SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
Samuel Yirga Makes Debut On Real World
Guzo To Be Released Today
The buzz is already mounting for the recording debut of young Ethiopian composer and pianist Samuel Yirga - whose recording debut, Guzo, was released today on the Real World label.
Read the full press announcement from Real World below:
Guzo debuts the extraordinary talent of young Ethiojazz prodigy Samuel Yirga.
Against the odds, the young pianist and composer found his way to music school in Addis Ababa and, despite still being in his 20s and only having left the conservatory relatively recently, he has developed at a pace remarkable for someone of his age, becoming one of Ethiopia's most promising young talents of recent years.
The title, Guzo, means "journey" in Amharic, the official working language of Ethiopia. Recorded partly in Addis Ababa and partly in the UK at Real World Studios, it is the product of his years experimenting with the music of his roots and such outside influences as American jazz -- particularly Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock -- Latin, and classical music. It explores the traditional musical history of Ethiopia, the more modern Ethiojazz that has brought his country's music to international attention, ventures into big-band brass ensembles,moves through soul and funk, and then simmers with deeply impassioned solo piano tracks. While the solo piano pieces are introspective and deeply felt, Samuel has enlisted some great singers and instrumentalists from Ethiopia, Europe and the Caribbean. Featured vocalists are the Creole Choir of Cuba, whose songs go back to their Haitian roots; Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq; and Nicolette, a Nigerian-British singer noted for her work with Massive Attack.
While Sammy is clearly influenced by American jazz and funk, he also wanted to include some tunes showing the great range of Ethiopian traditional music . On these tracks, which he recorded in Addis Ababa, he was joined by some of the country's best traditional instrumentalists.
"His world is opening up," says the album's producer Dubulah (aka Nick Page), the British musician and producer behind Transglobal Underground, Syriana and Dub Colossus (which includes Sammy on keyboards). , "He's feeling his way around and this recording is a statement of where he's intending to go and what he has to offer. I think the result will surprise people."
'Guzo' is both bold and sensitive. It is the start of Samuel Yirga's musical journey and a platform to showcase his exceptional virtuosity. The album's roots may be firmly in the Ethiojazz of his homeland, but this young man from Addis has opened up a whole new door on a musical genre and a region.
About Samuel Yirga:
Yirga's musical life so far has been full of obstacles: social restrictions, family regulations, hurdles thrown up by the reality of life. Yet in the face of all of this, the young and gifted pianist who grew up in the Ethiopian capital --and the epicenter of the heady music known as Ethiojazz, at last has his time to shine.
Bringing contemporary and classical jazz, celebrated pop songs from the golden era of Ethiopian music, traditional Ethiopian rhythms and deeply-felt classical piano undertones, his debut release Guzo spotlights a great emerging talent from Addis
Samuel was ten years old when he knew he wanted to become a musician. At home he devoured the Ethiopian pop music and American R&B that he heard on the radio and cassettes, but he got no encouragement from his parents who were afraid that learning music would distract him from his academic studies. One day, however, he heard that Addis Ababa's Yared School of Music was holding auditions for new students. The following week, at the age of 16, against his parents' wishes -- and having never touched a musical instrument in his life -- Samuel entered the school and, with a coin tapping out rhythms on the top of the piano, breezed through the exams. Of the 2,500 people who took the exam, Samuel came in third.
But the struggles weren't over. His parents eventually forgave him but it was one of the school's teachers who put up his next hurdle. "Because I came third in the exams," he says, smiling wryly at the memory, "I was allowed to choose whatever instrument I liked. I chose the piano." But the head of department looked at his hands and said it wasn't possible. "She said my hands were too small. I don't believe in small hands or big hands: music is not about that, music is about what's inside." Samuel was undaunted.
Eventually, the school agreed he could study the piano that he'd so longed to get his hands on. There began a relationship with the instrument that has brought him to musical acclaim in his hometown of Addis and now, with his debut album, to an international audience. He was determined, after all the obstacles he'd already mounted, that he was going to be the best pianist in Ethiopia.
Samuel took to his new instrument with unbridled enthusiasm and dedication. "I would go to school at 6:30am and at 11 pm I would go home. Usually I missed all my other studies and just played the piano on my own. It was really tiring," he laughs, "but it was my dream to be in music, and the piano was what I wanted to play. That's why I pushed myself so hard." Samuel played like this, for more than 12 hours a day, for three solid years. "I was so into the music," he says, "that I didn't bother eating."
Samuel played the classical music he was given by his teachers but he also had a growing interest in Ethiopian music, from the popular wedding and folk songs he'd heard as a child, to the various Ethiojazz legends who in the last decade had made high-profile comebacks. Here again he found himself in trouble with the school.
"I was playing my own versions of these Ethiopian songs, but the teachers passing the piano room would come in and ask me what I was doing. We weren't allowed to play any contemporary music because it was a classical music school. They would say that Ethiopian music was 'simple.' I was very angry about that, because I'd always had a dream to change my country and its music. I didn't agree with them but I would just tell them that if something was simple, then we should try to make it better. We need to research and experiment."
And experiment he did. By the time the conservatory asked him never to come back because of his insistence on playing contemporary music, he was playing funk and Ethiojazz with one band, playing jazz gigs at a local club, experimenting with popular Ethiopian songs and creating contemporary versions with another band, and at the same playing salsa and classical music. Wherever his music went, however, he always held the distinctive beat of Ethiopia at its heart. TodaySamuel plays with Addis funk band Nubian Arc and is a member of the UK/Ethiopian collective, Dub Colossus, who are label-mates at Real World.
'Guzo' is Samuel Yirga's debut album, recorded in Addis Ababa and Real World Studios. The album is just the start of Samuel's journey, where he has explored Ethiojazz, soul and funk, American jazz, Latin and classical music. There are deeply virtuosic piano solos and more upbeat songs - including his dazzling cover of the early 70s psychedelic soul classic "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," featuring guest vocalists The Creole Choir of Cuba and Nicolette, who turn in vibrantly compelling performances.