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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Listening to Ethiopia through Ejigayehu Shibabaw (Gigi)

Many people have never heard of Gigi, much less of Ejigayehu Shibabaw. If you enjoy music that’s different from what you constantly hear on the airwaves or are simply looking for something new, then you should look for Gigi’s music online or in your local record bar.

Gigi, whose birthname is Ejigayehu Shibabaw, was born in Chagni, located in the northwestern portion of Ethiopia, some 36+ years ago. In 1998, after living in Kenya for a few years, Gigi moved to the United States. San Francisco is her home away from home.

Gigi’s musical talent is a result of her exposure to Ethiopian church songs. Before her self-titled album Gigi exploded in 2001, she recorded two other albums meant for the Ethiopian community living away from their motherland. Her breakout album was produced by Chris Blackwell of Palm Pictures. Blackwell, together with Gigi’s producer, Bill Laswell, who later became her husband, tapped the talents of American jazz musicians to accompany Gigi’s mesmerizing voice in her album.

Gigi, the album, became an international critical success because of the fusion of traditional and contemporary sounds. The album stirred controversy in Ethiopia because it was viewed as a radical departure from popular Ethiopian music. Other albums soon followed. One even featured Laswell playing the keyboard and guitar and a number of Gigi’s relatives contributed to the vocals. One song entitled “Gole” was recorded by Gigi in the language of her father’s village, Agewña.

The albums of Gigi take her countrymen living abroad back home. They also introduce listeners to the distinct Ethiopian melody and language. Getting to know Gigi and her music is getting to know the language and culture of Ethiopia in a most enjoyable way.

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