After fleeing their homeland of Ethiopia in the late ’70s to avoid conflict with the Marxist government, a trio of reggae musicians made their way to the United States.
Landing in Chicago, the three musicians began playing their African and Jamaican-flavored jams in reggae clubs around the city.
Fronted by singer/guitarist Mulu Gessesse, the band consisted of Mulu’s brother Zeleke Gessesse and close friend Meluka Retts.
In 1980, the band assumed the name Dallol, and put together a demo tape. Dallol gained a sizable following in Chicago quickly with its distinct Ethiopian-flavored sound.
The demo soon found its way all over the country, outside of the United States, across the Caribbean and into the hands of a certain famous family in Jamaica.
“It was 1981, right after Bob (Marley) died,” Mulu recalled. “Our tape made its way to Rita (Marley), and she asked us to go on down to Jamaica. That was our first contact with the Marleys.”
Contacts with the first family of reggae proved to be a good thing for Dallol. Rita Marley produced the band’s first full-length album and helped the band out in a number of ways. Lodging and other commodities were provided to Dallol by the Marleys as the band made its tour of the islands.
It wasn’t long before the Marleys became more than contacts, with friendships forming between Dallol and Bob’s son, Ziggy Marley.
“Ziggy was only 10 years old when we met him,” Mulu explained. “As a matter of fact, he played his first show with us.”
Good ties with the Marleys continued, and soon Dallol was asked to tour with Ziggy’s newly formed band “Ziggy and the Melody Makers.” Dallol’s Ethiopian and reggae roots served as a perfect backdrop to Ziggy’s continuation of his father’s style and heartfelt messages.
In the late ’80s, Dallol toured and recorded with Ziggy. The result of the combined effort was heard worldwide. One platinum and one gold album elevated Dallol to superstar status in the reggae industry.
“That experience was great because it enabled us to go all over the world,” Mulu said.
After about five years with Marley, Dallol returned to its second home in Chicago. Included in the move were a couple line change ups and a change of name for the group. Upon the addition of three more members, including two female vocalists, Dallol changed its name to Baaro.
Since moving back to Chicago, Baaro has made many national, as well as international, media appearances.
Included in Baaro’s impressive list of accomplishments are appearances on David Letterman, Soul Train, the NAACP Image Awards, BBC and the Arsenio Hall Show. Baaro’s most recent television appearance was a slot on the Oprah Winfrey Show three weeks ago.
The band has continued doing what it does best. Recording three CDs (one in 1986, 1991 and this year’s “Rhythm City”), Baaro has greatly expanded its fan base, particularly in the Midwest.
“Everywhere we go, we are getting very positive reactions, and they love our arrangements, melodies and harmonies,” Mulu said. “Every new place we go to, they keep wanting us to come back. Our base has been expanding all the time. Colleges, especially, have responded very well. The last time we came to Ames, we had a wonderful party. The action and response was incredible. The same thing is happening everywhere we go.”
“Rhythm City” captures Baaro’s long and eventful career by staying true to the sounds of Dallol but also adding depth with the addition of the newest members.
Capturing the bands message of togetherness, love of all people and unity, the album also stays true to reggae roots.
“I think the newest album reflects our experience,” Mulu said. “You’ll obviously hear reggae, and you’ll also hear some of our Ethiopian background. It’s a blend of Africa, Jamaica and urban-American music.”
The album draws on a number of musical influences, including Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, singers from Africa and South Africa, as well as pop melody influences from the Beatles.
Being able to play music for a career has proven to be a fulfilling thing for Baaro.
“Music gives me a medium for me to express my inner feelings,” Mulu said. “Any time I get inspired about a certain idea or a certain feeling, I just go sit down and play my guitar. I’m able to transform that abstract thought into music. Seeing the finished product with the band and then recording and listening to it gives me an incredible feeling.”