Dereb the Ambassador
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Dereb the Ambassador

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | Established. Jan 01, 2003 | SELF

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | SELF
Established on Jan, 2003
Band World Soul




"The Emerge Festival: Dereb the Ambassador"

The Emerge Festival, Ethiopia: Dereb The Ambassador

Contemporary Australian culture is a patchwork of styles and influences from around the world, the product of generation after generation of inward migration, from the British on down – let alone that of indigenous Australia . With every new wave of migrants, our culture expands a little more, and only the very small minded could see this expansion in negative terms. For musicians, it means fresh blood in the mix and the possibility of blending established sounds with a rich range of world music influences. For music fans, it means previously exotic and distant music is now on your doorstep.
Launching this Sunday June 19, the Emerge Festival celebrates the music, craft and culture of new Australian immigrants. Presented by Multicultural Arts Victoria, the six week-long festival includes a range of live events encompassing dance, visual arts, film, food, ancient crafts and ceremonies, with performances by some of Australia’s most promising new musicians, all as part of a celebration of different cultures.

Emerge also coincides with United Nations World Refugee Day and Refugee Week in Victoria, and it is designed to promote the courage, ingenuity and creativity of our most recent arrivals, offering people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to share rich and unfamiliar cultures all the way from Africa to the Far East, from the traditional to the contemporary.

The Emerge Festival will include performances by musicians from Senegal, Barrundi, The Congo, Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe and more, with a headline performance by one of Ethopia’s most celebrated singers, Dereb Desalegn.

Dereb, who moved to Australia after falling in love with an Australian girl, was born into a family of musicians in Northern Ethiopia. He climbed up on stage at the age of four and never looked back.

“I was with my sister in a very small club and I didn’t even know how to play the instrument,” he recalls. “I had just picked up the instrument from the shop. Straight away, we went to the club and started singing and making some sound from it! We got some tips since then I never stopped.”

By age ten, Dereb had learned to play the Masenko, a kind of Ethiopian violin, and was recognised as a talented young soul singer. By the age of 16, he was drawing crowds in the bars of Addis Ababa and around Ethiopia, performing as a solo artist and with other touring bands.

His first album, KorkoroYalew, was released in 2003 and featured the hit single Wollo, which was massively popular in Addis Ababa that year. Shortly after it was released, Dereb moved to Melbourne and began a whole new career down under.

The only snag, as it turns out, was that Dereb found it “almost impossible” to establish himself as a musician in Australia, with only two or three other Ethiopian musicians working in the country and little awareness of the vintage Ethiopian soul that he sings.

“Ethiopian music just doesn’t sound like from anywhere else,” he enthuses. “It is a very distinctive sound.”

But a sound without much of an audience here, he claims, and things were tough initially. Dereb began performing in Australia with a band called Lion Of Judah and eventually hooked up with renowned world-music man-about-town Nicky Bomba. The two artists performed at WOMAD together, collaborating on a world music fusion record in 2006.

It was a “satisfying” project for Dereb, but leagues away from the classic Ethiopian sound he loves. It was only after moving to Sydney to that he finally had the opportunity to bring his musical heritage to Australian audiences.

Dereb marshalled the talents of seven Sydney musicians, including members of The Strides and Deep Sea Arcade, and became Dereb the Ambassador. With his new ensemble, he began performing soul masterpieces made famous by Ethiopians artists from the 1960s and ‘70s such as Mahmoud Ahmed and Mulatu Astatqe, which have become familiar to world music audiences through the Ethiopiques compila­tion series and to film audiences via the soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers.

The self-titled record by Dereb the Ambassador was recorded by Tony Buchen in a studio featuring only pre-1970s equipment, which has helped Dereb to recreate an authentic vintage soul sound.

It was so successful, the ABC reported earlier this year, that the producer of the Ethiopiques series has selected one of Dereb’s tracks for an upcoming compilation, saying that “The most interesting Ethiopian music happening now is happening in the diaspora because the stuff that's happening in Addis Ababa is all very electronic.”

