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D.C.-based Chopteeth guitarist Michael Shereikis is best known for playing funky Nigerian Afrobeat. But from 1997 to late 1999, Shereikis lived in Côte D’Ivoire, where he met singer Yeoue Narcisse and guitarist/vocalist Tiende Laurent. They formed a group called Zieti, and along with drummer Alex Owre they made an album—-but the release was lost when the recording studio they used suddenly shut down.
Zieti might have stayed a footnote—-the members spread across the globe, had families, formed new bands. But in the past few years, the two Ivory Coast members recorded new Afropop material over which the U.S.-based Shereikis and Owre then played. The result is Zemelawa, which is available on Shereikis’ own Grigri Discs label.
Alas, the two Ivory Coast members couldn’t get visas to come to the U.S., but some of the other musicians who played on the album will perform at Bossa tonight. The lineup also includes local Ary Zogdoule and his “Cameroonian all-star band,” which includes members of Chopteeth and D.C.-based Malian performer Cheick Hamala Diabate.
Shereikis “produced all the songs on Zemelewa with the same feeling and sensibility with which we played them when we were together in the late ’90s,” he writes. “That vision belongs mostly to Laurent and Narcisse. I just channeled it.”
Fans won’t hear Chopteeth-style Afrobeat tonight. “Chopteeth is a very different beast, and while both projects share some players, they were approached from very different perspectives and with a very different sound in mind,” Shereikis writes. “First and foremost, the vocal melodies and harmonies are uniquely Ivorian. Chopteeth plays many different styles, but nothing from Cote d’Ivoire. Also, Zemelewa has a different drummer, bass player, and rhythm guitarist, all playing a different style from Chopteeth, based again on Ivorian rhythms.” And in contrast to Chopteeth’s five-piece horn section, only a handful of tracks on Zemelewa feature brass.
You couldn’t call Zemelewa a traditionalist recording. Shereikis says Laurent and Narcisse’s songs were influenced as much by the modern African and American pop that plays on the radio in Côte D’Ivoire as it was by their Guere heritage.
Shereikis says he talks with Narcisse on a weekly basis—-“and we are expecting Laurent to resurface any day now after years living at a family compound in the far west of Cote d’Ivoire, where there are no phones,” he writes. When in Abidjan, the largest city in Cote d’Ivoire, Shereikis’ bandmates “live in a shantytown,” he says. “So bringing them to the U.S. isn’t likely until we can give the visa officers a reason to believe they won’t stay in the U.S.”
Shereikis and Owre plan to send instruments and gear to their bandmates so that they can set up a performance venue and rehearsal space for musicians in their community—-and hopefully, give them a better shot of acquiring a visa so they can support their next album in the U.S. “For that recording, Alex and I intend to travel to Abidjan in the next year or so to record and film and reconnect in person with these old friends,” Shereikis says.
Tonight performance takes place at 8:30 p.m. at Bossa Bistro & Lounge, 2463 18th St. NW. $5.