Abinnet Berhanu’s compositions and arrangements for his band Hebret Musica (“community music” in Amharic) are tapestries built of bright colors and broad strokes. Each piece is tied to a narrative, as Berhanu is quick to explain whenever he performs. He wrote one song based on his father’s youth; another was inspired by an Ethiopian student protest. But as Berhanu explained on the mic at our Spotlight Residency, the piece in this video isn’t exactly a story: It’s a tizita, a kind of Ethiopian song expressing longing, nostalgia and fond memory.
The tizita is a form that’s carried by a solo voice (here, Mike Cemprola’s soprano saxophone). It has been compared to an American blues or Brazilian saudade. And indeed, you can hear a lot of blues in this piece, from its grounded, circular melody to the raw emotion of the improvised solos, in which Cemprola’s lines unfurl over a whirlwind texture set up by Berhanu and his bandmates in the rhythm section. Throughout, Berhanu shows a unique ability to stitch together these threads of Ethiopian music with the musical ideas of post-bop greats like Cedar Walton and Bobby Hutcherson. But there’s something else there too: a feeling of open-hearted sincerity permeating the music. It’s that sentiment — conveyed through lush melodies and satisfying harmonies — that makes his songs stick in your head long after the concert ends.