Last weekend, Yossa Haile played a distinctive Ethio-jazz gig at Sideshow to celebrate the Ethiopian New Year. Sideshow created a warm atmosphere by putting yellow flowers on the tables which were a perfect decorative accompaniment for a unique musical experience. Ethio-jazz is hard to come by in Brisbane and we are lucky to have Haile and his ensemble delighting us with this style.

Haile is at the forefront of Ethio-jazz in Australia. He was born in Addis Ababa, trained in Krar (a traditional Ethiopian harp), and attended Jazzamba, the well-established African Jazz music school in Addis Ababa. He continued his musical studies with international musicians in Melbourne and refined a distinctive Ethio-jazz style infused with ethereal downtempo undertones. At Sideshow, Haile’s style was brought to life with the accompaniment of four local jazz musicians playing the keyboard, the drum, percussion, and bass.

The show was a journey into different emotional states evoked by upbeat, groovy, soulful, and at times dark sounds. The gig opened with a playful song titled “Foreplay” characterised by a stop-and-go rhythm. The song “The Wise One” was a well-paced groove, and “I can’t just watch” was a deep and dark lament for the everyday struggles in Ethiopia. Haile offers this last song for purchase and 100% of the sales go to support organisations that assist the homeless and mental health needs in Ethiopia. The gig ended with experimental sounds in honour of care and humanity.

The songs were introduced with their original Ethiopian names which were translated for us and introduced with a story. Most of the songs were originals, but Haile and his ensemble also paid tribute to Ethiopian musicians such as Malatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-Jazz. Haile, and explained that playing these non-original songs is an act of passing on culture and continuing tradition.

Haile is a talented musician and showed some impressive guitar skills, especially in the song “The Wise One.” His smile is infectious, and he holds the stage very well by telling stories and inviting his audience to sing and clap along.