Flushing Town Hall will host Ethiopian band QWANQWA for a performance like no other as they make their first US tour with QWANQWA: Ethiopian Supergroup at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 29.
“This is one of our most anticipated events of the year,” said Ellen Kodadek, Executive and Artistic Director of Flushing Town Hall. “We are honored to be a stop on QWANQWA’s first US tour and to introduce our audience to the superb music that QWANQWA has been sharing with the world for a decade – for the first time live from Queens!”
With their roots in traditional East African music, this experimental group is on a mission to advance cross-cultural dialogue.
Founded in 2012 by the band’s violinist Kaethe Hostetter, QWANQWA is a group of extremely talented musicians “from the nastiest ensembles in Addis Ababa”, the Ethiopian capital. Their genre of music is intersectional, combining elements of rock, psychedelic and regional Addis Ababa beats. The supergroup includes Endris Hassen (masinko), Bubu Teklamariam (krar bass), Kaethe Hostetter (violin), Misale Leggese (kebero) and Selamnesh Zemene (vocalist).
Legesse was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a child, he fell in love with music, particularly the rhythmic sounds of drumming, and began performing around his neighborhood – using buckets and empty boxes as instruments – mimicking the music videos and live performances he saw around the corner. television. Legesse joined the Children and Youth Theater at age 17 as part of their in-house group where he quickly established himself as a standout talent. He would then become a drummer at the Ras Theater, a venerable cultural center created by the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1935 and the youngest member of the theater orchestra.
Legesse’s artistry and openness to innovation have made him a highly sought after musician in Addis Ababa. His immense musical talents took him beyond Ethiopian borders and led him to work with musical groups such as The Ex, Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilsson-Love.
Barago was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the Ferensai Sefer neighborhood which also housed the French Embassy. Nicknamed Bubu, Barago fell in love at an early age with the sound of the krar, an ancient Ethiopian lyre. At 16, he started taking music lessons at a local NGO as part of the Family Planning Association of Ferensa. Soon after, he joined the Kistani Band Gurage Mehaber. A composer and musician, he wrote music and lyrics for himself and for other musicians. Heavily influenced by spiritual concerns, many of the albums he chooses to play on have a spiritual or socially conscious message, be it environmental issues or Ethiopian identity.
As a sought-after session musician, he also achieved a position of esteem in the wider world of Coptic Orthodox Christian music. He has worked on albums with renowned Ethiopian traditional musician and social activist Seleshi Demessie and EthioColor, a collective of which he is a founding member.
Taye was born in a small town in the Gonder region of northern Ethiopia. She was born into the line of the Azmari, known as the guardians of a particular musical tradition. They are itinerant musicians, who use wit, improvisation and puns in their lyrics, and are known as masters of sem ena worq – literally, wax and gold. This form allows them to speak truth to power in a socially acceptable way while also functioning as information deliverers. Taye, true to the line, began singing as a child. Already a professional singer at 13, Taye got married soon after and moved briefly with her husband to the city of Mekelle. After a short stay there, they moved to Addis Ababa, where she has been ever since, developing her family and her musical career.
Taye began singing in small Azmari bets (restaurants) before joining Fendika’s house ensemble in 2000 first as a backing vocalist with occasional solos. Over the years, she has become a central figure in the ensemble, especially after her colleague, dancer Melaku Belay, bought the space in 2011 and began to develop it as an internationally renowned cultural venue.
Taye released his first solo album, Salayye al-welem, in 1997 and his second album, Koraw, in 2008. Both albums were inspired by traditional Ethiopian highland folk music. Selamnesh has also collaborated with a host of international artists ranging from Deebo Band to Baroque Nomads. She was also featured as lead vocalist in the Nile Project, a multinational collaboration involving musicians from all Nile countries, leading them on their 6-month US tour. She continues to perform and tour locally and internationally, while being a mother of four.
Ahmed started playing the masinqo, a traditional Ethiopian one-stringed bowed instrument, at a young age. Born and raised in the important musical city of Wello, Ahmed was surrounded by different sounds and rhythms from birth.
After moving to Addis Ababa as a teenager, he quickly became the nation’s capital’s most sought-after masinqo player. Ahmed has been recording and performing for over twenty years and is featured on more than two thousand locally produced albums distributed on all Ethiopian media channels. He is a frequent guest artist with traditional, jazz and experimental ensembles in Ethiopia and around the world.
Ahmed was a lead masinqo player in Hager Fikir, a government-sponsored traditional music and theater company established by Haile Sellasie in 1935, serving as a permanent cultural musician for 13 years. Endris is a founding member of several important groups and is committed to keeping the rich tradition of Ethiopian music and dance alive and fresh.
An experimental collaborator of choice, Ahmed has frequently collaborated with Ethiopian singer Mulatu Astatke, Han Bennink, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark, DJ Magabo, Hip Hop Project Stereognosis, The Ex, Opera Frontier, and more. He has toured internationally for over two decades.
Hostetter is an American violinist, composer and conductor, who has been deeply invested in the exploration, preservation and expansion of traditional Ethiopian sounds for over 15 years. A founding member of the critically acclaimed Debo Band, Kaethe has recorded numerous albums and toured the world, including a life-changing tour of East Africa in 2009. Soon after, she moved to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, immersing itself in the depths of the country. musical culture. During her eleven years there, she founded a music school and started a new band, QWANQWA, which brought together some of the most accomplished musicians in Addis Ababa’s music scene.
In-person tickets are $12 for members of Flushing City Hall, seniors and students and $18 for non-members. Those unable to attend in person can view the live stream for $5 at www.youtube.com/flushingtownhall/live. Donations are encouraged.