Dereb is keen to return to Melbourne to show off his band and their rambunctious, energetic music. After a warm up appearance at the Northcote Social Club in March, Dereb is coming back to play The Corner Hotel - Beat Magazine

"Dereb the Ambassador"

In his native Ethiopia Dereb Desalegn has a devout following. In his adopted Australia, he’ll probably languish as a niche “world music” concern. Here's hoping he doesn't. With his seven-piece backing band, Desalegn is a traditionalist in a fairly remote field: his is a sound that combines Ethiopian folk music traditions with western jazz, a style that has seen a surge of interest over the last two decades thanks to the Ethiopiques compilation series. This style flourished from the mid-1960s and was quashed when the Dergue communist military junta sent most of its purveyors underground or overseas in the mid-1970s. On this record, Desalegn pays homage to many of the ethio-jazz founders featured on those compilations, including the style's pioneer Mulatu Astatke. He also tackles three traditional Ethiopian folk songs, and two of his own.
What results could be pegged as a beginners-guide to ethio-jazz for uninitiated listeners. It's more than that though, because Desalegn's voice – capable of straddling a myriad fervently felt emotions at once – is breathtaking. With a studio's modern bells and whistles at his disposal, Desalegn has rendered Alamayehu Eshete's 'Addis Ababa Bete' – an ecstatic and possessed “banger” limited by the original recording's treble-heavy production – into the type of shamanistic, bass-oriented rapture that teems into nerve endings you never knew were there. Desalegn's melismatic vocals seem to literally swirl in and out of the ensemble's components: cadences turn into false cues, decidedly un-Western chord progressions are crushed together, and the vocal sounds we commonly associate with particular feelings are upended. It feels like Desalegn's voice can fit multiple narratives and emotional trajectories into a single bar.

Dereb The Ambassador- Etu Gela by Other Tongues

To a listener unfamiliar with ethio-jazz, what's immediately striking about Dereb the Ambassador is its affinities with modern psychedelic rock music. Indeed, strip these tracks of their dizzying and tangential African scales and the rhythm section plays out like a guns blazing power-trio, with Desalegn's voice visiting tonal regions previously off the map. But you wouldn't want to strip away anything, because Desalegn has recruited an ensemble of musicians whose unashamed technical nous doesn't preclude their ability to properly inhabit the material. In a word, these tracks exude all the delirium and otherworldliness that presumably attracted western vinyl collectors to this curious fusion to begin with. Here's hoping though, that Desalegn won't be permanently designated to the world music basket as a mere sample of an exotic culture, and will instead be welcomed as an artist whose work we can pour over and wonder at on its own terms.

by Shaun Prescott - Mess + Noise

"Reawakening of an old soul"

