Girum Mezmur, founder of Addis Acoustic Project, is a musician credited with reviving live music and Ethiopian jazz in the ever-expanding city.

By Megan Iacobini de Fazio (Selamta) |

Whether in a hip new lounge or a crumbling Italian-era building, chances are high that somewhere in Addis a crowd can be found nodding its collective head to the sound of a passionately played sax or marveling at the intricate movements of fingers flying across a keyboard.

Indeed, the Ethiopian capital is often hailed for having one of the most vibrant and dynamic music scenes in Africa, where crowds are pulled by the prospect of listening to anything from traditional Azmari beats to reggae and Ethio-jazz. And standing quietly amid it all, confidently strumming his guitar, is Girum Mezmur — a musician credited with reviving live music and Ethiopian jazz in the ever-expanding city.

During a career spanning more than two decades, the 42-year-old musician has effortlessly experimented with an array of different styles, mastered a number of diverse instruments, and played with some of Ethiopia’s most renowned musicians.

“I don’t believe in sticking exclusively to one thing,” says Girum. “I think it is important to always challenge yourself, to keep learning and seeking out new opportunities.”

His deep passion for music is apparent in the way he talks: stringing together a fast stream of words, enriched by animated examples of musical arrangements and a wealth of facts about Ethiopian tradition.

Girum Mezmur’s career began when as a child he came across an accordion, an old Italian Crucianelli that had been in his family for 50 years. “Although at the time the accordion was not considered a ‘cool’ instrument, it has had a big part in shaping my musical career,” says Girum Mezmur, referring to his passion for Ethiopia’s popular music of the mid-20th century, when acoustic instruments were woven together to create captivating, evocative melodies.

In recent years, Girum’s artistic identity has become increasingly fused with the sounds of this earlier era. Addis Acoustic Project, a band Girum Mezmur put together in 2008 with some of the country’s finest musicians, resurrects popular tracks from the 1950s and ‘60s and, through Girum’s skillful arrangement, makes them accessible to listeners of all ages and backgrounds.

“The concept of the project is to capture and preserve the instrumentation of those days, but give it a new twist,” he says of the band’s blend of East African, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban sounds layered into classic melodies.

ALSO READ: Ethio-jazz Founder Mulatu Astatke Keeps His Homeland in the Mix

Girum graduated from Addis Ababa University’s Yared School of Music in 1997 with a minor in Krar, the traditional Ethiopian string instrument, and a major in piano. “I wanted to study the guitar, but the only music school in the country didn’t have a guitar department,” he recalls, so he went on to teach himself how to play the instrument. It is his passion for the guitar that has boosted him into the limelight as one of the most prolific and well-respected musicians in Ethiopia.

“Girum is one of the best guitarists in Addis, as well as a very honest and hardworking musician,” says Henock Temesgen, himself a highly regarded bassist. The pair has played and collaborated together for more than a decade.

Girum’s love for music, his thirst for learning and his spirit of ingenuity have led him to be involved in a myriad of different projects: “I define myself as a performer, instructor and producer, but I also arrange and compose,” he says, reeling off documentaries, films and radio programs for which he has written jingles and soundtracks.

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