THE DEBO BAND
* * * *
If you like sweaty dance bands with blaring horns, complex cross-rhythmic percussion, crunchy bass, and vocals piercing through the mix, you'll love The Debo Band. And if you want something a bit out of the ordinary, Google them now to check out their latest release Ere Gobez. The Debo Band gets labeled "Ethiopian pop," but ignore that handle—you'll never hear pop that's this robust, and only two of the band members are of Ethiopian heritage: vocalist Bruck Tesfay and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen. "Debo" means communal labor and the album title translates "Call of the Lion-Hearted." Those are two labels I can endorse. The Debo Band is, indeed, a group effort, an eleven-piece ensemble that, like the lion, roars across the stage. The Debo Band plays as boldly and loudly as you'd expect from an outfit that throws the following at you: two saxes, trumpet, trombone, sousaphone, accordion, two violins, guitar, bass, and percussion. One more thing: The Debo Band is based in Boston, not Addis Abada.
The Debo Band grabs you by your dancing shoes and doesn't let go. The first track, "Ele" opens big and proceeds to get bigger; "Yachat" unfolds with the kind of wailing electric guitar you might associate with the Allman Brothers, adds Tesfay's vocals, lots of brass, and shifts to a higher gear you think will dissolve into chaos, but never does. The Debo Band is full of surprises. On "Kehulum Abliche," Tesfay's vocals lull us into a trance, but the music makes us want to dance. "Sak" sounds like the sound track from a dessert action movie, "Blue Awaze" could be background music for a caper film, and "HiyamitkachiBushi" is like North African café music on steroids (and it has the rumblings of a rumba). "Yalanchi" feels like Big Band music merged with a North African-influenced rock and roll band, which, in my mind, is exactly what The Debo Band is. A word about Bruck Tesfay: His is an unforgettable voice. He often sounds like a muezzin, but one calling the faithful to party. Bruck belts out all manner of elides, guttural tones, accidentals, modulations, and other vocal ornaments. What a voice! What a group! Let's replace "banned" in Boston with "band" in Boston. Even John Winthrop would boogie to the Debo Band.