IT TOOK Ethiopian vocalist Dereb Desalegn almost a decade of living in Australia to rediscover the vintage sound of his homeland's golden era of soul music. Now, with an electrifying self-titled record of originals, reworked traditional songs and iconic covers from the 1960s and ’70s, the man known as Dereb the Ambassador is hoping to reintroduce the classic, analog, Ethiopian soul sound to its motherland.
It's a story that runs counter to most in the music game. While the world music industry thrives on a narrative of discovery - of European label owners and promoters unearthing traditional musicians and exporting them to the Western market - Desalegn's vibrant soul, funk and Ethio-jazz sound marks a fascinating reversal of the script.
"As a young man I don't think I was actually mature enough to realise the qualities of this music and how to create it," says the softly spoken 33-year-old. "Even my generation back home in Ethiopia aren't that aware of this sound.
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"Music is a lot more commercialised in Ethiopia today. It's made the way business people behind the labels want it and that is all that is available."
Though popularised somewhat by Parisian Francis Falceto's lauded Ethiopiques compilation series and the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's 2005 film Broken Flowers, the Ethiopian soul oeuvre is little known outside its direct circle of protagonists and musical trainspotters.
Flourishing amid the declining imperial rule of Haile Selassie in the late 1960s and the early years of the oppressive Derg military junta in the mid 1970s, the sound reflected an outward-looking, activated Addis Ababa, pulsing with optimism and veiled political critique. Artists such as the legendary Ethio-jazz vibraphonist Mulatu Astatqe, the late Tilahun Gessesse,Mahmoud Ahmed and Alamayehu Eshete forged a distinctive sound by weaving cryptic, traditional Ethiopian melodies into driving rhythm sections and vivid brass, piano and guitar arrangements.
But it wasn't to last. Under the Derg and its raft of restrictive social measures, the movement was all but stopped in its tracks, with many leading musicians emigrating or going to ground.
"It might sound strange, but in some ways this music of the '60s and '70s is as new to me as it is for the audiences here in Australia," laughs the Sydney-based Desalegn. "It was just about searching and discovering that sound once I was here."
As it was for many growing up under the Derg, Desalegn's exposure to music was dictated by circumstance. Born in a mud hut, he was raised in a remote rural region outside Addis Ababa without "any electricity or media information of any kind". His family was musical, his father playing traditional songs on the accordion and his uncles well-regarded artists in Addis Ababa.
"While I didn't have access to much information from the outside world, my relatives,my uncles, were actually quite famous in Ethiopia," he recalls. "So even though we lived in the countryside, I would just play music with my father and I had that big idea of being a musician."
The family moved to the capital when Desalegn was 10 and he began playing the masenqo (a kind of traditional single-string violin) and showing off his impressive vocal talents around the city. He had garnered a strong following around the bars of Addis by the age of 16 and started a traditional music club night in his late teens.
It was there, in 1998, that he met a young Australian woman, who was teaching English at a private school in Addis. The pair hit it off and the then 19-year-old followed her back to Sydney. It wasn't long before he fell in with the local music scene and began making contact with other young Ethiopian-Australian musicians. He formed Ethiopian dance band the Lion of Judah and went on to release his debut record Korkoro Yalew in 2003, its lead single Wollo rising to the top of the charts in Ethiopia.
After living in Melbourne, where he recorded an album of what he describes as "a fusion of Western and Ethiopian music" with roots luminary Nicky Bomba in 2006, he was introduced to Sydney soul and hip-hop producer Tony Buchen, who just happened to be a student of classic Ethiopian soul. It was a defining moment. "I had been waiting for someone, kind of looking for someone who actually understood Ethiopian music," Desalegn says. "So when I met Tony, it was incredible.
"He was absolutely passionate about Ethiopian music and was constantly thinking about how we could recreate that sound."
The pair assembled a nine-piece band of crack Sydney musicians, locked themselves down in the strictly analog Electric Avenue Studios and set about recreating a host of cuts by Eshete, Gessesse, Astatqe and others live in the studio. The results - the deluge of horns, keyboard and percussion that pepper Eshete's Addis Ababa Bete, the searing, ska-esque energy of Tesfaye Lemissa's Eta Gela and swirling keyboards, saxophones and masenqo of Desalegn's own Gonde included - Sydney Morning Herald


Still working on that hot first release.



Electrifying, kaleidoscopic vintage soul his blistering vocal attack is beyond compare: hail one of the worlds most exhilarating new voices MAG 


Beautiful soulful joyous music that isnt afraid to groove. You cant go wrong. Bob Baker Fish


Dereb Desalegn (aka Dereb the Ambassador) is a unique vocal talent, well known as one of Ethiopia's most respected singers. On his first solo album 'Korkorow Yalew' recorded in 2003, his hit single 'Wollo', reached number one in the Ethiopian charts. Dereb has since toured in America, England, Asia, New Zealand and Australia where he currently resides.


After moving to Australia, Dereb collaborated with Nicky Bomba and the Bomba Band releasing a CD and touring nationally in June 2007.


In 2011, Dereb joined forces with producer Tony Buchen on a new project - Dereb the Ambassador - a title given to him years earlier by the Ethiopian media. Performing with a band of virtuoso musicians and inspired by the funky sounds of great Ethiopian artists of the 60's and 70's, such as Mahmoud Ahmed and Mulatu Astatke, they recorded their highly acclaimed debut album. More recently they have found success with the album released in Japan on the P-Vine label and Dereb the Ambassador featured on one of Francis Falceto's (of Ethiopiques fame) Ethiosonic releases, showcasing new music from the Ethiopian Diaspora.


Dereb and his 7-piece band consistently livens up crowds with their addictive, gritty brand of Ethio-soul. Performance highlights include WOMADelaide, Jeonju Sori World Music Festival Sth Korea and tours in Ethiopia and Japan.


In 2014, the band will release their much-anticipated second studio album featuring all new and original tunes written by Tony Buchen and Dereb.


As word about Dereb the Ambassador continues to spread, his mind-blowing vocal talents and soulful sound, enthralls a growing fan base of happy music-savvy folk who know there's more to life than three-chord guitar rock.

The Band:

Dereb Deselegn Vocals

Peter Farrar C Melody Saxophone

Matt Ottignon Tenor Saxophone / Flute

Daniel Pliner Keyboard

Jonathan Pease Guitar

Eden Ottignon Bass

Ross Ferraro Drums

Aykho Akhrif Congas









Sue Spence, Suspence Management

M: +61 430 371 009 E:

Band Members