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Spiritual Singing Sensations: The Teklemariams
One day on MySpace, I discovered these Ethiopian singers – the Teklemariams - who looked like they came fresh off the cover of Esquire magazine. And when I began listening to their music, something started to stir in my soul. In fact, at the expense of making myself vulnerable here, I became a bit emotional. And from that moment, I became addicted to their “mezmur” (spiritual music, in Amharic). When the day became a little rough, I’d fill my spirit with their music. When I would lose perspective, their songs reminded me of the important things in life. And I knew that one of my missions in life would be to introduce the world to their voices.
We recently got together with 34 year-old Abraham and 28 year-old Eyasu Teklemariam to discuss their CD, “Songs of Zion” and the future for their music. I sincerely hope you enjoy their music as I have!
Q: Can you tell us about your CD, “Songs of Zion”? What is the story behind the CD? The music is truly amazing – and the live instrumentation really stands out. Can you tell us about some of the musicians on this CD?
It was something we had been hoping to do for quite sometime, and both of us had been singing and performing in churches and other venues separately for many years, so the idea of us doing together just came naturally.
I think starting like 2001 we worked on a few things here and there but it was difficult because we lived in two different coasts, so it took us a while before we were able to set some time aside and do the full project, we had one song done early “Yene Geta” (My Lord) and once people heard the track they wanted to help out with the project and felt we had something people would want to hear.
In 2003 Abraham had moved to Phoenix and got together with some musicians from the local church that wanted to help us finish the CD so we all got together for about a week and did 4 tracks, including some non-Habesha people singing background vocals and trying to pronounce Amharic words (Laughing) We still were a long way from a full CD and to make a long story short it took some sacrifice and commitment to really buckle down and finish the CD with our own budget and a lot of our musician friends were willing to lend their talents for the ministry of making something special for people to be blessed and not looking at the profit side so that was a huge blessing.
Around September of 2004 we went down to LA with a buddy of mine from school, Aaron Barbosa. He is an immensely talented young producer with a little studio in his house. I had all the songs arranged in my mind and he had never done Habesha music so it was interesting working together and coming up with a unique sound, but it flowed very well and we got all of our musician friends to play things here and there someone would do a saxophone track, and another friend a guitar solo… we were teaching people parts on the spot so it was a very creative and off the cuff recording process.
And in about a month and half we had the rest of the tracks done and mastered. And we had something we felt would be a blessing to people and a lot of people were praying for us so it made a big difference. Not to mention Aaron’s computer crashed for good right after we finished the CD so we could’ve lost everything if we didn’t finish when we did! (Laughing)
Q: That’s absolutely amazing! Sounds like God has really been with you. You know, even when I play your music for people who don’t understand Amharic, they love it! Ok, so let me ask you, do you and your brother have a division of labor, so to speak? Is one person responsible for lyrics and the other music? How do you approach the whole production process?
It really depends because we don’t define it as roles we just get together and try to make music. But for the most part Abraham is the writer, he can come up with a song on the spot so that’s his strengths. I usually come up with the arrangements and focus more on the musical side of things.
When it comes to the production process its always good to start with a strong vision for each song and know where you want it to go. I usually just sit on the piano and play and sing the song to get a feel for where the message and the spirit of the song would dictate the music to go, and I’ll either record a rough demo for the other musicians or just get together in the studio and work through it until we get that sound musically and vocally, but I always keep a clear vision of the finished song in my head to guide the process.
Q: I admire your work ethic, bro! So can you tell us about how you first began singing? Who were your biggest musical influences?
We grew up singing in our home, music was a big part of our childhood so it was something we didn’t think about, our mom used to play the accordion and we would sing old hymns so it just grew from there. We couldn’t even name influences because we’ve listened to so many different artists over the years and have been inspired by many it’s hard to pick a few.
Q: When did you realize music was something that you wanted to pursue?
Well, it’s really not a choice I think when it runs in your blood…its something you can’t escape and to be able to sing about God’s goodness and His grace is a privilege, so its just an extension of our own worship to God.
Q: In addition to the powerful messages in your songs, we have always been impressed with your voices. Many people don’t realize how beautiful Amharic is as a language. And listening to some artists sing in Amharic can be a little difficult for Westerners. However, your voices really convey a spirit that transcends language. To what do you attribute your voices? Did you all study music at all or receive any vocal training?
I think you are right about people discovering the beauty of the Amharic language when sung, because we have noticed a lot of non Amharic speaking people love to listen to Amharic songs. In fact, over half of our CD sales in the US were to non Amharic speaking people so I think when you sing from the heart and convey the message of Christ through song it just comes through, and the spirit of God is what people feel when the listen to it. Vocally I think we both just sing how we feel and how we have been singing through the years growing up in church, that’s where the real training comes from and I think the approach of “less is more” in terms of vocal runs and letting the texture of your voice carry the melody seems to work for us. I’m also a big believer in layering vocals and incorporating harmony wherever I can to create that choir feeling that connects listeners to a song.
Q: I totally agree with your “less is more” approach. It really works for your music, and the layering truly adds more depth to the compositions. There is a large Habesha community in California. How has your music been received among Habesha?
We kind of were the wedding singers for a while (Laughing) and both of us travel a lot to different English and Amharic churches and do worship songs or other ministries, and we have toured with other English singing groups all over the states, but breaking through in Habesha worship music is kind of a new field for us.
Q: What’s on the horizon for the Teklemariams?
We are working on our 2nd CD right now, and we are actually done with about 9 tracks so we’re almost there. We are excited with what is done so far and we think it will be a blessing to others. We are hoping to have it out in February 2010 and do live Concerts in Oakland , Washington DC and other places so that’s kind of the next thing coming up.
Q: Is there anything that I didn’t ask, or that you feel is important, that you would like to share?
I think you covered a lot of it and we want to say Thank you for all that AddisTunes is doing for Habesha music and thank you for having us on your site and taking this time to chat with us. God bless you.
admin (02 Nov 2009 11:27 PM)
Right...the "Habesha Wedding Singers" coming to a theater near you. LOL!
Visitor: Selam (01 Nov 2009 09:41 PM)
WOW. I wish they would sing at my wedding. LOL!
Visitor: Robel (01 Nov 2009 12:30 AM)
You're right, they do have beautiful voices. May God bless them and their work.