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Musician inspired by the swinging era

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Addis is a city with expanding jazz scene, and live jazz performances are increasingly becoming regular club and festival events. One of the foremost talents is Girum Mezmur, a musician itching to grab inspiration from the 50’s and 60’s swinging era. The Addis Acoustic Renaissance Group that he has formed with some old timers and young talents is getting a reputation. During a concert in the Ethiopian Music Festival held at Hager Fikir Theatre last year, the Group presented pieces from the 50’s and 60’s which received critical acclaims for triumph of taste and forming a musical link between the past and present. The Group’s clubs engagements are also getting quite of reputation.

Though trained in classical piano, the 34 year-old Girum is known for his guitar playing, characterized by a fusion of the idioms of jazz and popular music.

Girum loved music from an early age and he often said he was lucky enough to grow up in a musical family. His brothers used to play different instruments and their love of music rubbed off on him. Following his brothers footsteps, Girum began learning to play the guitar and accordion in his teens.

“It is not like they told me to do this or to do that. I just grow up watching them play. I took up that tradition,” he told Infotainment magazine once.

His parents encouraged him to develop his talent and let find his own musical direction. Girum did high school at the exclusive all-boys St. Joseph school where he came to join the school band and started playing in group. Singing in the band boosted Girum’s confidence and gave him an important outlet of his time and energy. Over the course of the next years, Girum was offered more opportunities to perform.

At 17, he joined the Axumite band as a guitarist. Two years later, the aspiring musician decided to join Yared Music School  to get some music experience in order to nurture his growth. But at Yared there was no guitar lesson, so he settled for a piano. All the same, his skill increased with the experience he gained from attending the school.

After graduating from Yared, he teamed up with two of his old friends, Teddy Afro and Shewanday Hailu to form Afro Sound Band, a band that later on got recognition for their performances at Coffee House. Girum became skilled in changing the sound of his guitar to echo the emotions of a song. And it was him Girum who produced Shewandaye Hailu’s album. Years later, Girum also produced records of Abeba Desalegn and Henock Abebe which are noted for their marvelously clear, harmonically impeccable guitar style.

Girum’s brainchild the Addis Acoustic Renaissance Group is working to release album of that would include the very best elements of the 50’s and 60’s classic songs with a contemporary feel in a way that that could appeal to a local and international audience.

Members of the group are well known-names like the Berkeley graduate Henok Temesgen (double bass), Natnael Tessema,( percussion) and Ayele Mamo (mandolin) and Dawit Ferew (clarinet).

Girum said that he wanted to make sure that the arrangement sound authentically Ethiopian, using acoustic instruments which were popular in those days. 

Their album is one to watch; from their performances so far one can see they are capable of long stretches of musical brilliance.

(photo courtesy of Ayda) 

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Categories: Music
  1. Sawel
    April 12, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Big ups Girume!

  2. Sawel
    April 12, 2009 at 7:35 pm
  3. April 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    No guitar lessons at Yared? I can’t believe it! It is no wonder that Ethiopian music has lost its luster since the mid-70’s. Ethiopian musicians need to rediscover the guitar (both acoustic and electric) if they are to be relevant on the world music stage. Thank you Arefe for sharing this story!

  4. Mamitu
    April 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I love Girum’s music and his humility. His nephew Abera Alemu is also a good guitarist in the US. I remember him when he was still in the Sanjo band and even then you can tell he had great potential.

  5. micheal alazar
    October 18, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    from my understanding most of the music if not all came from the roots of jazz and blues in the usa and subsequently spread all over the world. It is very encouraging to hear guitarist Girum henok abegaz nat etc, to be on the right truck. Its good to have bands but band exclusiveness can have its draw back I believe it is very essential for the growth of jazz in addis to mix and jam each other. the second thing i want to add is of course eventually this will lead to produce an authentic ethio jazz sound to the ears of the world. I have heard some of you guys you are good and i hope to hear the rest of you someday. god bless you all.

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