Mela Mela on Melbourne's Lygon Street
By Befekir Kebede
Sunday, 16 November 2014 12:18
There cannot be a better example of multicultural Melbourne than a Friday night out in the iconic Italian precinct of Lygon Street, listening to a live Ethiopian jazz performance at an American burger restaurant.
The Lalibelas is a collaborative band of Ethiopian and Australian jazz musicians that plays the Ethio-Jazz genre.
The inspiration behind the name of the band comes from Ethiopian folk singers that originate from the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela. These traditional singers, who earn a living telling their stories through folk music, are known for their unmistakingly distinct style of singing with very sharp and loud vocals. Lalibela singers typically rise early to bring their music to people which demonstrates their commitment to storytelling.
On Friday night, the band that was formed a year or so ago in Melbourne, delivered a remarkably unforgettable jazz performance to its audience of Melbournians including young Ethiopian expatriates.
The live show lasted just over two hours transporting those in the audience to another world: the Ethiopians in the audience were left to reminisce about their younger days in the homeland, whereas the non-Ethiopians simply indulged their musical curiously.
It may be an up-and-coming group as a band, but some of its members have had long-established careers in music at top levels.
Among the seven members, for instance, Solomon the Saxophonist – who was introduced on stage as “King Solomon” comes from a distinguished musical background in Ethiopia having had the expertise to work alongside the likes of such Ethiopian musical royalties as Aster Aweke and Mahmoud Ahmed.
On Friday night, Solomon’s commanding aptitude to effortlessly work the saxophone complemented by his charming charisma brought grace to the stage and a lot of energy to the room.
Every member of the band brings their own unique talent and contributes the sounds of harmonica, bass guitar, keyboard and drums – and everyone’s contribution is delivered passionately.
The collaboration that produced the band is not just of individual artists; it’s also a collaboration of cultures. The four non-Ethiopian members of the band are said to have grown up listening to and admiring the works of Ethio-jazz founder Mulatu Astatke.
So their passion about the genre and their understanding of its details has some solid foundations.
But it is not difficult to see that there is a lot of hard work that goes into putting together performances like this and one cannot help but admire the coming together of different talents, ideas and cultures to create music that transcends boundaries.
The highlight of the show on Lygon Street on Friday, particularly for the Ethiopian members of the audience, was when the song “Mela Mela” was performed.
Members of the band turned themselves into vocalists and together uttered “Mema Mela” – a very well known Ethiopian song by the veteran Mahmoud Ahmed.
“Mela” is an Amharc word meaning “remedy” and the song is about seeking remedy for heartache caused by love and relationship matters.
The performance was so uplifting that it would have brought subtle remedy for those in the audience whatever worries they had in their lives. For that very moment, their worries were the last thing on their minds. And that is the power and beauty of music.
Currently, the band is working to produce its first album to be released by Christmas.
Touring nationally and internationally is the band’s goal for the next year or so.