Ejigayehu Shibabaw, better known as Gigi, is one of the few singers from the Horn of Africa -- the first since countrywoman Aster Aweke, in fact -- to break through with a major-label release.
Gigi grew up in rural Ethiopia, listening to traditional and church music, before moving to the capital, Addis Ababa, when she was 14. There, her musical horizons broadened, hearing the local pop music "and all kinds of American music we could get on the radio. After that I went to Kenya, and there I was exposed to a lot of different African music, a different kind of beat." Returning home, she became a singer with the National Theatre before making her debut record, following which she worked with a puppet company, whose touring took her to France. It was there her real breakthrough occurred, playing a world music festival called Imagineer which resulted in a live recording that made her known in Europe. After returning to Ethiopia in 1997, she was granted a U.S. visa. The New World offered plenty of challenges and she grasped them all eagerly, discovering jazz in Oakland and hitting the road with countrywoman Aweke, "my favorite singer." She made another album, One Ethiopia, before coming to the attention of Palm Pictures honcho Chris Blackwell. She was paired with prolific producer Bill Laswell, who used talent like jazzmen Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter behind her on Gigi, her debut for the label. However, for all the electronic feel of the disc, no loops or samples were employed -- everything was played, and as live as possible. Gigi began promoting the record by appearing at the 2001 WOMEX world music conference in Holland, prior to a U.S. tour. ~ Chris Nickson, Rovi