Zieti – Zemelewa

Zieti released their new record, Zemelewa, a couple of months ago on Grigri Discs. The group is made up of two Americans (guitarist Michael Shereikis and drummer Alex Owre) and two Ivorians (lead singer Yeoue Narcisse and guitarist/vocalist Tiende Laurent). Zieti got their start rehearsing in makeshift performance spaces and by the oceanfront shantytowns in Abidjan. Composers Yeoue and Tiende had been friends forever, growing up and playing music together in Western Ivory Coast. It was the Rasta master, King Shabba, who introduced them to Alex Owre. Owre soon brought along Shereikis and the group naturally formed itself. The harmony felt by all of the members was instantaneous and within five minutes the band had written “Bah Bohi.” The group worked on many songs together and things began to look up for Zieti.

“It was instant friendship because Alex and Mike would come out and visit us, even though we lived in a part of town people thought was rough, and we’d go visit them. We saw each other all the time. We’d share simple meals—manioc and oil, sardines and bread—and we’d all eat from the same bowl.” – Yeoue Narcisse

Unfortunately, when Owre and Shereikis left in 1999, Ivory Coast descended into civil war. Tiende was called home to one of the hardest hit areas of his country. He finally resurfaced after months of silence, during which the other members assumed he was dead. Amazingly, Shereikis arranged for local studio time for Yeoue and Tiende via an Ivorian contact he met at an African record store in DC. The two got together and produced a cassette loaded with MIDI-driven production. It didn’t make much of an impact in Ivory Coast, but the fundamentals were in place for the songs on Zemelewa. Frustrated by the production work on the cassette, Shereikis set about to recast the songs, filling out the sound and developing the sonic principles established when the group worked together in Abidjan. He also brought in other musicians to help, from sax to slide guitar, including bandmates in Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band and émigré musicians he knew from around DC.

The result is a magnificent set that is as unique as it is vibrant, mixing anything from West African funk-inspired sounds to Congolese rumba. Killer bass lines, tight vocal harmonies, steady percussion, wailing organ and tender accordion contribute to a style that is distinct, fresh and full of grooves. Their lyrics, mostly sung in Guere, deal with topics like AIDS awareness to the power of tradition, from love lost to the need for political unity in a country torn by infighting and violence. The group is also giving back to the musical community in Ivory Coast by providing real instruments to struggling artists in an effort to help them move away from the MIDI-laden production that surrounds a lot of Ivorian music. Zemelewa is not to be missed. Hit your local record store and pick up the latest effort from Zieti today. To get a sample, watch the band’s video for “Zemelewa” below.

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