Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe's Crab Shack isn't the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into "Ney Ney Weleba" — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn't take long to get caught up in Debo Band's deep, infectious groove.
Led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye, Debo Band infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and '70s. But historical accuracy is not a primary goal here.
Instead, this vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation. Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It's a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.
Producers: Bob Boilen, Mito Habe-Evans, Saidah Blount; Editor: Michael Katzif; Videographers: Katie Hayes Luke, Michael Katzif, Mito Habe-Evans; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Katie Hayes Luke/NPR