Introducing Yeshi Demelash
One of the less know sources of fascination in Ethiopia is the country’s widespread drive inn culture. There seems to be no limits to what can be done in a car in Addis. Drive inn movies, dinners and coffees are so last century. Here we are talking drive inn meetings, parties etc. So it came as little surprise that my interview with one of the brightest new stars on the Ethiopian music sky, Yeshi Demelash, took place in her tiny car outside a Kaldi’s café with dozens of street vendors and beggars fighting for our attention during our chat. I met Yeshi a few days before her performance at the 2012 edition at the brilliant Selam Festival taking place 8-9 December in the garden of one of the old ladies of Addis hotels, Ghion, where Yeshi is sharing the stage with artists ranging from legendary Ethiopian singers Alemayehu Eshete and Mahmoud Ahmed to Ivory Coast’s Alpha Blondy and Swedish hip hop hero Timbuktu.
There is a lot of talent in Ethiopian music these years but there is no plethora of female jazz singers. Yeshi is one of the few and she is good. Her debut album Qene came out earlier this year. “I wanted to present the Ethiopian scales in a new way and forward our music to the rest of the world,” she explains. More than anything else it was the video for the title song that elevated Yeshi into musical fame. Shot at Taitu hotel – Ethiopia’s oldest hotel and home to the Jazzamba jazz club – it is arguably one of the most stylish Ethiopian music videos made (yes, it is light years ahead of Teddy Afro’s pompous Tekur Sew video). Where the majority of Ethiopian music videos still take place in fields and feature heavy shoulder dancing, Qene appears as a scene from Boardwalk Empire while the music itself is best described with Yeshi’s own words as ‘smooth ethio fusion jazz’.
Now Yeshi is busy working on her sophomore record and she will soon start performing regularly at Jazzamba. But making it this far has not been without challenges in a country with a very male dominated jazz scene. She enrolled at Yared Music School – until recently Ethiopia’s only music school – and graduated from there in flute. But as she confesses: “My mission was to sing and to be a vocalist.” But there were no singing classes at Yared, only training in classical instruments.
After graduating from Yared, Yeshi became a judge in Ethiopian Idol – a show just as popular here as the sister shows across the globe. However, something that makes the Ethiopian version of the show stand out is the cultural dance category, a particular addition that according to Yeshi plays an important role in both preserving and promoting the unique traditional Ethiopian dance. A specific challenge for the participants in the show and something that Yeshi herself has experienced is the complete lack of formal training opportunities for vocalists in Ethiopia. Now she calls out for investments in education opportunities for vocalist in Ethiopia and for the well-known female singers to act as role models for a new generation of Ethiopian vocalists. Right now the hopeful Ethiopian singers out there need look no further than Yeshi Demelash.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.