Fendika performing; July 14, 2013; Montana Folk Festival (Granite Street Stage); Butte, Montana.
Fendika is a troupe of highly accomplished Azmari musicians and dancers. Founded in 2009 by Melaku Belay, a leading dancer, the ensemble is based at Melaku’s...
Fendika, a troupe of the most accomplished azmari musicians and dancers from Addis Ababa, draws deeply from the well of Ethiopia’s bardic tradition while adding creative movements and sounds that revitalize their ancient artistic forms. Passionately committed to the preservation and development of traditional culture, group leader and dancer Melaku Belay has established two traditional performing groups – the smaller elite group Fendika and the 12-member Ethiocolor. Fendika features six performers – two dancers, a singer, and instruments including kebero drums, masenko(a one-stringed bowed fiddle), and krar (a five- or six-stringed lyre). Founded in 2009 by Melaku Belay, Ethiopia’s leading dancer and a respected cultural ambassador, the ensemble is based at Melaku’s renowned music club Fendika Azmari Bet in the Kazanchis neighborhood of Addis Ababa. In Ethiopian culture, an azmari bet is a traditional house of music where people come to be entertained, informed, and sometimes playfully insulted by the azmari who serve as current events commentators while they dance, sing, and play for tips.
Melaku is a virtuoso interpreter of eskista, a traditional Ethiopian trance dance of athletic shoulder movements that presage hip hop movements of breaking and popping. Now a highly respected cultural ambassador, Melaku grew up as a street kid, learning many regional dances of Ethiopia through participation in religious festivals such as Timqat, folk ceremonies, and everyday activities in Addis Ababa and the countryside where music and dance are a vital part of cultural and spiritual expression. Melaku has traveled throughout Ethiopia to learn the dance traditions of the country’s 80 tribal groups. The musicians and dancers of Fendika present a cultural journey starting in the highlands of Tigray, Wollo, Gonder, and Gojam, also including dances from the Somali and Afar regions and southern Ethiopian dance forms from the Gurage, Wolaita, and Konso traditions.
In 2011 Melaku won the Alliance Ethio-Francaise (Addis Ababa) award for dance excellence. On May 5 2015 he was named as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , in recognition of his exceptional artistic career, by the French Ministry of Culture and Communications - an extremely prestigious honor.
Melaku and Fendika also extend their base of tradition to new areas of musical exploration, developing strong performance partnerships with Ethiopian jazz bands Addis Acoustic Project and the US-based Debo Band, as well as international groups such as Le Baroque Nomade, Ukandanz, Akalé Wubé, Arat Kilo, and especially European punk band The Ex. The group has performed with legendary Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed and begena player Alemu Aga, while Melaku has collaborated with Éthiopiques founder Francis Falceto, Italian singer Saba Anglana, and Italian saxophonist Enzo Favata, among many others. Fendika has appeared in Scandinavia, France, Spain, Mali, Zanzibar, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic; they rocked the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in July 2014, earning a rave review. Members of the group toured the US in 2011, 2012, and 2013 with stops at the Lowell and Richmond Folk Festivals, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and Kennedy Center as well as Lincoln Center where their performance received great acclaim from the New York Times . Ethiocolor performed as a showcase band at the prestigious Womex Festival in October 2014 and toured Europe twice during 2015 with The Ex, returning to Germany and Scandinavia in August 2015. Melaku traveled to Italy to perform at a fundraising concert for a school in Addis. Fendika/Ethiocolor performed in Israel for the Jerusalem Sacred Music festival in September 2015. The group was a highlight at globalFEST, the premier world music showcase in New York, on January 17, 2016.
Fendika has compiled two CDs of their music: Addis Tradition (2013) and Ethiocolor, the 2014 disc produced by Selam Sounds. The video Ethiocolor 360◦ was selected as one of the top 15 of 2015 by OkayAfrica.
Fendika performances run from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on the venue requirements. Their show builds in sonic and dance intensity, often culminating in an exciting interaction as Fendika members join the audience to invite dance participation. Fendika workshops (usually one hour) engage students of all ages in learning and experiencing Ethiopian rhythms and movements.
Fendika is deeply committed to engagement and interaction between audience and performer. They love to offer workshops for all ages before or after performances, to teach their dance steps, musical notes, rhythms, and the history and background of Ethiopian traditional music and dance. Fendika has experience from the folk festivals of the US and in educational programs in France in participating in “World Sounds” or “World Dance” workshops on stage, featuring musicians from several cultures who demonstrate their art and then exchange and collaborate resulting in a group performance on stage. They are also very skilled at participating in panel discussions on topics such as the role of tradition in contemporary culture, also inviting questions and observations from the audience.
Melaku Belay, dance
Zinash Tsegaye, dance
Mesay Abebaye, kebero drums
Fassika Hailu, krar
Gizachew Teklemariam, masenko
Nardos Tesfaw, vocals