Catharsis and comfort: Watch Abinnet Berhanu & Hebret Musica perform ‘Tizita’ at the Spotlight Residency

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.

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Jamie Sandel

About Jamie Sandel

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Jamie is an arts organizer and musician with a background in music composition and performance, writing, improvisation studies, sound and graphic design, and theater. In addition to his leader work as a jazz violinist, he regularly takes part in cross-genre collaborations up and down the east coast. Jamie is a native of Silver Spring, MD, and returned to the area in 2018 after some time in Massachusetts, where he assisted the Amherst College Concert Office and the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. He graduated with a degree in music from Amherst College. Reach Jamie at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wjsandel.

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