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Exclusive Interview with Dereb the Ambassador
10 Sep 2012 11:08 PM
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Exclusive Interview with Dereb the Ambassador
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Dereb Desalegn, also known as Dereb the Ambassador, is Ethiopia's voice down under - in Australia to be exact.  With a voice that harkens back to Ethiopia's rich musical tradition, Dereb is carrying the torch for his musical forefathers and foremothers to lands near and far - truly earning his new title as the ambassador. Purchase his most recent CD here on iTunes and check the interview below.



AT: Many of us first became aware of your incredible music through your Lions and Drums release with Nicky Bomba.  Can you give us a sense of your musical background and your journey from the streets of Addis Ababa to Australia?

DD: Music has always been with me. My parents are musicians. I began singing as a child at 5 years old and I have been singing everyday since. I never stop singing. It’s just  how I express  all I have in my mind through music.  I was born for music, it lives in me, I love music, and it loves me. That is how I work/ exist with music. Moving to Australia wasn’t something I ever planned; it just happened when I met an Australian girl I in Ethiopia.  I have being living in Australia since 1998, but it hasn’t been easy to do what I love doing.

AT: And for those who are not familiar, would you mind giving us a breakdown of what the masinko actually is…how it’s played…and how it became your instrument of choice?

DD. It’s a one-string violin played vertically. It is one of the oldest Ethiopian instruments, dating back to 700 BC. While I do play the masinko, I consider myself a vocalist.  In fact, I have stopped playing the masinko.

AT: O.k…so you were a vocalist and masinko player from Addis Ababa…how did you and Nicky first connect?

DD: I met Nicky bomba at the Festival of Reugees in Melbourne in 2006. 

AT: How about the concept behind the Drums and Lions release?

DD: With the Drums and Lions album, we weren’t really sure what we were going to create.  It was just the two of us in the studio sitting and playing, and then we created this new sound.  For us, it was exciting. I was just blown away by the sound that we created. I remember playing it to my sisters (both of who are professional musicians in Addis) on the phone – this sound was so new!  At that time I was new to world music and Nicky was not aware of Ethiopian music at all.  It was fun doing the album and people loved the new sound here in Australia and in Ethiopia. In fact, one of the tracks “wof” was massive hit in Ethiopia. (Unfortunately royalties don’t exist in Ethiopia, so that success didn’t translate into actual payments.)


AT: How are the audiences in Australia receiving your music?  What’s the music scene like, and how receptive are people to Ethiopian music?

DD: I was one of those kids mentored by some legendary Ethiopian artists, passing down our tradition from generation to generation. As kid, I literally existed for the purpose of singing and playing the masinko. But after a while. as an Ethiopian I felt no one cared about Ethiopian music by Ethiopian people or musicians. I felt like I needed to make a change in our music, referencing the authentic and traditional sound. This represented the beginning of the journey to Dereb the Ambassador.  In fact, my new band and I are having so much fun with the 60’s jazz groove sound mixed with the traditional beats and rhythms, along with a bit of mixing with Western artists.

AT: How are the audiences in Australia receiving your music?  What’s the music scene like, and how receptive are people to Ethiopian music?

DD: it’s quite overwhelming how Australian people have responded to my music. I wish I knew that when I first came to Australia I wouldn’t have stopped music for 7 years. To me, performing for an Australian audience nowadays is so natural!

AT: And of course, we have to ask, is there a sizable Ethiopian community in Australia?

DD. I’m sure there is but I haven’t seen an Ethiopian audience for quite a long time. I’ve lived with my Australian family for over 13 years.  It’s quite sad to be honest. I just make the music for people closest to me who appreciate good music.  I guess life is like that some times.

AT: So tell us about your latest project, and what we can expect from Dereb in the future?

DD: As you have heard the new cd ‘Dereb the Ambassador’ album it is going very well. I really love this cd.  It’s inspired by early 60’s and 70’s Ethiopian music.  It’s out now!  Also, I have a new project coming up with Cut Chemist.  I did three tracks with him; it will be out some time soon. Also, a guy called Quantic, another producer and composer. They are amazing musicians; so who knows where the future takes me! 

AT: Finally, what is that ONE thing you want everyone to know…that no one has asked you in any of your interviews?

DD: There are a lot of controversial things that have been said about me in response to my outspokenness in Ethiopia. I think if I could…I would love Ethiopians to ask me why I said these things. Our culture does not promote individuals to ‘speak out’.  Everything I have done and said at home and abroad is to acknowledge Ethiopian people and our pain, our journeys and maybe to make a change. I would love to have the opportunity for my people to understand my words not to judge them.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  

Filed in: Featured
Updated: 13 Sep 2012 10:01 PM
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