Liner notes

For many, 2020 was a year of disruption. For some, the year was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to simply pause, relax and contemplate the world around them. For Minyeshu it was a chance to reflect upon her life’s journey thus far. With time on her hands due to postponed tours, various self-evaluating questions began to surface within her: how have I got where I am today? Am I happy with where I am? Am I on the right path and where would I like that path to lead?

For every question unearthed, music appeared to be the answer, the solution to her uncertainties; the jewel in her crown. Minyeshu explains, “it became clear that music is a part of me, I breathe music, I dream music, and of course looking back it has always been a part of me. Music is what sets me free which is why Netsa, meaning ‘free’ in Amharic, was the perfect project for me. It was a chance to have the time to experiment, to explore… to be free.”

Born in the city of Dire Dawa, Minyeshu later moved to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. There, she joined The Ethiopian National Theatre, a treasure trove of like-minded souls eager to express their deep-rooted Ethiopian traditions via the form of dance, song and music. It was there that she dis-covered the talented composer Mulatu Astatke – the father of Ethio-jazz. Completing her studies, she moved to Belgium, and later the Netherlands, to shape her career as a singer, dancer, producer, actor and choreographer. Her incentive: to meld worldwide musical instruments with her Ethiopian cul-ture and share this gem with the world.

This endeavour saw her touring for festivals including Amsterdam Roots Festival, International Mu-sic Meeting Festival Nijmegen and Festival Mundial Tilburg. She had also been a regular on the Afri-can music festival circuit, sharing stages with the likes of Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita and Angélique Kidjo. With five striking albums to her name, she was becoming the lapidarist of her own musical journey. The last, Da Dee, described as “One of the best African records of the year” (Lust for Life magazine).

As Minyeshu’s music evolved, so did she. Over the years she gradually became more in tune with herself, with the universe and her connection to it. So, when the world went quiet in 2020, she was ready to listen to her soul, her calling. Minyeshu engulfed herself in the present, creating songs that simply made her smile with uplifting melodies that set her soul free. Like a musical meditation, un-disturbed by the outside world, ‘Netsa’ began to grow from the inside out.

The first track, Fidel (Alphabet), begins with the unique, mystical sound of the chechezeya. This very traditional instrument, found in the north and south of Ethiopia, was recorded live by Min-yeshu’s guitarist, Donnie DuVall, at a rural festival over a decade ago. Its intriguing sound pulls you in as Minyeshu reflects on the childhood games she used to play with her friends. One of her fa-vourites being Sidest korki, a simple game played with home-made objects found around the house. “You don’t see these basic games being played anymore, for example, my daughter is half Dutch so she missed out on experiencing a childhood like this, so I like to sing about these memories to keep them alive. Fidel is about when you are four, five, six… at that age you are energetic, full of power and excitement – this track embodies this youthfulness.”

The tempo drops with Qulef (The Key), a soft, gentle and jazzy dedication to love and unity – how a lover can hold the key to our hearts, our homes. “When you lock something with a key, there is an element of unity, both parts are locked together as one. Likewise, when you have a house, it is built from separate parts which are then locked together – click, click, click, and together they make a home.”

This essence of unity and connection with others, either nearby or afar, is carried through into Yene Africa (My Africa), where we are honoured with the harmonic vocals of Afrika Mamas. One of Min-yeshu’s long-life aspirations was to work with artists from all over the world, so her dream came true when a mutual friend brought their paths together. While Afrika Mamas were doing a radio inter-view in the neighbouring city of Venlo, Minyeshu offered to meet them and bring them to the stu-dio. “On the way, I told them about the song and my idea; we started singing right away so by the time we arrived at the studio we were ready to go. None of us knew what the outcome would be, we just gave it a go.”

Qhakaza Thando (Shine Up Love) features one of the Amharic pentatonic scales called Tezeta (meaning ‘memory’ or ‘nostaligia’), which is often used in ethnic music and modal jazz improvisa-tion for its emotional impact on the listener. Minyeshu felt she could take this one step further by combining this tezeta scale with Afrika Mamas’ exhilarating vocals. “We tried it on the bus and they just started crying, it immediately touched their souls.”

Fiker (Love) has a ballad-like feel to it, with a catchy yet almost haunting melodic trance building throughout. It touches on how unconditional love forms a big part of who you become. “For me, there are three things that come to mind when I think of unconditional love: my country – Ethiopia, my mother and my daughter. Those three form who I am today. Your birth place, your culture, your upbringing – they are all the foundations of your life. Your mother is the person who raised you, so of course she also helps form who you are. And your children can change you, as you adapt to a new way of life becoming a parent yourself.”

Not only devoting songs to the love and unity of the people around her, Minyeshu also pays homage to the natural world. With Ethio yo yo Pia, Abay (The Blue Nile) and Erta Ale, she recognises the beauty within the world around us and the powerful effect Mother Earth can have upon humanity.

“Ethiopia is my heritage; my roots are still a big part of me, wherever I go. And Abay, the river, is like a person to me because it’s so powerful – it’s a magical place. During the last couple of years, I have gone deep within myself and connected on another level with the universe. I really love the vol-cano Erta Ale, it is in the North East, it means a lot to me. I dream to one day to walk barefoot on the volcano itself!”

The album comes to a close with Getee (My Jewel), Minyeshu explains, “With a cherished piece of jewellery, such as wedding ring, you don’t just take it off one day and replace it with another. It is too important; it means too much. This song is for my other half – the love of my life – he makes me feel this way – proud, special – he is my crown jewel.”

It is hard to deny that ‘Netsa’ comes from a place of self-awareness, appreciation and enlightenment. The result is a beautifully-crafted album touching on Minyeshu’s life’s journey so far – a reflection on what has been and how she would like to shine her light going forward. As Minyeshu explains, “It highlights how we should see the world with positivity, the sun is still shining and nature is still nourishing us. People are still free and able to reach out and connect with each other with their hearts, minds and souls, even when they’re geographically distanced.”