African arts, culture + politics

Key player


(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Pianist Samuel Yirga is at the melodic heart of Ethiopian collective Dub Colossus. But left to his own devices, as he is on his brilliant debut long player Guzo, the 27 year old shows us his keyboard skill set stretches to classical, jazz and Latin too. “I took good experiences from the Dub Colossus tour and how audiences accept your experimental works,” he says.

Dub Colossus came about after producer and aid worker Dan Harper started a home studio in Ethiopia and called on local musicians to come and record. After Harper got in contact with him, producer Nick Page came to Addis and took recordings of the musicians back to the UK. “Three years later he rang five of us and he told
us he wanted to work with us,” remembers Yirga. “So we processed everything, went to the UK and made the first album with Dub Colossus. After that we started touring, and it’s been a great time for all of us”.

Despite now striking out on his own, Yirga has continued working with Page, who produced Guzo. “Nick opened my mind and really made me think broader,” he says. “He is an amazing guy, like a father or big brother.”
Ethio-jazz and its variants are popular in Addis Ababa, and when he’s not in his studio, producing or working on his R&B album, Yirga is playing in one of the city’s jazz bars: “Every Monday I play in Guramayle and on Wednesdays in a new bar called Jazz Amber”. Ethio-jazz is definitely unique though, he says: “There
are different styles in each group, for example I have a group Nubian Arc which plays Ethio-funk and jazz. Another group plays experimental Ethio-jazz and you can see the difference. It’s really bringing a change to the audience”.

On Guzo, Yirga enlists the varied talents of The Creole Choir of Cuba, British/Iraqi singer Mel Gara and Nigerian-British vocalist Nicolette. And he has a whole list of other artists he’d like to collaborate with, from established Ethiopian musicians such as singer, masenqo and krar player Alemayehu Fanta – “he’s amazing” – to acclaimed American jazz pianist Chick Corea, and Alicia Keys. Ms Keys are you listening?

Guzo [Real World Records] out now


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