(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Debo Band, a large, Boston-based ensemble led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by charismatic vocalist Bruck Tesfaye, brings its groove-inducing style of “Ethio-pop” to Club B-10 at MASS MoCA on Saturday, April 16, at 8pm, culminating a day featuring the opening of three new exhibitions in the galleries.
The eleven-piece Debo Band expands upon the repertoire of Ethiopia’s golden era of Afropop. The band’s 2012 debut, released on Sub Pop to huge acclaim, offered some of the most infectious groove-based Ethio-funk ever recorded. Fans rave about Debo Band’s intricate styles, funky rhythms, deep guitar riffs, and authentic vibes. The group’s “Ethio-pop” is a revolutionary combination of African folk music and traditional funk.
Combining saxophone, trumpet, electric violin, 5-string violin, accordion, guitar, sousaphone, bass, drums, and vocals, the band serves up sounds for the dance floor.
Bandleader Danny Mekonnen grew up surrounded by Ethiopian music and studied ethnomusicology at Harvard University, which further cultivated his love of world music. In 2006, Mekonnen put together Debo Band and began playing older Ethiopian music from the 1960s and 1970s in neighborhood bars, loft spaces, and church basements in Boston.
In 2009, the band started writing original compositions, leading to its widely acclaimed self-titled debut album on Sub Pop in 2012. Debo Band has toured Ethiopia twice, and was featured at the largest music festival in East Africa, Sauti za Busara.
The Debo Band’s groundbreaking take on Ethiopian pop music, also called Ethiopiques, incorporates traditional scales and vocal styles alongside American soul and funk rhythms and instrumentation reminiscent of Eastern European brass bands. Debo Band has received broad critical praise from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and NPR, which placed the band’s debut album on its “50 Favorite Albums Of 2012” list.
The group’s highly anticipated sophomore album, “Ere Gobez,” is due out next month. It continues the band’s innovative approach to the Ethiopian musical past, keeping the spirit of the original without being beholden to it — but gets even wilder in its grooves and imagination.
Finding flights of fantasy in under appreciated historical moments, like Duke Ellington’s travels through Ethiopia or musical impact of Haile Selassie’s commitment of Ethiopian soldiers to the Korean War, “Ere Gobez” puts forward a bold work that reimagines Ethiopian popular music of the last forty years while also contributing powerful original compositions that add to the canon of funk and rock jams characteristic of the prolific 1970s Addis Ababa music scene.
Debo Band has been the recipient of grants by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, and the globalFEST Touring Fund and has been presented at diverse venues across North America, including Lincoln Center, Montreal Jazz Fest, and South By Southwest, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Bumbershoot, The Kennedy Center, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and globalFEST.
Debo have toured Ethiopia twice, appearing at both the Ethiopian Music Festival in Addis Ababa and Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar, the largest music festival in East Africa. In North America, Debo Band has shared stages with Gogol Bordello, Arcade Fire, Amadou & Mariam, (DJ) Questlove, The Family Stone, Antibalas, and Ethiopian great Tilahun Gessesse.
The evening of festivities begins at 5pm with an opening reception for three new museum exhibitions: Alex Da Corte: Free Roses; Sarah Crowner: Beetle in the Leaves; and The Space Between.
Dinner will be available from Lickety Split before and during the show. A full bar serves Berkshire Brewing Company beers and Berkshire Mountain Distillery spirits. Tickets are $10 for students, $16 in advance, $22 day of, and $28 preferred. The opening reception is free for members and $7 for not-yet-members. Tickets for all events are available through the MASS MoCA box office located on Marshall Street in North Adams, open 11am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays through June 24, 2016. Beginning June 25, the box office is open 10am to 6pm every day, with extended evening hours to 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 x1 during box office hours or purchased online at MASS MoCA. All events are held rain or shine.