post Bole2Harlem

July 21st, 2008

Filed under: Music Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 22:15

Review by Marco Werman.

Harlem is the destination for immigrants from all around the globe. And they bring with them many different types of music. The World’s Marco Werman tells us about one man who’s pulling together some of what he hears… on and off the street.


Sometimes you can know a lot about a place by the way it sounds. Harlem can be like that. Start at 125th street and walk down Seventh Avenue. Between the merengue, hip-hop and traffic, it’s like a multi-dimensional game of name-that-tune.

Who’s the artist? What’s the song?

But the sounds of Harlem don’t ALWAYS spill out onto the pavement. One sound you DON’T hear out on its streets is Ethiopian rhythm.

Bole2Harlem - “Enseralen Gojo”

That’s in spite of the fact that Ethiopia represents the second largest group of African immigrants in the U.S. after Nigerians. A small group of Ethio-philes though is keeping Addis Ababa’s music alive and very fresh in New York. Dave Schommer who lives on 123rd in Harlem is the brains behind a new CD called “Bole2Harlem.”“I can’t say to you specifically that this record is 100 percent Ethiopian. This is about the experience of being an Ethiopian immigrant, and the experience of living here in Harlem and really reflecting a sound of Harlem.”

Dave Schommer grew up with an academic dad who did research in Ethiopia. When he was a kid, Schommer’s house was filled with stories and art from the horn of Africa. Years later, Schommer worked as a songwriter and producer with the likes of Donna Summer and Carole King. When he wasn’t in the studio, his group of friends included a quickly growing circle of Ethiopians. They all seemed to bond over Ethiopia.

Dave Schommer

“But it was also about this common listening experience of this whole group of friends that live here in Harlem, and then just walking around and hearing merengue and salsa and reggae and Senegalese and hip-hop, and so it was the element of all these things coming together and saying “you must make this record!” So that’s what we ended up doing.”

“Bole2Harlem the title track was based around this whole idea that when you go there, the cabs are these minivans where they’ll pack as many people in as possible, where they sort of tell you where they’re going and you don’t have to pay the full fare, you pay a portion of the fare, and you have these guys, and one guy drives and the other guy works the door and he calls out where he goes and he slams the side of the door and goes, “Bole, Bole, Bole, Bole, Bole,” that’s how you know you’re going to Bole Road. Or “Arat Kilo, Arat Kilo, Arat Kilo,” or like “Sidis Kilo, Sidis Kilo,” you know, they’ll tell you where they’re going to go, and there’s a certain music to it. And it’s like it’s something that when you leave you miss it. And we were talking about that thing and thinking, “aw wouldn’t it be cool if we just showed up in Addis in our own van, going “Harlem, Harlem, Harlem,” you know, taking people to Harlem.”

The Bole part of Bole2Harlem doesn’t just refer to that big street in Addis. Bole is also the name of a neighborhood — and it’s the name of the city’s airport too. That’s key to Schommer’s concept of this music.

“So the idea was like, if Ethiopia is the exit point of culture, people get on a plane and take what they’ve got to New York, to me, I certainly view Harlem as this sort of entry point of African music into America. That was the idea: what if you took those two things and built a bridge between Bole and Harlem.”

So Dave Schommer and Maki Siraj, the Ethiopian singer he works with on Bole2Harlem, built that bridge. And traffic on that bridge goes in both directions. That’s evident on the track “Harlem2Bole,” in which Harlem’s hip-hop and predominant Senegalese immigrant sounds travel back to Ethiopia.

Unlike many cross-cultural musical fusions, “Bole2Harlem” grew naturally. Schommer and Siraj would hear sounds from Addis Ababa and New York that made them go “eureka.” With the tune Hoya Hoye, eureka happened for Schommer after a trip he and Maki Siraj took to Addis a few years back.

Schommer was in his New York apartment and thinking about the Hoya Hoye dance he had seen performed back in Addis. He says Hoya Hoye comes from a percussive dance Ethiopian kids do during their version of Halloween.

“The kids come out with like a walking stick, and they’ll pound in this rhythm (claps), and they’ll start singing “Hoya, hoye, HO, hoya hoye, HO,” and everybody else is going “HO! bum, bum.” It’s a wonderful tradition, and they’ll take all the sticks they’re using and they’ll add them to a bonfire at the end of the night, and sort of burn away the things from the past year. There was something really cool. So we wanted to do that, and then I realized this tempo (claps again), and I walked across the street to get some jerk chicken, and there’s this hip-hop track, “boom, boom, bam, boom, boom, bam,” and I was like “Oh man, that’s hoya hoye, I got to put it together.”

More surprises were in store for Dave Schommer as he returned from the Jamaican jerk chicken place. He heard the sound of a choir in a Harlem church singing a chorus, “Feeling all right!” That refrain entered the tune.

And so did a blues scale that Schommer realized was an abbreviated version of an Ethiopian scale. The song was almost written by the time Schommer walked back in the front door of his apartment.

Ethiopia had a golden age of music in the 1960s. A curfew under the oppressive regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in the 70s all but dried up the nightlife and talent in Ethiopia.

Now, musical life there is slowly starting back up. And as Ethiopians travel to and from New York, new musical ideas are making the transit as well.

Dave Schommer and Maki Siraj’s “Bole2Harlem” project shows how those ideas get turned into very cool songs.




  1. This guy uses people to get ahead, especially in the case of Bole2Harlem. There’s nothing original about anything this guy does. He’s all about climbing the backs of others.

    Comment by just a guy who knows Dave — 14. October 2011 @ 02:31

  2. Oh it was nice beging yet your move dosen’t move further.u have a diversify culture enables you to crop diverse music.please you can contact me if you like I can build the bridge for you.

    Comment by sisay fana — 28. December 2012 @ 22:51

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