The Young Ethio Jazz Band, ages 10 to 15, bring back traditional Ethiopian jazz

The Young Ethio Jazz Band, performing at Rasela's Jazz Club on Sunday.

The Young Ethio Jazz Band, performing at Rasela's Jazz Club on Sunday.

Sirak Tegbaru leads young members of Oakland’s Medhani Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Church in an unusual extracurricular activity: a traditional Ethiopian jazz band. The young musicians, ranging in age from 10 to 15, had their first performance on Sunday, at Rasela’s Jazz Club in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. They call themselves the Young Ethio Jazz Band.

The students play Ethio-jazz, a style that blends American jazz and Latin rhythms with traditional Ethiopian sounds. Led by figures like Mulatu Astatke, Ethio-jazz flowered during the 1960s and early ’70s.

The eight person band played several covers at Rasela’s, with many members taking solos on each song. Most Ethiopian music hasn’t been written down, so Tegbaru has to study each song carefully, learning the keyboard, horn, bass, and drum parts so that he can teach them to his band. After seven months of practices, they were ready for their first performance this January.

Yonathan Estfanos, who plays trumpet, describes the Young Ethio Jazz Band’s sound as “unique and mellow and lively. And nothing like anything people have ever heard of, especially people of this generation.” Like many of the band members, Estfanos says the band has allowed him to preserve his cultural heritage. “I feel like I’m going back to my culture, you know? I feel like I’m going back to my roots,” he said.

To get more information about the Young Ethio Jazz Band, contact Tegbaru directly at youngethiojazzband [at] gmail [dot] com.

Check out other audio and video profiles of local musicians on our Bandwidth page.

Correction: the story identifies the vocalist as Jacob Tegbaru. In fact, the singer is Simon Yacob.

11 Comments

  1. getahun

    Young ethio jazz band

  2. Emaelaf

    Yea we’re a few years behind, but that will make it THAT much sweeter when history is made all while breaking that crutch for ourselves as well as future generations in the process. These kid’s trying to open the door for the next generation. Well guess what … The door’s cracked and is getting wider, and it’s our job to walk through. I don’t think that I can say enough about these group’s …

  3. Yohannes Amenu

    This is my band! I was wondering about where I was mentioned?

  4. Christian Tesfaye

    Although there were some name errors, this was a beautiful interview and shows how “pop culture” hasn’t dominated us young musicians, it shows how diverse our world is.

  5. a great sound and a lot of talent

  6. Amare Tegr

    This is incrediblyi innovative. It is indeed a monumental masterpiece that stands alone without comparison as a genuine brand of my brother. Congratulations. Amare

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