Growing up, he was surrounded by different forms of music and once he had made up his mind to pursue a musical career, his received support, and backing from his family. Relentlessly creative and tech-savvy, Nael perfectly embodies the next generation of breakout music producers around the globe.
The young producer says the Ethiopian pop music industry could eventually become extinct, because – in his view – locally-based producers lack versatility. He says most producers lack the ability to react quickly to the developments and changing trends of the global music market.
“Electronic music is a new genre in Ethiopia and both artists and producers have barely adapted to it,” he said. “Most producers out here in Ethiopia don’t really appeal to me or stand out for me. However, there are bands such as Jano Band who are killing it. The reason they stand out is that they are musical geniuses. Keep it up, Jano!”
Although he professes that Ethiopia is one of the few African countries that has not been heavily influenced by foreign musical styles, he says that most Ethiopian artists nevertheless sound the same.
According to him, the first and second generation of Ethiopian musicians – artists such as Mulatu Astatke, Gigi Shebabaw, Aster Aweke and Tilahun Gessese – remain the country’s standard-bearers.
“As you know, the 80s and the 90s was Ethiopia’s musical golden age,” Nael says. “But nowadays, Ethiopian music sounds the same because producers are playing safe. They just sample traditional Ethiopian instruments with obvious flows and obvious tempos, and they don’t really experiment.”
Nael says this predicament has seen several young producers start recording with their laptops in the comfort of their homes, as opposed to well-equipped recording studios. He says that accessible technology is now available to any producer who is full of imagination.
“Technology has made music production easier by fitting a whole studio into simple computer software,” he said. “Several of us are self-taught courtesy of YouTube production tips. There are other few talented bedroom producers like myself trying to develop new sounds.”
His music champions a multi-genre style and sweeps across electronic, hip-hop and traditional Ethiopian sounds and textures. Last month, he released his first individual project: an EP titledZema. Over our Skype video interview, he laughs gleefully as he talks me through the project.
“The Zema EP was an amateur project for me,” he explains. “It barely took me three months to make the beats for the EP. I wanted to use Zema to introduce myself to Ethiopia’s music scene. I needed this project to be a success because, as an 18-year-old producer, I was yet to be taken seriously.”
The EP is purely electronic and features recognizably Ethiopian beats as well as an appearance by fellow underground producer and rapper Yared The Profit.
“I went in that direction to represent my culture and my nationality, but still having that electronic taste in my sound. Another reason was to evolve the Ethiopian music industry futuristically,” he says.
Nael says that the response to his project has been phenomenal. “Since the release, several industry players have engaged with me. Radio stations have been playing the music. I guess they like the idea of me trying to change the music scene here in Ethiopia.”
Nael feels that his love for different kinds of music and his eagerness to learn from everyone around him make him different from other mainstream producers; he is always looking to do something fresh.
However, he admits that new and trendy sounds are not – and perhaps should not – be embraced by everyone. He says the industry will always need “old school” producers.
“You know they say a tree with deeper roots grows stronger and higher,” he reflects. “Even though music is evolving every day, I advise every artist with Ethiopian roots to maintain their Ethiopian identity, which means that we still need producers and sound engineers who understand and can work with traditional instruments.”
“I want other young producers here in Ethiopia to see me and get motivated to take risks and to be confident in their music despite their age,” he says.
He believes that well-established record labels can represent a good investment opportunity in Ethiopia.
“To be honest, we lack established recording labels to discover, sign and mentor us. For example, many times I have had a stack of folders full of music I’ve produced, but no clue about how to get it out into the world.”
However, Nael is optimistic.
He says the region should keep an eye out for this emerging new wave of bedroom producers. “Ethiopia’s music scene will definitely grow,” he says, “But we need to have well-organized record labels, highly-equipped studios, and more music training institutions. Ethiopia is a country of bulk talent. I hope in the future that this talent spreads out to the world.”
Source Music In Africa