I really had no idea what to expect when I entered Fendika, the legendary jazz club in Addis Ababa. I’d heard the city wants to demolish the club so that investors can buy up the land for developers. But its owner, Melaku Belay, has so far resisted the pressure, and he’s turned this venue into a mecca for jazz lovers. For traveling musicians, this is the place they want to play if they visit Addis.
It’s a small club tucked behind a green corrugated metal wall, and inside the audience and musicians were packed into a tight space. I squeezed onto the floor and sat just a few feet from the house band, occasionally bumping knees with the dancers who came out onto the tiny floor. The band plays a mix of modern and traditional Ethiopian instruments, including a masenko - a fiddle with just one string, and a krar - a hand-held wooden lyre.
And the music? It was an ecstatic experience. The joy of the performers was palpable, and as the songs built to a crescendo, I was overwhelmed — emotionally and physically.
I brought my little Zoom recorder, so you can hear some of the music from Fendika in this week’s show. it’s a celebration of African jazz and how music crisscrosses the globe, and also a deep dive into the complicated history of music, race and politics. There’s also a ton of great music, so I hope you get a chance to listen.