The Ex’ Terrie Hessels keeps enriching us with new Ethiopian music. This time his Terp label releases the debut album of the group Fendika that has been collaborating with The Ex for many years now. Fendika is titled after a legendary Azmari club in Adis Abeba, run now by Fendika founder, dancer-vocalist Melaku Belay, that features ‘Addis Tradition’, i.e ‘new tradition’, a blend of music-dance-theater , deeply rooted in the culture of the many regions of Ethiopia, but not restricted by any local tradition.
«Birabiro» (butterfly in Amharic) is a joint-project of Fendika and The Ex musicians although it features only the Fendika musicians. Hessels produced the recording and together with Ken Vandermark interviewed Belay for the album booklet; Arnold de Boer mixed the recording; Andy Moor photos are all over the booklet and Hessels partner, Emma Fisher, did the artwork.
Fendika is an acoustic quintet with only two instrumentalist – Endris Hassen on the bowed masenko and Misale Legesse on the kabero drums, but these two, together with lead vocalist Nardos Tesfaw and dancers-backing vocalists Belay and Zenash Tsegaye make tons of joyful music like a much bigger band. Almost as voluminous as The Ex. The eight infectious songs on «Birabiro» are based on traditional melodies and scales from different regions of Ethiopia. Some of these songs are partly improvised, with spontaneous lyrics, often with an implicit political message, depending on the atmosphere and the situation.
All songs grow on the the listener so fast that even before the end of each song you feel compelled to join the driving call-and-response rhythms and even more inspired to join the group in the their expressive dances. It simply feel foolish to stick to your chair when Fendika rushes into songs like «Yewolaya Weyo» or the medley «Ere Gedaye Gedaye/Shellela/Lale Guma». More contemplative songs like «Zelesegna» and «Musica/Satenaw» sound surprisingly close in spirit to the Southern Indian Carnatic vocal tradition, with their cyclical-repetitive patterns. «Birabiro» ends with a touching version of «Tezeta», one of the most loved Ethiopian songs, almost an unofficial anthem, performed also by The Ex, alone and together with the late legendary Ethiopian sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya.
Fendika songs fly free like a butterfly, touching your body and soul with their most beautiful, innocent spirit.
Nardos Tesfaw (v), Endris Hassen (masenko), Misale Legesse (kobero), Melaku Belay (dance, backing vocals, claps), Zenash Tsegaye (dance, backing vocals, claps)