Tommy T has served as American gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello’s bass player for more than a decade, but he is also branching out on his own to explore the rich musical landscape of his native country and the intricate world of afro-rhythm.
Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tommy began the work of bringing together Ethiopian melodies with other afro styles with his 2009 debut solo album The Prester John Sessions. His most recent single “Anchin” continues that work, fusing roots reggae and the sound of Ethiopia’s musical golden era to make a powerful statement.
Enlisting the incomparable vocal talent of legendary, internationally acclaimed Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed, with “Anchin” Tommy T delivers a universal message of love while celebrating the rhythmic heritage of Africa in a cross-cultural sonic journey. He sat down with Musical Notes Global to talk all about the single, his new platform Afroxoid, and more. Check out the full interview below.
MNG: Can you talk a little about the inspiration behind "Anchin"? What does the song represent for you?
Tommy T: Anchin is about love and how we get to experience it in so many different ways. We all have different understanding of what Love is or how love should be, say between two people. And sometimes we feel it in the depth of our hearts with out making any connection with a partner yet. The illusive nature of love, some will search for all their lives. All of these stories are very interesting to me, and I think to most people in general. Most of all, I am all about love in my everyday life and big believer in it, so the inspiration is always present.
This song represents to me that Love is the great equalizer. We all can relate to one experience or another. This song features our living legend Mahmoud Ahmed, and is in a Reggae Riddim that is widely popular with Ethiopians, specially the youth. We all can relate regardless of who we are, young and old, black or white …
MNG: I love that "Anchin" brings together reggae with the sound of Ethiopia's golden era, and I know you've done this throughout your career, fusing Ethiopian melodies and other types of afro-rhythms together. What do you love most about experimenting and creating with these styles of music?
TT: I think it follows who I am as a person and how I came up in music. My taste buds have so many different cravings when it comes to music. I find it fascinating how the world opens up once you start putting different types of ideas together. Basically you are creating a world where things don’t fall apart if you are inclusive. The diverse nature of your content will actually add color to what you create and even make you stand out from others (in a positive way). Now, I am even focused and may be even a bit specific in my approach in starting AFROXOID. I want to specifically work with Afro-rhythms, from Hip Hop to Reggae to Afrobeats and Soukous etc, and create new sounds, styles through fusing and experimenting. I think the sky is the limit.
It will even be more effective with visual component added to go along the music.
MNG: The song features legendary vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed. How did you meet? Why did you want him to be involved on this particular track?
TT: I have known Gash Mahmoud for a while from being a member of the Ethiopian musical community (Gash is a title that comes before the first name, a title we Ethiopians give to people as a sign of love and respect). I was attending a concert where my friends were opening for Stephen Marley and they had invited Gash Mahmoud to sing one of his songs with them. After my friend’s set, while watching S. Marley’s show, it occurred to me that this song I wrote a little while ago would be a perfect fit for Gash Mahmoud. As a matter of fact, right then and there, I asked him if he will be interested in listening to this song and may be blessing it with his voice. And he generously agreed to do so. The rest is history as they say.
MNG: You wrote and produced "Anchin," so how do you think he enhances the story you're telling through the music with his vocals?
TT: First and most, Gash Mahmoud is unparalleled in his professionalism and talent. Any one should be extremely lucky to work with him. So that was easy to imagine. What he does with his vocals, and the delivery brings the whole composition to life and beyond. I say beyond because he makes you feel every word and has done so for over 50 years. That’s basically what I wanted and what Gash Mahmoud delivered. Mind you with a style (Reggae) that he is not accustomed to that much. He feels music deeply and therefore can deliver with the same intensity and humbleness. He absolutely enhanced the story we were trying to tell.
MNG: How did the idea for Afroxoid develop for you? What is your biggest goal for the platform? How do you hope it grows?
TT: AFROXOID is sort of the current manifestation of work I started doing a while back, which is fusing different rhythms/styles with Ethiopian music. What AFROXOID will now do is expand on that idea and experiment with all rhythms, sounds, melodies of Africans and Afro descendants.
The biggest goal is to organically build a community of forward thinking Africans and Afro descendant artists and showcase their creations. A place where we cross-pollinate between each other’s culture, fashion, lifestyle, and art, and share it with the world.
I hope it grows with the Artists.
Watch the music video for “Anchin” below.