Aged 16 at the time, Samuel stepped into Addis Ababa's Yared School of Music for his auditions never having actually touched a musical instrument in his life. He managed to pass his entry exam regardless - with a coin tapping out rhythms on the top of a piano! Once he was admitted he picked the piano as his instrument to study - but the head of department took one look at his hands and said it wasn't possible. "She said my hands were too small," Samuel explains. But he persevered; he was determined that he was going to be the best pianist in Ethiopia. Despite still being in his 20s and only having left music school relatively recently, Samuel has developed at a pace, both as a player and a composer, remarkable for someone of his age.
He has gone on to become one of Ethiopia's most promising young musicians and in recent years, Samuel has gained wider international recognition through his touring and recording with Ethio-fusion group Dub Colossus. 'Guzo', which means "journey" in Amharic, is Samuel's debut solo album (out on Real World Records on 9 July). Recorded partly in Addis Ababa and partly in the UK at Real World Studios, it is the product of his years experimenting with the music of his roots and the outside influences of American jazz (particularly Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock), Latin, and classical music. It explores the traditional musical history of Ethiopia, the more modern Ethiojazz that has brought his country's music to international attention, ventures into big-band brass ensembles, moves through soul and funk, and then simmers with the deeply impassioned solo piano tracks. Whilst the solo piano pieces are introspective and deeply felt, Samuel has enlisted some great singers and instrumentalists from Ethiopia, Europe and the Caribbean.
Featured vocalists are the Creole Choir of Cuba, a Cuban choir whose songs go back to their Haitian roots; Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq; and Nicolette, a Nigerian-British singer, famous for her collaborations with Massive Attack. "His world is opening up," says Dubulah (aka Nick Page), the British musician and producer behind Transglobal Underground, Syriana and Dub Colossus and also producer of 'Guzo', "He's feeling his way around and this recording is a statement of where he's intending to go and what he has to offer. I think the result will surprise people." 'Guzo' is both bold and sensitive. It is the start of Samuel Yirga's musical journey and a platform to showcase the extraordinary skill as both musician and composer of this emerging young talent.
The album's roots might be firmly in the Ethiojazz of Samuel's homeland, but this young man from Addis has opened up a whole new door on a musical genre and region. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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