Sunday, January 13, 2013

Six burning questions for ... Ethiopian Danny Atlaw of the J-Azmaris

Danny Atlaw (fourth from left) with J-Azmaris.

1. Your Melbourne-based Ethio-jazz ensemble, J-Azmaris, performs on January 20 at the Arts Centre with a legend of the genre, Mahmoud Ahmed. What's special about Ethiopian jazz?
We formed here two years ago with the purpose of promoting a distinctive sound in the Western jazz mix. The main difference from most jazz is we use a five-note scale, there are other five-note scales around in Asia and east Africa, but none is exactly the same as ours. We're also trying to blend in the traditional Ethiopian instrument, the masinko, which is like a one-string violin.
2. Mahmoud Ahmed performed with Haile Selassie's Imperial Guard band in the 1960s and received the BBC's World Music (Africa) Award in 2007. What does it mean to work with him?
He's simply a legend of Ethiopian jazz, of modern music there. He's part of Ethiopian history. I played two or three times with him back home in Addis Ababa before coming here and the chance again to work with one of the icons of the century is very exciting.

3. When did you first feel you were a musician?
When I first graduated from the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa. I was 21, playing trombone and piano and the traditional instruments the krar and masinko. Now, though, I play keyboards.
4. Who are your musical heroes?
Herbie Hancock, he's the one. I have most of his records. I also love the great composer-arranger Mulato Astatke. He's the father of Ethio-jazz, and he's been to Melbourne.
5. What are your favourite places to catch music in Melbourne?
I love being around Fitzroy … places like the Night Cat.
6. And favourite Ethiopian restaurants?
Cafe Lalibela in Footscray is great (Lalibela is an ancient holy city in northern Ethiopia). It's very good for the traditional recipes. You should ask for a combination to get a taste of all the dishes together.
Daniel's Top Five Ethio-Jazz Tracks
1. Bemen Sebeb Letlash, Mahmoud Ahmed, Album Ethiopiques, Vol.7 ( 1975)
2. Yekermo Sew (A Man of Experience and Wisdom), Mulatu Astatke, Album Ethiopiques, Vol.4 (1969-1974)
3. Netsanet (Liberty), Mulatu Astatke, Album Ethiopiques, Vol.4. (1969-1974)
4. Tchero Aderi Negn, Alemayehu Eshete, Album Ethiopiques ,Vol .8:Swinging Addis (1969-1974)
5. Shellela, Getachew Mekuria, Album Ethiopiques, Vol 14
Mahmoud Ahmed and the J-Azmaris perform at the Arts Centre Playhouse on Sunday, January 20, at 5pm.