even the cradle of civilization. You can’t do that without making H.I.M. a focal point.”
Selam, who majored in History at Addis Ababa University and is currently researching “the music history of the Horn of Africa,” says the collaborative project is more than a nod to the former king. “As we all know Ethiopian music is now a fashion throughout the world,” he said. “It is not surprising to see bands whose members are mainly western musicians playing Ethiopian music repertory of the 60s and 70s.” He adds: “This phenomenon was partly the result of the distribution of Ethiopiques CD series, produced by a good friend, Francis Falceto. And, fortunately, I was part of the group known as ‘Ibex’ that performed during the early 70s at Ras Hotel. It included the renowned performer Mahmoud Ahmed and we recorded his Ere Mela Mela on LP which later became Ethiopiques number 7in 1989.”
For Tomas, it is also about crossing cultural boundaries. “I grew up in Brooklyn NY, in Crown Heights” he says. “I attended St. Ann’s school from 1st grade until the 12th grade. Crown Heights at that time was a very dangerous neighborhood. Lots of gangs and violence, but we still managed to maintain a sense of community, at least among the families on my block. Receiving a scholarship to attend St. Ann’s made it possible for me to meet people and learn about other cultures. It changed my life and helped to mold me into the artist that I am today.”

Regarding his new album Tomas said: “It is what I like to call a “global soul meditation” about Ethiopia and how I feel that we are all connected.”
Selam, who also served as a Production Consultant, worked on the Amharic translations for most of the compositions on the album. He described the genre of the new CD stating: “It is mainly a fusion work of Tomas’ compositions with Ethiopian rhythm and sounds. He uses the slow and fast Chik-chikarhythms on most of his compositions. This rhythm is extensively used in most Ethiopian music. Moreover, most horn sections on some of the tunes resemble the unique sound of Ibex Band from the Ethiopiques number seven volume. Therefore, I think we can safely label the new album as ‘global soul,’ a fusion of western R&B and African and Ethiopian music.”
Selam adds: “I would like to thank Tomas for dedicating his song, Seven Sons, in memory of Ibex.”

Thomas Doncker’s “Power of the Trinity” is tentatively scheduled to come out next week and will be available via the website, as well as on I tunes and