my WFMU radio show will not be broadcast (or podcast) today, August 20th – because WFMU’s Free Music Series + Lincoln Center are presenting a FREE CONCERT at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch park from 6-10pm, featuring good friends The Ex & Gétatchèw Mèkurya (famous Ethiopian saxophonist with a contagiously great sense of humor). wow! also on the bill: Extra Golden (not that Benga – the other, far more popular Benga), and the Either/Orchestra with Mahmoud Ahmed & Alèmayèhu Eshèté.
last time i hung out with The Ex & Gétatchèw it was like this (… except that by the time I got backstage, Gétatchèw – a giant in the world of Ethiopian jazz, as chronicled in part by his Ethiopiques release – had crowned Andy with his monkey-skin headdress in exchange for Andy’s guitar)
the last time we all played together was in Flemish Belgium. I was slotted after The Ex & Gétatchèw, set changeover took awhile, and by the time I got onstage most of the crowd had left. I DJed to an emptying room. But then I realized: exactly one person had begun to dance – a tall, gorgeous Ethiopian woman in short-shorts (who was there with her parents I think).
So that was a new, very interesting situation: playing to exactly one person instead of DJing to the kinetic volume of a dancing crowd. And that one person liked the cumbia/afro-colombian stuff. After several songs a few more people joined in (not that there were more than 15 or 20 of us) – by the end even Kat was dancing, and Afework Negussie the masenqo player kept passing me tunes from his mp3-thingy to blend in. That night became a strange, reassuring, ego-free ‘open secret’ afterparty in the heart of Flemish country, where our contingent reality was not only possible but present, embodied, aglow.
Sometimes you play a big rave-type event and you make a bag of money but it feels spiritually vacant. Sometimes you play for a handful of people and you don’t simply ‘strike a chord’ as we say in English, you find yourself within one.
I think this is what, from my perspective, makes The Ex so special: their ability to conjure up meaningful situations and community in ways that are no less natural or moving for being completely unexpected. (Gétatchèw asked them to be his backing band.)
This song came from the Afework’s mp3-thingy. Hulum Zero Zero. He is singing about the Ethiopian government…