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2018 Leza Award Best Album Winner Rophnan Nuri - Interview With Endal Ena Mahder on Sheger Fm 102.1

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Added by hiwot in Fm radio records


Once viewed as an exotic, alternative sound, electronic music is rapidly gaining momentum. Electronic Dance Music, which acquired mainstream popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is believed to be an umbrella term for multiple genres, including house, techno, trance, and dubstep. Nowadays, Ethiopian Electronic Dance Music whiz, Rophnan Nuri a.k.a. Rophy, with his new album, is taking things to the next level, writes Hiwot Abebe.

Rophnan Nuri, electronic music DJ, producer, composer and now singer/songwriter, is uniquely positioned as a cultural negotiator. His new album Netsebrak (reflections) has been released this week, fueling Addis Ababa’s growing infatuation with Electronic Dance Music (EDM).

“I believe this album can speak to my generation,” he reiterates. His high tempo album blends Ethiopian melodies with EDM sounds, emblematic of his upbringing in the culturally diverse city of Addis. He understands the complex identities of young people in large African cities, navigating through the increasingly modern/western changes bathed in rich cultures and strong historical background. His music walks a fine line, balancing a fusion of these identities and finding harmony.

“Music is how we breathe, how we communicate. … Through this album, we can all vibrate the same way,” says Rophnan. He hopes Netsebrak can also help legitimize him as an artist. Thankful is a recurrent word in Rophnan’s vocabulary. He is grateful to his fans, other DJs, his upbringing, and the luck all around that has led to this album. He appears centered, eager to transmit information he deems critical. “All I know is that I am good. I’m trying.”

Netsebrak is a highly accessible album to those unfamiliar with EDM. It is an easy introduction to the genre, similar to how Jano band has been a good introduction to rock music. This 15-song album was 6 years in the making, finally mastered at the famed The Exchange Studio in London.

This 27-year-old musician has never been without music. He was recording sounds every day and playing with melody at the age of 10 and began producing remixes at 16. He had learned the guitar and briefly joined a band; he was LAO a radio DJ at 97.1 Addis Zema show for 3 years. At 22, he opened a studio and began composing music. He started making a name for himself in the Addis nightlife scene, playing various clubs around the city. These varying experiences, he says, helped him build the catalogue needed to develop this album.

Electronic music is highly compatible with his own life philosophy. “It allows freedom, it’s limitless. You can go from zero to a hundred in a single track,” he says. Balancing how to create in this genre without distorting his identity as Ethiopian or African is the challenge. Netsebrak is a comfortable balance between modern electronic music and sounds that consist of the rhythm, language, color and character of Ethiopian music. This highly energetic album, simultaneously contemplative and head banging, is a mix of house, deep house, dubstep and prog house infused with Ethiopian flavors.

“Everything we see is a reflection of someone else’s thought. I can be a mirror. Music is an instrument that allows me to reflect my life, my philosophy,” Rophnan explains the title of the album Netsebrak. He is a staunch believer that every individual has something to say and he has positioned himself as a mouthpiece. “As an artist, I have to step into people’s shoes. If an emotion touches me it will turn into a song.”

Affectionately called Rophy by his young fan base, who he describes as diehard, he counts on a younger generation to propel EDM into a mainstream media. He says an artist such as himself working in new genre and new platform must have thick skin. “It’s your time. Nobody can stop you. The people signing the checks and the media need to involve the youth,” he insists. He recognizes the many limitations young musicians and artists encounter in Ethiopia. “I believe in the potential of the youth. A cellphone is one of the best inventions for me. This generation can bring 100, 200% better technology.” This belief is even more apparent in the wide range of collaborators on Netsebrak.

“This generation,” he says, “has more talent, more to express and more to prove … I’m going to keep featuring new artists. All singers, composers have to bring someone up. There are many young artists looking for this opportunity.” Rophnan refers to the golden age of Ethiopian music in the 1960s and 1970s – “even though the music was modern, especially in the instruments used, the spirit was Ethiopian.” He laments the generation lost to the Derg in the 1970s.

“All the development we see now could have happened sooner. We can’t afford to lose another generation.” In his studio, Raey, which he describes as a laboratory, he plans on collaborating with more young people. The album features vocals from 3 young singers and various instrument musicians.

Rophnan is an avid student of musical traditions in various Ethiopian regions. He describes Ethiopian music as highly influenced by unionized communal freestyle singing, every person participating acting as a performer. Netsebrakfeatures many songs composed of Ethiopian music samplings from Oromiffa, Dorze, Guragigna, Chikchika, and Gamo. “One Ethiopian scale,” says Rophnan, “can change music made with western instruments.” The single Cherekan is a house song expounding on the beauty of a Hamer girl in the moonlight played in the powerful ambasel scale. Mad Shepard, a washint infused dubstep tune, is a seamless blend of sounds sampling the popular work of Ashenafi Kebede (Prof.) the shepherd with the flute.

Few Ethiopian producers working in the EDM genre call their blend of electronic and Ethiopian sounds Ethiopian/ Ethiopiawi Electronic. Rophnan has a cautious stance to that statement. “I’m Ethiopian. I make electronic music. But, it isn’t Ethiopian. Ethiopian Electronic genre is a huge name. We need a trend, a movement. It will never be a genre with just a handful of musicians. More people need to be doing it.”

He is hoping to create a strong community of DJs and producers in the country. As a prelude to the release of Netsebrak, Rophnan and his manager hosted a listening party exclusive to local DJs, giving free digital copies of the album. This event was attended by dozens of up and coming DJs eager to support their compatriot in this new venture.  

He describes DJing as a platform and art, becoming one to reach people as a composer. He is unhappy with the negative lens through which DJs are viewed in the country. “This is my gift to DJs. It’s my contribution. I want to thank them for their support. I want to show how much power DJs have. DJs can change the game,” he says. By allowing local DJs free copies of his album he hopes to create more collaboration and support. In an industry fueled by DJs that have developed their skill through practice and passion without proper schooling, he insists working together is the key to improving their status. “We can’t compete with each other right now. We can contribute.”

Rophnan is not worried about his transition from DJ/producer to singer/songwriter, singing most of the songs on the album. Finding his own style has been enhanced by his experience in a band and jamming with friends. If his voice doesn’t fit the plans he had for the track he finds someone else to sing it better. “No one expected me to do the vocals. It will be new to them. Some people asked ‘what are you doing DJing when you can sing and play the guitar”. People don’t know DJing is the new form of art,” he muses. There are of course more EDM artists gaining massive attention like Skrillex, David Guetta or the recently deceased Avicii, especially within the last two decades. Local experimental producers like Ethiopian Records (Endeguena Mulu) and Mikael Seifu have reached an international audience, largely through their US-based label.

He hopes Netsebrak can penetrate the international market. He was recently one of the three African selectees for the AXE Ibiza competition, performing at the world center of electronic dance music. He has already headlined local concerts such as BiraBiro. He has been exposed to the power of music in connecting diverse group of people from all over the world but also the extreme celebrity culture of the west. Fame can be imprisoning for artists, he says. He is constantly questioning what an artist is, disregarding the surrounding chatter of fans or sycophants. “I don’t want to regret anything. I put what I feel and can’t worry about the response. Regret is forever, losing is for now.”

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