Photo: Gonzalo Guajardo
Modern, traditional Ethiopian grooves with a twist!
Extended experimental moments
Audience sing-a-long sections
QWANQWA is a supergroup of musicians from the baddest ensembles of Addis Ababa. Brought together by a shared passion for the power of Ethiopian music, this group shines an experimentalism based in the virtuosity of rooted traditions. With swirling mesenko (one-stringed fiddle), punk krar solos (electric lyre), wah-wah-violin, bass krar boom, and the unstoppable rhythm of heavy kebero (goat-skin drum) beats, powerful traditional lead African diva vocals, Qwanqwa keeps the people wrapped in celebratory attention. After making a splash at world renowned festivals Roskilde and WOMEX, and after 2 European tours under their belt, this world traveling ensemble is hitting the road in 2018 and beyond.
Photo: Vemund Brune-Hareide
QWANQWA draws inspiration from East Africa regions of Ethiopia and beyond. Delving deep into regional beats and moods, the repertoire ranges from a trance-like song of the Eritrean tribe of Blen to a Somalian rock number to Mahmoud Ahmed sing-a-longs. The music is characterized by tight arrangements and extended experimental moments. The live show ranges from intimate to wild, from whispery conversations to full blown rock show, and it is hard to believe these psychedelic sounds are coming from traditional harp and violin. It is driving, powerful, and different than anything else coming out of Ethiopia at this current Golden Age of Ethiopian music.
The ensemble was founded in 2012 by American violinist Kaethe Hostetter, who first worked in Ethiopian music as a founding member of critically acclaimed Debo Band. Since relocating to Addis in 2009, she has participated in numerous exploratory and professional projects, as she honed her sound and immersed herself further into the culture of her surroundings. In this sense, QWANQWA, the Amharic word for “language,” is a project creating dialogues between cultures.
Members of QWANQWA are Endris Hassan (mesenko), Mesele Asmamaw (krar), Kaethe (violin), Bubu Teklemariam (bass krar), Selamnesh Zemene (vocalist), and Misale Leggesse (kebero). They have appeared internationally with Getachew Mekuria, The EX, Thurston Moore, Fred Frith, Butch Morris, Debo Band, Nile Project, Fendika, Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke, Addis Acoustic, Ethiocolor, Atse Teodros, Mohammed “Jimmy” Mohammed, and Imperial Tiger Orchestra, and have played stages from Lincoln Center to Bonnaroo, Jazzfest (New Orleans), Moers Festival, Roskilde, WOMEX, WOMAD and more.
An integral and constant presence in Addis Ababa nightlife scene, QWANQWA has been featured performance at Roskilde 2016 (Northern Europe’s biggest music festival). Since their founding in 2012, QWANQWA have released two albums: Volume One (2014) and Volume Two (2015). Their third album, Volume Three, produced by Shahzad Ismaily, is set for 2019 on FPE Records.
Were Ornette Coleman still with us, I’ve little doubt he would enthusiastically endorse this sophomore effort by Qwanqwa, an instrumental Addis Ababa-based quartet that integrates a number of disparate styles into its bold take on indigenous traditional music.
Great concept, great improvising – this is one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard all year.
Qwanqwa is for sure is an incredible experimental traditional Ethiopian rock group that deserves to be played in every living room, at every party and on every radio station from Gondar to Santa Cruz.
Very interesting debut by an instrumental quartet from Ethiopia who work in a style that takes traditional music and rocks it up a bit. I’m reminded of the way Fairport Convention did this to UK trad stuff – amping up and stretching without really distorting the rootage too much. The violinist, Kaethe Hostetter (who played a great set with Fred Frith at this year’s Victoriaville Festival), is originally from the US, but three other members are from various spots in Ethiopia and their music is a great blend of inputs.
–Byron Coley, The Wire
FPE is really showing off the breadth of their label here with a fine collection of music by this Ethiopian band which features an American violinist. These cats play crazy instruments like the krar, a bowl-shaped lyre, which, when amplified, sounds like some trippy-ass guitar fingering. The three songs on the first side are particularly killer. I’m not hugely knowledgeable about the bevy of music recently made available of African rock-type bands (these guys are less rock than some), but I’ve heard enough to know that this stands up quite well. It’s not blazing like Group Inerane and other Tuareg bands, but they build up quite a head of steam at points. There is common ground here with Erkin Koray as the strings are often engaged in that woozy dance he did so well. Shit, for all I know this band is like the Headhunters of Addis Ababa. One thing I do know is that I dig it.
MUSIC AND VIDEO
“Mejemmeria Fikray” from Volume One on FPE Records, recorded 2013
“Kemekem” from Volume Two on FPE Records, released August 2015
Below is a selection of available images. For more options including variations on some of the full band shots, go here.