Almaz Yebio
'Down To Earth'

 by Johanna B. Bodde

Almaz Yebio
'Down To Earth'
(Deliberate Music, 2013)

Almaz Yebio's BIO
The beginning:

Music was a part of my life very early on. I began to sing in a choir when I was five years old. My family moved from Sweden to Kitwe, Zambia for a couple of years before continuing to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. There I started playing the piano, an instrument I've always returned to through the years. Haile Selassie was deposed by a military junta so my parents quickly decided to take us children back to Sweden where I began taking classical guitar classes. I continued playing the guitar for more than a decade before realizing that my voice was my main instrument! I was twenty years old and studying at the Academy of Music in Malmö, Sweden when it became clear to me.

Since my graduation as Master in Fine Arts I've been working on a free-lance basis as an artist, conductor and as a teacher. The projects through the years have been many and varied.

Later on

Some examples of collaborations:

1987-1996 Member of the group Agora Brasil (later only Agora), a sextet playing tunes, both originals and by other composers, with a Brazilian flavor. We toured a lot in the Nordic and the Baltic countries as well as in Northern Europe. The group released two records 'Blame It On The Bossanova' and 'Maïs Além'.

1991-1997 Member of the group Paixao, a quartet merging new lyrics in Swedish with Brazilian compositions. The group released one record 'Ett Öga Pa Tiden'.

1995 - 2000 Vocalist with the Nordic Big Band April Light Orchestra, a band consisting of female musicians from all the five countries with Hanne Römer from Denmark as artistic leader and conductor. We did several tours, including the Baltics and a trip to Beijing, China. 'April Light' was the name of the bands one and only record.

1993 - 2002 Member of Vocability, a mixed a-capella sextet based in Malmö, Sweden. Vocability put together several shows, toured Sweden a lot, especially performing for children in regular schools. Vocability has taken part in several Christmas concerts, accompanying soloists such as Helén Sjöholm, Tommy Juth, Lill Lindfors, Peter Jöback and Putte Wickman.

1998 - 2006 Member of Soul Quality Quartet, a quartet that grew into a sextet but kept its name! The music played at first was heavily influenced by the jazzy funk-vibe from the 60s, but slowly other elements and instruments were incorporated, forming a kind of acid jazz / latin band in the end.The band released two full length CDs 'Strip' and 'Dip', and also one EP 'SQQ'. This band took me to Jazzcafé in London - and what a club to play!

Other musicians / groups I've worked with, short or long term, include:
MNBB (Monday Night Big Band in Malmö), Jacob Karlzon, Mette Ott, Jan Lundgren, Arne Domnérus, Frank Adahl, Maggi Olin, Hans Ulrik, George Garzone, Fredrik Carlqvist, Johan Bergman, Beverly Glenn, Ola Hedén, Ola A
kerman and many more.

Some projects initiated by me:

Almaz Yebio's Twist'n'Shout (with Karl-Martin Almqvist - saxes, Mattias Hjorth - bass and Peter Nilsson - drums)
Almaz Sambando (with Mark Solborg - guitar, Benjamn Winding and Christian Glass - percussion and Mats Ingvarsson - bass)
Almaz Yebio trio (with Krister Jonsson - guitar and Mats Ingvarsson - bass)


Member of Stroman / Jönsson vocal project, a Sweden / England collaboration discovering a suite written for five singers and five instrumentalists: Lena Willemark, Linda Pettersson-Bratt, myself, Scott Stroman, Cleveland Watkiss, all singers, and Maggi Olin - piano, Lisbeth Diers - percussion, Mattias Hjorth - bass, Cennet Jönsson - saxophones, Henrik Frisk- saxophones. A highly interesting and lovely piece of music with a lot of space for improvisations.

Guest soloist on the latest record by Kjeld Lauritsen trio 'In The Zone'. Kjeld is an institution all by himself in the Danish jazz community with his swinging Hammond organ playing! Since the release we have done quite some gigs together and it's really a thrill for someone like me who needs an injection of soul / jazz once in a while, that Hammond provides a sound to jump off of, every single time! In the trio you also find: Per Gade - guitar and Sören Frost - drums.

Anna Weister-Andersson is one of Sweden's most acclaimed gospel singers and choir leaders. She is passionate about Black American gospel music, and is putting her work as a composer, teacher and choir conductor into spreading and sharing this music throughout the country. In 2011 Anna gathered a choir of ten singers and five musicians to do the first recording entirely with her compositions, 'One in Christ'. I was invited to take part in this fantastic project, and we still do concerts when there is a possibility to gather the whole gang.

Teaching and conducting

1994-2011 Musical director and conductor for Rejoice gospel choir, Lund, Sweden. A choir with some forty members organizing and sharing the work between them. So much energy and working spirit makes the job so inspiring for the conductor! The years with Rejoice more than I'll ever know about leadership, endurance, friendship and work towards new goals. We released three CDs during my time with the choir: 'Stir Up', 'Rejoice - Live' and 'Wrappin' Up'. It's so great to see that the choir continues to work, with a new leadership and new aspirations.

