Friday, March 9, 2012

Abraham Rezene Habte's Zemen: Contemporary Afro-Fusion Groove

About two months ago, a friend of mine sent me a CD produced by Rezene Habte. The CD is entitled Zemen : Contemporary Afro-Fusion Groove in memory of Eritrean singer Yemane Gebremichael (Baria). It's a great work. Two months on and I'm still listening to it like it is the first time. One could easily understand and appreciate how much love and labor is put into the work. I like all the tracks in the CD, but my favorite one is track #2. Beautiful violin playing by a young Eritrean woman and what sounds similar to Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain is all in this track.

I met Abraham Rezene Habte in Washington D.C. in 2009 when I interviewed him on camera for a documentary that I'm working on that deals with Eritreans contribution to the development of modern Amharic music. As it is well discribed below by Biniam Tekle (I'm re-posting it with his permission), Rezene is one of the best Eritrean guitarists. This particular CD is sold out and currently, Rezene is working on his next CD. So look out for another Afro funk groove from Rezene!

                                                        Front cover of Rezene Habte's CD

Guitarist Abraham Rezene Habte reprises Yemane Baria’s music

By Biniam Tekle

In Eritrean popular music the lead guitar plays a prominent role and amongst the many Eritrean lead guitarists only a few are singled out for their individual signature style. If you are an Eritrean music lover and if you heard a guitar sound that incorporates blues, jazz, classical, metal, slide, and generally a distinctly refined sound, chances are you heard Abraham Rezene Habte, known to friends and family as Rezene.

Abraham Habte was born in Dekemhare, Eritrea (East Africa). Abraham developed an interest in music at an early age and immersed himself into it through his formative years. However, his parents did not approve of his penchant for music and sent him to the port city of Assab in a bid to curtail his interest in music and have him focus on his education. Despite his parents effort Abraham's concentration on music continued to intensify. During his stay in Assab, Abraham made his first guitar from scrap wood and discarded cords effectively setting his life long relationship with the guitar in motion.

Eventually, Abraham returned to Asmara in order to complete his high school education but to the dismay of his parents he continued to pursue music. This was in the1960s and at the time Eritrea's music was undergoing a great renaissance and artists like guitarist/vocalist Tewolde Reda were the main attractions. Abraham was highly influenced by Tewolde Reda, Tekle Adhanom, and Tesfamichael Keleta (Rocket Band) and he continued to hone his guitar playing skills finding inspiration in their work. Abraham's concerned parents, once again, ship away the aspiring guitarist to a faraway place, this time to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was in an effort to separate him from the environment, in his parents thinking, that had an "adverse" influence on him.

Ironically, moving to Addis Abeba presented the young musician an opportunity where he can put his guitar playing skills to practice. Compared to Asmara, Addis Abeba was a much larger city with a much larger number of night club venues. Abraham landed his first job as a guitar player at Abnet Hotel and later joined the Zula Club and became one of the founders of the Walias Band. Later the Walias Band landed a steady gig at Venus Club where Abraham met the great Eritrean composer, musician, and vocalist Abubaker Ashakih who also happened to own the Venus Club. Abraham continued to excel in his music and made the transformation into a professional musician under the tutelage and guidance of Abubaker Ashakih.

In the early seventies Abraham moved to Frankfurt, Germany but his career as a professional guitarist saw him travel through Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and France. While in Paris, for a short period Abraham earned his living as a street musician. He played in one of Paris' main thoroughfares called Boulevard Saint-Michel and inside underground train stations around the city. In 1974 a popular Belgium-based African band by the name of Black Blood came to Paris looking for an additional guitarist. The band was told to look for a certain African guitarist that plays on Boulevard Saint-Michel and soon after Abraham found himself auditioning for the band. Ultimately Abraham was selected out of the many guitarists that auditioned and joined the Black Blood Band and moved to Belgium. The group released their first LP album “Chicano” in 1975 and Abraham was heavily involved in the recording of the album. The album had several tracks and Abraham arranged and wrote the music for the tracksTwalikutemwa and Rastefaria. One of Black Blood’s song, A.I.E (A Muwana) became a worldwide hit and to this day is considered one of the greatest hits of all time. The success of A.I.E made the band highly sought after and for the next two years Abraham toured with the band throughout South France. The band eventually split and in 1985 Abraham moved to the USA.

Residing in Washington DC Abraham continued to play guitar in different venues with different local bands. In the mid 2000s Abraham joined a DC based band named See-I that also had members from the group Thievery Corporation. In one of the groups’recordings Abraham was featured as a guitarist in a song entitled "Gangster" and also in a 2008 released album "Radio Retaliation" he participated as a guitarist in a song entitled "Vampires" featuring Femi Kuti (the son of Fela Kuti).

                                                      The back cover of Rezene Habte's CD

Abraham's greatest joy, however, comes from having had the chance to work and perform with the legendary Eritrean singer songwriter Yemane Ghberemichael, commonly and affectionately known as "Baria". In 1986 Abraham joined hands with Yemane Baria and toured throughout North America performing for Eritrean audiences. Yemane Baria was a giant force that had left an indelible mark in Eritrean Music and the lives of many Eritreans. Yemane Baria was a brilliant composer, arranger, poet, and singer songwriter. His sophisticated and timeless music still resonates with Eritreans and many young musicians are inspired and influenced by his music. Yemane Baria was also a great humanitarian who has been credited with helping many young Eritreans who fled Eritrea to Sudan in the 70s & 80s as a result of war. Yemane was not a wealthy person by any stretch of the imagination but he was a giving person who cared more for others than his own well-being. Yemane was by all measures the most influential Eritrean artist of all time whose artistic contribution to Eritrean struggle for independence was unparalleled. Since Abraham and Yemane Baria's tour collaboration in 1986 both artists became the best of friends and remained very close until Yemane Baria's death in 1997. Abraham dedicates his new album to honor the memories of Yemane Baria and the music celebrates Yemane's work and life.

1 comment:

  1. Rezene is one of my favorite guitarist. I like his guitar riffs and licks on Yemane Baria songs. We Eritreans are the musters of string instruments like Krar, Guitar, etc...Good Job Rezene! Thanks Issayas!