by Andrew Forbes
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
SOMETHING GLORIOUS IS ABOUT to happen. The nightclubs of Addis Ababa are full. There are finely dressed patrons, the men in their crisp slacks, the pretty women in the latest things. There are even Americans in denim jeans. By his inaction, the Emperor endorses it all.
We are backstage at the Black Rose drinking beer, sitting in a circle of chairs beneath a bare light bulb. Hirut is here. He plays trumpet alongside my tenor saxophone. I have known him since we were both young men in the regimental band, scared and dumb. That is where we began to truly make music. When we left the army we were allowed to keep our instruments. It was very important to us. Hirut is my dearest friend.
Also here is Eshetu, the organist. He is a quiet man. I do not know him well, but I like him. Mekonnen is our guitar player. He is always laughing. I tell him I hope he does not drink too much beer tonight and begin telling jokes from the stage. Ato, our bass guitar, is terribly thin, though his fingers are fat as the fattest sausages. Finally Kessa, our drummer, eats a plate of wat and sneers at the rest of us. I do not care for Kessa.
Some bands without vocalists play polite background music. We do not have a vocalist, but we are not background music. We play something you have never heard. If you know rhythm and blues, that is some of it. But we are Ethiopian, without question.
Together we are a good band, perhaps great. The sign atop the Black Rose’s door reads METCHE HUFU AND HIS RHYTHM BAND. Tonight we are for the first time performing together on stage. Tonight we take flight.
My family are Shewan, from near Addis Ababa. We kept animals. But my father, when he was still young—younger than I am today—came to the capital and became involved in business. He has sold everything in his lifetime: guns, livestock, furniture. Now he sells coffee to a Dutch company. He is very comfortable. He gave his blessing to my music when I was a boy singing songs to my mother and my siblings. He was proud when I played lead saxophone in the band of the Emperor’s Guard. He does not come to nightclubs, but if he did, he would be here tonight.
Finally, we are on stage.
We are very good this night. Our music floats out the door, up through the roof, and people hear and are drawn in. They come in off the wide boulevard to see who is playing this sweet, grooving music. Eshetu weaves an atmosphere of mystery about my horn. Hirut’s trumpet punches the air. Mekonnen’s fingers are sure. Ato lopes. Even Kessa is locked into the good feeling. I glance back to him and on his face I see the calmness that rests past concentration. I am moved to smile at him, but he does not see me.
It is lovely. It is 1971. My wife Sidama and my young sons wait for me in our home. My horn sounds clear and sweet. My tongue is light and quick, my breath is bottomless.
IT IS AS THOUGH a thousand years of men speak through me. Warriors, shepherds, and mystic men send their voices to me. I play a shellela, solo. It is the frenzied calling and incantation that the fighting men would use to excite themselves for battle. Since Aksumite times these calls have rung across these highlands. All of that comes to bear in me. The band is still, as are the patrons.
It is 1973, and we are the talk of Addis Ababa, as I knew we would be. We make records for the Amha recording company, and the discs hang in the window of every radio shop in the city.
Tonight the Black Rose is full, as it is every night we play. The great Getatchew Mekurya sits in the front row. He watches me carefully, and I believe he is impressed. I have impressed the great saxophonist, and I am happy.
On every corner of this capital city, nightclubs with open doors invite Ethiopians inside. There have never been days like this. There is music everywhere; it is as if floodgates have been let open. I tell Hirut that I think we will one day tour the United States and London. “Anything is possible,” he says.
Recently I have met an American, Tom McChesney. “I have been in Marrakech,” he tells me. “I kept hearing of the music in Addis Ababa. I had to hear it for myself.” The American Tom McChesney is a great lover of music who has studied at Berklee school in Boston, United States. After our set, I ask him what he thinks of our music.
“Amazing,” he says, and he smiles. I am pleased. “Like King Curtis, like Booker T. and the MGs, but with an African twist.”
