RIP Ethiopian Box Guitarist Mesfin Abebe

June 15, 2016

hqdefaultThe death of the great Ethiopian box (acoustic) guitarist/singer Mesfin Abebe spurred me to revive this blog. A couple of years ago I had developed a project to interview and record Mesfin (and other box guitarists) that never saw the light due to personal and professional reasons. Now it will unfortunately never see the light, so instead here are a few video clips of the great musician.
I believe Mesfin was an Amhara christian who spent a lot of time in the predominantly muslim city of Harar and originally learned the oud before picking up the guitar. His idiosyncratic guitar style featured tricky attacks of single-note pentatonic lines that sound very much like an oud player playing guitar. A bass player mimicking the guitar an octave lower frequently accompanied him in tasteful synchronicity. Mesfin’s high pitched voice provided a beautiful lilting counterpoint to the driving music.
I’m kicking myself for not having made time to interview Mesfin before he passed. I guess I can still try and meet with Abitew Kebede, the Oromo singer/guitarist turned evangelical preacher in Silver Spring, Maryland, if he is willing to talk about the old days (not a guarantee!).

One of my favorites, which I have tried to learn (not easy considering my dismal Amharic):

Mesfin incorporated elements of the blues in to his music. Check out this minor pentatonic instrumental jam:

And these killer, driving, desert blues-like tunes:

If any of you out there want more, I can send you mp3s of his great music, and if you speak Amharic, here’s a special report on his life:

http://www.diretube.com/special-report-about-ethiopian-box-guitarist-mesfin-abebe_3bd386383.html

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