Through a decade of work in the many musical worlds that harmoniously coexist in
New York, 29 year old Oran Etkin has cultivated a singular voice that brings together
elements of modern jazz with traditional African and Israeli music.
Kelenia, his debut recording on Motéma Music, features his working
groupof Malian, Israeli and American musicians, along with guest appearances by
vocalist Abdoulaye Diabate and Grammy Award-winning artists Lionel Loueke, and John
Benitez on a collection of eleven tracks that pay true testament to the essence of
"kelenia," which is the Bambara word for love between people who are different from
Since first forming Kelenia in 2003, Oran and the band's other original members -
Balla Kouyate (balafon) and Makane Kouyate (calabash and vocals) - have developed an
almost telepathic connection that transcends nationality and genre to create music
that is free and spontaneous enough to go into uncharted territories, and at the same
time speak honestly from the heart. It is particularly apt that their recording debut
will be released on Motéma Music on June 9.
"Oran is in many ways a quintessential Motéma artist... a virtuosic player with
multiple influences, who is savvy as a band leader, courageous with his compositions
and inspiring in his dedication to bringing a new vision to the art form," says
label owner Jana Herzen. "The infectious brew of jazz, Klezmer and traditional
Malian music that Oran cooks up with Kelenia, is illuminating, uplifting, and
incidentally, a whole lot of fun!"
Although many jazz musicians incorporate world elements into their music, Oran's
approach has a special power born of his triple-threat fluency in the musical
languages of West Africa, Jewish music and jazz. Etkin is highly respected amongst
the best practitioners of all three genres due to his musical journeys to his native
Israel, his time spent in Mali, and his years on the highly demanding modern jazz
scene of New York City. Given the rarity of musicians who share this depth of
fluency in jazz and world music, it is no surprise that Oran and Lionel Loueke were
drawn to each other early on in their professional careers.
"Lionel and I began playing soon after we moved to New York,"Oran recalls.
"It's always fun to play with him, building off each other's melodies and sounds
and letting the music lead us to a different place each time."
Oran grew up playing jazz, mentored at a young age by the likes of George Garzone,
Yusef Lateef and Dave Liebman. He has been working with various West African
musicians in the US and Africa for over ten years and learned their music the
traditional way-by listening and playing it with the masters. For his formal
training, Oran also studied classical clarinet and composition, an experience that
inspired him to add a string section to one track, the sinuous "New Dwelling".
"I have always loved playing clarinet with strings", explains Etkin "On
this album, I decided to take that sound one step further, adding strings to
'Kelenia.' All that sound of wood vibrating in the room-the violin, cello, bass,
and also the balafon, calabash and bass-clarinet created such a warm and rich sound
From the spirited opener "Yekeke," which sparkles with Balla Kouyate's balafon and
is buoyed by Daibate's soaring vocals, through the impassioned rhythmic title track
and the cleverly Klezmer-tinged interpretation of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a
Thing," Kelenia is an adventurous exploration into a uniquely
kaleidoscopic musical landscape.
Having developed a high level of virtuosity on an instrument that for years has
been absent in the modern jazz world, Oran stands out amongst a small handful of
musicians who are putting the clarinet and bass-clarinet back into the forefront of
modern improvised music. As such, he has been invited to play alongside some of the
leading musicians in the jazz, African, Haitian, Brazilian, New Orleans and Jewish
music scenes. His work with the New York based African all-star group Mandingo
Ambassadors has been covered in the New York Times and on Public Radio
International's Afropop Worldwide. In fact, Afropop Worldwide also
showcased Oran's work with Kelenia twice in the past year, with music from Oran's
upcoming CD being broadcast on over 100 US radio stations and on stations around
the world even before its release.
Although Kelenia represents Oran's debut CD as a leader, he has
recorded with artists as diverse as Wyclef Jean and Frank London. He has performed
at venues throughout the US, Europe, Africa and the Middle East including Joe's Pub,
Blue Note, the United Nations (for of Kofi Anan, Al Gore and presidents of several
nations), Central Park SummerStage, Miami's American Airlines Arena and Montreal's
Festival International Musique Haitienne. In his travels to Mali, Oran had the
opportunity to play for the Chief of all Griots and sit in with some of the region's
most respected musicians, including Toumani Diabate, Habib Koite and the Super Rail
An avid advocate of the power of music education, Oran sits on the faculty of the
Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and has developed a new method for teaching music to
2-6 year olds that has so far shown exciting results with over 400 young students.