Raised in Ethiopia, trained in Bulgaria, and vetted around the world, pianist Girma Yifrashewa is grateful for the opportunity to bring his music to the Occident, as he arrives in San Antonio this weekend to share his captivating solo piano studies.

His latest release, Love and Peace, a capturing of those ideals expressed through a baby grand, will be the focus of his performance at Travis Park Methodist Church this Saturday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. For more information about the evening and to purchase tickets, click here.

Recognizing his opportunity to expand the musical palette of his international audience, Yifrashewa intertwines the healing power of African music with the sensual subtleties of classical repertoire.

“It is a fusion of African and Western tradition,” he said via phone, gentle compassion in his voice. “I am trying to open to a wider audience, especially here in the States.”

Yifrashewa has spent a considerable part of his career perfecting his relationship to the canons of Chopin, Debussy, and other classical pianists, hoping to someday perform in conjunction with a full symphony orchestra. Nonetheless, he has not let the structure often associated with classical music to interfere with the development of his own imagination and ideas, which are inherently Ethiopian as he grew up in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital.

“I hold Ethiopian music in me, it is my initial cultural base,” Yifrashewa said. “While I was in Ethiopia I was trying to promote Western art and classical music to them. Yet it is also important to bring the tradition of Ethiopia to the U.S.”

While the pianist is most proficient caressing and careening over the keys, he began plucking the strings of the kirara traditional Ethiopian instrument similar to a harp.

“I try to capture the music we use quite often in Ethiopia,” Yifrashewa said of his approach on the piano. “There are special types of notes for church music and folk tunes. I try to bring this to my composition in such a way that it maintains originality, but blends a classical structure.”

Girma Yifrashewa composing in the comfort of his home. Photo courtesy of Jordan Mitchell
Girma Yifrashewa composing in the comfort of his home. Photo courtesy of Jordan Mitchell Credit: Courtesy / Jordan Mitchell

While the tragedies and suffering that affect Ethiopia differ in scope and nature to those of West African countries such as Sierra Leone, the way music is used to bring harmony is just as natural and just as powerful.

“(Love and peace) – these are very important things for all human beings,” Yifrashewa said, referencing the ideals that he focused his latest album on. “I try to bring harmony and understanding between people. This is the most fundamental thing for all of us: to do our work peacefully and effectively.”

Yifrashewa, who is coming to Texas for just a two-date tour, believes deeply in the music of his continent and country, and is eager to capture the attention of those seeking to tap into a new blend of music.

“African music should be promoted more in an international atmosphere, a place where we can share our indigenous cultures,” he said. “Our music has a a lot to give, not only just music for self-satisfaction, but for inspiration. It is a language between all human beings.”

If you have the pleasure of stepping into this talent’s sound on Saturday, you will want to pay close attention to Yifrashewa’s favorite song, “The Shepherd With The Flute.” For Yifrashewa, this composition is a reflection of the Love and Peace album, the song in which the audience can best grasp the atmosphere of those ideals.

“Even though he lives in a poor countryside, the shepherd has such joy and comfort in his heart,” he said, conjuring the pastoral image through his calm cadence. “The shepherd is a reflection of hope and happiness and love. We should all have such satisfaction in our lives with whatever we have – we should all be grateful and satisfied.”

Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.