Jazzamba

JazzambaThis jazz lounge welcomes music legends even as it nurtures the next generation of musicians.

By Jennifer Conrad Seidel

While most music instructors would be satisfied with seeing students perform at occasional recitals or gigs, Ethiojazz bassist Henock Temesgen and his fellow musicians wanted more for their students at Addis Ababa’s Jazzamba Music School.

“We wanted our students, and also other music students,” Henock says, “to have a platform where they can display their talent.”

So, partnering with some friends and investors—Samuel Gezahegn, Girum Mezmur, Abegaz Yoshimoto and Yonas Gorfu—Henock opened Jazzamba, a top-tier jazz club in the heart of Addis, in 2009.

Jazzamba, which translates roughly as “jazz sanctuary,” is located in the Piazza district alongside the city’s oldest hotel, Taitu. The lounge opened its doors to an eager audience in June 2011, and on every night since, delighted clubgoers have been entertained by musicians both young and old, both beginners and legends.

A non-smoking venue open seven days a week, Jazzamba serves wine and beer, and hungry patrons can order entrees or shared plates.

The club features several regular bands in rotation. Weekends start with the Addis Acoustic Project, which plays instrumental music from the ’50s and ’60s on Friday nights. Sometimes a vocalist—such as beloved Ethiopian singers Girma Negash, Bahta Gebrehiwot, Mohammud Ahmed or Girma Tefera—will join the band for a song or two.

Saturday nights are anchored by legendary vocalist Kuku Sebsibe and the Zemen Band. On Wednesdays, the Ethiojazz funk band Nubian Arc, with singer Alemayehu Eshete, takes the stage. Other regular bands come from across the musical spectrum, including Abysinya Sound, Addis Taim, Abyssinia Boys and the Express Band. Pop singer Zeritu Kebede performed at the club’s opening night and has been back several times since.

The club’s managers announce upcoming shows on Facebook and Twitter, but a lot happens spontaneously. As the buzz about the lounge has grown, more international musicians who are passing through Addis make appearances at Jazzamba. “It became an international venue in such a short period,” Henock marvels.

Revenue from the lounge also directly supports the school (previously known as the African Jazz School). The students, most of whom are 20 to 35 years old, form their own music groups and perform occasionally at Jazzamba as well as other locations. Soon, Samuel says, Jazzamba Music School will offer scholarships, a recording studio and a production company, so students can “realize their dreams of becoming great musicians.”

Despite the lounge’s runaway success, the founders have not lost sight of their original goal. “Our greatest passion is the music school,” says Henock, himself a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “If we had just the lounge and used it as a revenue-generating source, we would become just another [group of] businessmen. But our main goal and focus is on producing musicians.

“We want that to be our legacy.”

Jennifer Conrad Seidel is a freelance writer and music lover in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Original article appeared on Selamta, Ethiopian Airlines’ inflight magazine.

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