Jazz Nights

Addis Ababa’s Jazz Nights

 A Thriving Scene for Music Enthusiasts, Night Owls Alike

Addis has a vibrant scene of culture in recent years; Jazz Nights have become a popular trend among the youth in the city, offering a unique experience for music lovers and night owls alike. With live jazz music performances in bars and clubs across the city, Addis Ababa offers a unique experience; from the famous Jazzamba Lounge to the Fendika Cultural Center, locals and tourists alike can enjoy the electric atmosphere and the sound of trumpets, saxophones, and drums filling the air. In this article, EBR’s Bamlak Fikadu discusses the growing popularity of live jazz music in Addis Ababa.             

The night of June 29th, a gathering in the pleasing Atmosphere Bar, tucked away on Bole Road behind Alem Cinema, a subsidiary of Haile-Alem International and home to the famous athlete Haile Gebre Selassie, will live on in the hearts of all who attended.

The colourful atmosphere overflowed with stylish young adults anxious to immerse themselves in live jazz. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the air became thick with expectation.

Atmosphere Bar is among a few entertainment centres that proved to be more than just a place to enjoy a few drinks and listen to live music, captivating many with its live jazz shows. It has become a hub for music enthusiasts and pioneers. The bar is a testament to the ever-growing love and appreciation for the timeless genre that transcends generations.

Ethiopian music witnessed the birth of Ethio-jazz in the 1950s with Nerses Nalbandian, a composer of Armenian descent. When Emperor Haile Selassie commissioned Nalbandian to compose music for the National Theatre, he found an ingenious way to harmonize Western instruments with the unique scales of Ethiopian music. Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-jazz, later revolutionized the genre. During the golden era of Ethiopian music, it was further popularized by influential musicians such as Getachew Mekruia, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete and Grima Beyene.

This timeless genre is becoming increasingly popular among the youth, with a new generation of Ethio jazz bands, those who love and understand music flock to experience its pentatonic scales, call and responsive vocals, and complex rhythms.

This has begun to draw the attention of many people while also providing a source of income for promoters, musicians, and pub owners like Matias Aklilu.

With a growing interest in diverse music genres, Matias Aklilu, owner of Atmosphere Bar, believes hosting more live jazz performances attracts a broader audience and makes his bar a go-to destination for jazz enthusiasts.

“We don’t charge for entrance or sell tickets; however, the scene has promising potential to generate significant revenue through bar and dining sales and potential partnerships with local musicians and artists,” Matias told EBR.

Kalkidan Gebeyehu, 33, a pastry chef at a highly anticipated restaurant, was among the attendees; it was her first time attending live jazz music. Her excitement was readable on her face, which was filled with energy.

“With no entrance fee to the event and the opportunity to enjoy cold ones for less than ETB 100, it’s such a fun experience.” Kalkidan shares her experience.

Bar owners in the city have tapped into this trend by hosting regular Jazz nights and promoting them through social media platforms. They have also collaborated with local musicians to showcase their talent and attract a wider audience. The result has been a thriving jazz scene in the city that has put Addis Ababa on the map as a destination for jazz lovers.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic hit the entertainment industry hard, Jazz Nights in Addis were not immune to its effects. Bars and lounges were forced to close their doors, and live music performances were put on hold. The pandemic abruptly ended the thriving jazz scene in the city.

But as restrictions eased, the jazz scene in Addis Ababa began to revive. Bar owners adapted to the new normal by implementing safety measures such as social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, and regular sanitization. Some bars even started offering outdoor seating options to accommodate more customers while adhering to safety guidelines.

Many event planners and organizers’ were struck after the first hit of the pandemic; many restrictions had them put a hold on planning concerts and festivities exacerbated by the northern war between the federal government and TPLF, which also brought a state of emergency, or “law enforcement,” led to curfews and captivity for questioning, preventing planning and work.

“I can say that the booming season for entertainment business is rising way over the pre-COVID level”, Waltana Tsegaye, a co-founder of Africa Media and Events.

He remembers the time when restrictions were lifted after six months of stay as a consequence of the first case of the pandemic hit the country. It was disheartening to witness the impact of this paranoia on the success of our exhibitions and bazaars. Still, we remained determined to adapt and find new ways to engage with our audience during these challenging times.

“We were striving to host events several times under full COVID protocol, but the result was disconcerting the paranoia as only a few people showed up at events we’d organized.” Waltana told EBR, adding, “Our company has encountered a loss of a little over ETB1 million.”

“Live bands are increasingly popular due to their energy and connection between audience and musicians,” Binyam Amare, a musician who performs in several places, says, “This trend has opened up new opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their talent and gain exposure in a thriving music scene.”

Many people are warming up to live music these days. Lounges, clubs, hotels or restaurants with live band banners on their front porches are getting an influx of music lovers.

Jazz Nights in Addis have become a trending nightlife experience that has captured the hearts of the city’s youth. Bar owners have recognized this trend and are tapping into it by hosting regular events and collaborating with local musicians. Despite the setback caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the jazz scene in Addis Ababa is slowly but surely reviving, providing a much-needed escape for music enthusiasts and a boost to the city’s entertainment industry.

11th Year • August 2023 • No. 120 EBR


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