The word “reggae” always brings with it images of Bob Marley and the Wailers, alongside good vibes that denote a particular style of music which evolved from earlier genres like ska and rocksteady. The slow tempos bring offbeat rhythms and melodic bass lines—all of which will take over the Cameron Art Museum (CAM). On June 26th a live show from dub Addis will mark the final performance of the museum’s Black Music Summer Series.
Music plays an essential and integral part in CAM’s ongoing outreach to the community. From hosting a jazz series and specialty concerts, they’ve embraced arts in all forms to help diversify locals with arts and culture. They’ve collaborated with the Black Arts Alliance (BAA) for many years now, first as a venue for the NC Black Film Festival (formerly Cine Noir) and with Coast 97.3 FM for their poetry jam. Now in its second year, CAM will host BAA’s Black Music Summer Series (which started last Thursday with Pamoja! Band).
A reggae band with a touch of Ethiopian blues and jazz, dub Addis got their start in Durham, NC, in 2000. The group comprises Dereje Tesfaye (vocals, keyboards), Fresew Taye (drums and keyboards), Tre Tomson (bass and guitar), John N’Jie (vocals and percussion), Wylie Pamplin (guitar), and a variety of horn players.
“Right when I moved into Durham I began to meet new friends, and a lot them were really into playing music, but weren’t in bands,” frontman Tesfaye says. “One of my first friends, Fresew Taye, was also from Ethiopia and played the drums, so we started playing together.”
Both loved reggae but with an African twist. So they sought to bring in more band members to solidify their sonic goals. “The more we played music together the more we felt it,” Tesfaye explains. “We finally began to play more and more shows, and then recorded and released our first album.”
Since 2007’s “Ethio-Roots,” dub Addis has performed alongside legends such as Steel Pulse, Arrested Development and even The Wailers. “We always try to have at least two horns, a guitar, drums, keyboard, and bass as our base sound,” Tesfaye says, “but it does change on occasion. Since we do have such a big set of people playing, not every person can make it to every gig.”
The music varies with a mixture of R&B, jazz, mento, calypso sounds, and steady chops, along with offbeat staccato rhythms. The band’s Ethiopian roots burst with sounds of the azmaris—the folk poets of the country—and some big band blues. The outcome always presents mellow grooves.
“In Ethiopia I was strongly influenced by both folk and blues music,” Tesfaye notes. “Our band is different though; we like to bring in and compose a much larger, full-band sound that reaches out to the audience.”
Tesfaye dubbed the group after his hometown’s capital city, Addis Ababa. When Tesfaye was nearly 16 years old, Ethiopia was going through hard times. All of his older siblings already moved across the world to California.
“The choice I had was not the choice that I was given,” Tesfaye explains. “After I graduated high school, I was told either to join the military service, train for six months and go into the war, or leave. So I left.”
To avoid being drafted, Tesfaye flew to California to find his older siblings and flee from the Ethiopian regime known as Derg—a Soviet client that had driven Ethiopia into bankruptcy. Derg scattered Ethiopian orphans and refugees around the world to find safety, including Tesfaye himself.
“I only stayed in Los Angeles with my brother a little over a year,” he explains. “I didn’t like how different everything was. There was a lingering smell of smoke [in LA]. There weren’t many trees, and it just didn’t feel right. Then my sister—who was living in Durham at the time—told me it was different there, so I moved. I loved all of the tall trees and the green everywhere. I was comfortable in Durham, so that is where I stayed.”
Though Tesfaye had not started his love affair with music, it slowly brewed inside of him. He started playing piano and keyboard, mainly teaching himself, but learning from anyone who would offer instruction or tips. He began to sing with a band at a few small shows in California; yet, when he came to North Carolina, he finally decided to go after his passion.
“When I was really young, I can still remember my older brother listening to Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ as he was taking me to school,” Tesfaye states. “He was translating what he was saying for me, because English wasn’t our first language, and hearing it kind of made me feel and think about Bob differently then I had before. I could understand what he was saying, just not everything, but I finally understood what it was he stood for: bringing people together.”
Spreading the word on peace and unity, dub Addis carries forth the same social and political stance in their own music. “And Enat” is an inspiring anti-war piece with an intro line that bursts, “Put down your weapon / put down your gun / let’s all come together / everyone.” It stands parallel with the Black Arts Alliance’s mission to be a multidisciplinary vehicle for the advancement of African American arts and culture, with peace, love, and education spreading near and far.
“See where the music takes you,” Tesfaye suggests. “If you enjoy every show, and please yourself with your own music, then it will please others.”
Thursday, June 25th, 6:30 p.m.
Black Music Summer Series
Cameron Art Museum
S. 17th St and Independence Blvd.