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Gogol Bordello’s Ethiopian Bassist Steps Up Front
By Uzy Igweatu
With established success as bass player for gypsy punk group, Gogol Bordello, Tommy T has struck out on his own with his first solo album, The Prester John Sessions. Born and raised in Addis Abada, Ethiopia, Tommy T has pulled from the many musical influences of his birthplace to bring us an impressive debut album and a closer look into Ethiopian culture.
AfriPOP!: So, The Prester John Sessions is your first solo album. However, you did get a chance to collaborate with your bandmates on some of the songs? How was that experience different from previous projects you’ve done as a part of Gogol Bordello?
Tommy T: Well, it’s not really that different. It’s easy for us to come together creatively, so this happened just like it always does. For one of the songs that we worked on together, we first heard the track while we were in Tokyo. We actually wrote the lyrics right there and then recorded the song in the hotel room. That’s just how it always is. We always come together really well.
With over 20 albums, Baaba Maal has made an undeniable impact in music. On his latest project, Television, this Senegalese musician has come together with a variety of world musicians to draw attention to pressing social issues. From environmental protection to women’s rights, Television emphasizes the power of progress through technology.
AfriPOP!: Your newest album, Television, is a multilingual and multicultural album. Was that decision more about the music itself, or was your goal to connect to a wider audience?
It was both. When I first thought about doing this kind of album, I told my recording company that I needed to make a connection between myself and other musicians, a connection between what I usually play and what they can bring to my music. I also wanted to bring it back home to people who already connect to me. So that they can experience a different level of music.
AfriPOP!: For this album, your inspiration was television and the power it has to affect change, particularly in Africa. How do you see it as being a powerful tool for change?
I know that most leaders, when they arrive in Africa, the first thing they do is assert control on communication, primarily through television. But lately, I think some people are aware about having their own businesses, so you see more private television. So when the national television says one thing, you can say another. If we ever get the chance to control programming, and to know exactly how to educate people, I think television can be – its not yet – but I think it can be something really positive in Africa. It can be an instrument to give information to people, to fascinate people and still educate them. Africa is about the culture, but its also the colors, and pictures, and movement. All of that goes hand in hand with television.