Samuel Yirga
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Samuel Yirga

Addis Ababa, Ādīs Ābeba, Ethiopia | INDIE

Addis Ababa, Ādīs Ābeba, Ethiopia | INDIE
Band World Jazz


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"Review of Hagere EP"

ou don't need to be a jazz fan to enjoy the music on Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga's 4-track solo debut EP Hagere; you just need to love good music, and this is delightful stuff, indeed.

It's awe-inspiring witnessing great talent on display. You realise, yet again, that some people truly are exceptional, and it really isn't just a matter of practicing more than everyone else (although, while at school, he was so consumed by music that he would play for more than 12 hours a day, every day. And he did this for three years!). Still, there was something there already; this is a guy who, at the age of 16, despite having never touched a musical instrument in his life, competed against almost 2,500 others for one of the few places on that year's intake at a music school by tapping out rhythms with a coin on the lid of a piano. And came third! Fast forward to a few days ago at WOMAD where, as someone commented, his soundcheck alone was better than some [other artists real] sets. His actual set was riveting.
Hagere is a product of Samuel's interest in, and experimentations with, music from a wide range of genres - Ethiopian jazz and folk music, classical music, funk, pop, dub, soul and Latin music - all distilled into his own personal style.
Yeh Bati Koyita is a solo piano piece. The title means "A Time in Bati" - Bati is a town in northern Ethiopia, and also the name of the musical scale Samuel plays. The tune swings with a lilting rhythm and ripples with classical and jazz influences. Samuel plays it not with the original time signatures in which it was written, but swapping between different timings to keep the tune fresh.

Abet Abet is a traditional love song which features the raw and melodic notes of the Ethiopian one-stringed fiddle, the mesenqo. Sammy is accompanied by some of Ethiopia's best young traditional instrumentalists: Missale Legesse (Kebero), Endris Hassan (Mesenqo), Frew Mengiste (Bass), Yonas Yimam (Percussion), Tewodros Alula (Trumpet), Yishak Dawit (Trombone), Alklilu W/Yohannes (Tenor Sax) and Abiyou Solomon (Engineer).

Samuel mellows out on Habasha Diaspora (Addis Piano Mix), a tune that reverberates with muted horns and on which Samuel has his piano notes trickle and dance lightly over a heavy dub. It features Ben Somers (Tenor and baritone saxes/flute), Dubulah (Guitars, Programming), Jonathan Radcliffe (Trumpet, Flugelhorn), Nick Van Gelder (Drums, Cuica), Paul Chivers (Congas, Perc kit), Robert Dowell (Trombone) and Winston Blisset (Bass).
Ambassel In Box Revisited is another beautiful solo piece: open, spacious and full of melancholy and yearning; this is a deeply emotional virtuoso performance.

Samuel Yirga, who's also a member of the brand new Addis funk band Nubian Arc, and the UK/Ethiopian collective, Dub Colossus, plays with a maturity way beyond his years. I don't want to tempt fate or anything, but I would not be at all surprised if this guy ends up, in the not-too-distant future, in the same leage as Cuban pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalca.
- This Is Africa


Hagere - EP, released July 2011 on Real World Records
Guzo - LP - due for release June 2012 on Real World Records



Samuel Yirga’s musical life so far has been full of obstacles: social restrictions, family regulations, hurdles thrown up by life. Yet in the face of all of this, the young and gifted pianist who grew up in the capital of Ethiopia and the centre of the heady mix of music known as Ethiojazz, at last has his time to shine.
Bringing contemporary and classical jazz, celebrated pop songs from the golden era of Ethiopian music, traditional Ethiopian rhythms and deeply-felt classical piano undertones, this young man from Addis has opened up a whole new door on a musical genre and region which has already grabbed the interest of many people around the world.