I work as a vocal teacher at the Academy of Music in Malmö, Sweden and also at Skurups Folkhögskola. To be able to walk alongside another person for a bit while they are forming and developing their instrument and musical expression is a gift. Both grow, especially when we don't think alike. I wouldn't have been the musician I am today without teaching... or vice versa!

I occasionally work on a freelance basis with voice training, conducting or choir improvisation. One unforgettable assignment was putting together a gospel choir to perform a couple of songs with Mr. Stevie Wonder at his concert in Copenhagen, Denmark in July 2010!

Almaz Yebio's ALBUM

Almaz tells: The latest recording 'Down To Earth' is the project closest to my heart at the moment! A sort of Almaz Yebio trio project that expanded towards more musicians; an urge to give every song its own sound within the record. I'm the producer of this record together with Mats Ingvarsson and it's also the first release on my own label!

There are so many great songs out there! From different eras and places. In different styles. My curiosity has taken me into exploring the groove of jazz, the strength of gospel, eclectic composers from Brazil, melancholy in Scandinavian folk songs and the catharsis of free improvisation. But right under my nose I find LPs with thumbprints still there from my childhood. Simon & Garfunkel and Genesis to name a few. Teenage memories with soundtracks from Paul Simon's or Peter Gabriel's solo projects. They're composers, lyricists and performers a generation before me, whose music deeply affected popular music of today. And they're still going strong. 'Down To Earth'... exploring songs from my old mix tapes. It sure has been a pleasure to choose and arrange some of those favorites together with my band. In the process we realized we wanted to contribute with some songs of our own. To give something back. Like apostles... Peter and Paul. And we, like disciples... Peter, Paul and us..."


1. "Merry Go Round": The album starts off with the bass, played by Mats Ingvarsson. Then we hear Almaz... Oh, what a lovely voice she has! Let's not forget - the lead electric guitar is great too.

2. "Further To Fly": Written by Paul Simon. Almaz's voice soars... The guitars and bass create a dream like sound together, that circles and circles around us, like magic!

3. "Hearts And Bones": Another song written by Paul Simon in 1983. A quite different approach - the blues guitar rocks here without mercy. Almaz keeps her cool though. The gospel influenced backing vocals are so pretty!

4. "En Dag Var Hon Borta": That means: "One Day He Had Lost Her". Written by K. Jonsson and J. Willén. A lovely Swedish folk lullaby, it's probably triggered by the language, but Almaz reminds me here of the equally sweet sounding Annika Fehling. Halfway the track Fredrik Lundin surprises with a gorgeous saxophone solo.

5. "Dancing": The saxophone is back and gets a bit more perky here, in this funky co-write by Almaz with Mats Ingvarsson. The deeper registers of her voice are being explored first and then onward to the highest ones - just fascinating.

6. "Down To Earth": The title track - a Peter Gabriel song. I absolutely love the delicate percussion, courtesy of Christian Glass. The saxophones, I hear a soprano too, play mellow parts and then the track builds up beautifully... until it ends very quietly again.

7. "The Little Things": An original composition, I assume by friends of Almaz, F. Lundin and T-L. Vaering. Unfortunately, the tracks seven and eight are switched on the disc. Just so you know... to avoid misunderstandings. This is a simple, slow, old-time jazz inspired ballad, with saxophone solo and more stunning vocal techniques by Almaz. Her timing, incredible!

8. "Have A Good Time": Written by Paul Simon. A perfectly timed upbeat funky jazz number, giving the bass and also the electric guitar plenty of opportunities to shine. Great! What a fine, sunny, feel good song...

9. "Solsbury Hill": Written by Peter Gabriel. An adventurous rhythmic take on this classic track. The background vocals, winking at ethnic music from Africa, are also extraordinary.

10. "Washing Of The Water": Also written by Peter Gabriel, this interpretation starts off on a melancholy saxophone solo. Then the enchanting vocal part begins... A glorious last track of a simply gorgeous album, 53 minutes long - from the first to the last seconds.

This promo arrived together with Mats Ingvarsson's HOPE and it didn't take me long to figure out that Almaz and Mats are partners! A beautiful lady singer, based in the jazz genre, singing some pop classics - of course the name of Norah Jones comes to mind. There's nothing wrong with that comparison, the vocal timbre and the relaxed way of singing by both lovely ladies is somewhat similar indeed. Given the international background of Almaz, it's no surprise that her pronunciation of English is impeccable. Her interpretations of the classic pop songs are rich and wonderful, the originals from closer to home fit in seamlessly too.
Her expanding of the usual jazz trio (vocal, guitar and bass) with a few guest musicians works very well and creates variety, even magic at times. This is THE perfect record for your late evenings, for those evenings you will remember or better: evenings when you make lasting memories...  
I'm closing off with a quote by J. Olsson (Arbetet) and I totally agree on this: "..she has an unusually beautiful voice, with a range enabling her to do about anything she pleases. Furthermore, her phrasing is dazzling, her technique impressive and her mind-set inventive and daring".
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - March 12th, 2015.