Abatte Barihun
Photo by Chanan Bar Asulin (courtesy of Jerusalem Season of Culture)

Abatte Barihun

Abatte Barihun is an Israeli jazz saxophonist and composer. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Barihun got a hold of a saxophone at an early age and enrolled himself in the Addis Ababa University Music School. It was here that he was first exposed to the Western jazz tradition and the albums of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, two of his most important musical influences. At the age of 16, Barihun joined the Ethiopian Military Band. This period in his life came to an abrupt halt six years later, when the band’s bus was ambushed by EPRDF forces, rebelling against Mengistu’s Marxist dictatorship. Most of the band members were killed in the prolonged attack, and Barihun was wounded by two bullets.

Barihun joined his family in Israel in 1999. He has faced a certain amount of cultural and economic adversity pursuing his musical career in Israel due to the pressures and struggles associated with the general acculturation process. After being discovered by Moshe Bar-Yuda (then head of the Tomer NGO) however, Barihun’s professional experience began to change. Bar-Yuda brought Barihun together with musicologist Shlomo Israeli, who was deeply touched by Barihun’s playing. Israeli then paired Barihun with jazz pianist Yitzhak Yedid, a musical collaboration that gave rise to the Ras Deshen Ensemble. The ensemble takes its name from the Ras Dashen mountain in Ethiopia and blends free jazz with musical modes of the Ethiopian highlands.

In 2003, Barihun established the Kuluma band, together with Itamar Borochov (trumpet), Alon Yoffe (drums and vocals), Uri Naveh (West African percussion), Sangit Dotan Segal (Afro-Cuban percussion and vocals), Orr Bareket (bass guitar) and David Adda (keyboards and vocals). The group released their debut album Mother Tongue, in December 2005. Both the album and their concerts, mixing Ethiopian music with Cuban influences, gained critical acclaim. His latest project, Shabate, is an ensemble that blends Ethiopian jazz grooves with traditional Jewish soul.