He must know these are among our heroes. We listen to the records in the shops, sometimes we buy them and share them with one another. “Thank you, Tom,” I say. Tom does not speak Amharic, though he does have some Arabic and much French. I have some English. In this cobbled-together way can we speak to one another. Tom will become my great friend. He will be glad he came to Addis Ababa.
about the author
ANDREW FORBES was born in Ottawa, Ontario and attended Carleton University. He has written film and music criticism, liner notes, sports columns, and short fiction. His work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in publications including VICE Sports, The Classical, The New Quarterly, and This Magazine. What You Need, his debut collection of fiction, was published by Invisible Publishing in 2015 and was nominated for the 2015 Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the 2016 Trillium Book Award. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario. www.andrewgforbes.com
by this author
In a suburb that is nowhere and everywhere, Jorgen deals with the feelings of alienation and frustration from his collapsing relationship by getting into his car, putting on Patti Smith, and searching for meaning and belonging anywhere he can — regardless of whether he is welcome or wanted.
A recruiter for a Division I college basketball team travels to a town in hopes of finally convincing the year's prize high school prospect to play for his team. Over several days, he reflects on his love of the sport, his respect for the kids, and a job that forces him to sweep sentiment aside in order to get results.
“Andrew Forbes' The Gamechanger is a powerful work from a point-of-view — that of the scout, the talent evaluator — which is not often seen or done convincingly, as it is here. A story about fathers and sons, about fate, and about the implicit savageries that lurk at the heart of the sports we love and the teams we cheer for. This is wonderful, raw writing.”
— Craig Davidson, author of Rust and Bone and Cataract City
“A fascinating look at the relationships a recruiter has to manage, from the sacrifices of being away from their family, to dealing with rival recruiters, prospects and their friends and family ... a very nuanced and layered approach that goes beyond just a man with a job to do at a gym.”
— Alex Wong, stevenlebron.com
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A hybrid travelogue and memoir that pieces together the fragmented recollections of one woman’s rocky journey toward vegetarianism. From her rural upbringing in francophone Northeastern Ontario to exotic locations, outlandish adventures, and bizarre meals, Julie relives her struggle to make the right food choices for herself and examines the consequences of her decisions.
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“Caroline Adderson is such a graceful and intelligent writer that the work that must surely go into creating her hilarious, prismatic stories is never betrayed in the language. There is no strain on the page, not a bead of sweat. I think of her as a writer’s writer. I envy her talent and learn from her sentences. The short story, Obscure Objects, is, I’m happy to report, Adderson at her glorious best.”
— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
“Obscure Objects, Caroline Adderson’s fierce and affecting workplace comedy, is a deadpan gem: droll, moving, snapping-smart.”
— Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Position
An imaginative and resonant work of speculative literature from ReLit Award-winning author Darren Greer. Twin brothers, born on an oppressive family farm, discover a miraculous way to escape the dreariness of their lives, charting a course that promises equal measures of wonder and heartbreak.
On an isolated English beach a man looks back on his school days, recalling the joy and torment of a secret love affair with a boy full of strange ideas, a boy obsessed with the language of the King James Bible. Moments from their relationship return to him: the hidden meetings on the beach, the first attempts at sex, the boredom of a school assembly in summertime, the cruelty of a young English teacher. But most of all he remembers the boy’s words. They’re words that, years later, will haunt him as he tries to come to terms with the person he has become.
“Psalm 77 is the type of story that one wants to read over and over, searching for meanings previously unseen. It is laced with the hidden, the secret, the sacred. From the sand dunes and their private longings in school to the verses, the imagery, and the final paragraphs, there is so much to uncover . . ." (Read full review)
— Amanda Miller from shortsundone.ca
Toronto in the twenty-first century: At night, a beacon on a lonely ancient lake, a drainage pond from the last ice age. In the daytime, a bulwark of glass, glinting in the radiant sun. Joe, Mary, and her cat, Sam, sit in a lakeside condo, trapped by a crazed, mysterious sniper. What has become of their lives? What has become of their city? What has become of their century? As the situation begins to unravel, Mary finds herself wondering, “What would Margaret Atwood do?”
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
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— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club