Ejigayehu Shibabaw, known by her stage name Gigi (born October 21, 1974) is one of the most successful contemporary Ethiopiansingers worldwide. She has performed the music of Ethiopia in combination with a wide variety of other genres, often in collaboration with her husband Bill Laswell, a bassist and producer.
Gigi was born and raised in Chagni in northwestern Ethiopia. She has described learning traditional songs from an Ethiopian Orthodox priest in the family home. She lived in Kenya for a few years before moving to San Francisco in about 1998.
Gigi recorded two albums for the expatriate Ethiopian community, but it was her 2001 album, titled simply Gigi, that brought her widespread attention. She had been noticed by Palm Pictures owner Chris Blackwell, who had years earlier introduced reggae to the mainstream through his former label, Island Records. Blackwell and Gigi’s producer (and later, husband) Bill Laswell, decided to use American jazz musicians (including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Pharoah Sanders, and others) to accompany Gigi on the album.
The result was a fusion of contemporary and traditional sounds. The album was a critical success internationally and generated controversy in her home country for such a radical break with Ethiopian popular music. This release was soon followed by Illuminated Audio, an ambient dub style remix of the album by Laswell.
2003 saw the release of Zion Roots, under the band name Abyssinia Infinite. Bill Laswell played guitar and keyboard (instead of his usual bass), and several of Gigi’s family members contributed vocals. The album was a return to a mainly acoustic sound for Gigi, incorporating instruments such as the krar and the tabla. The track “Gole” is in Agaw, the language of Gigi’s father’s village.
She released her sixth album, Gold and Wax on Palm Pictures, in 2006.
Her 2001 song “Guramayle” appears in the 2006 documentary God Grew Tired of Us. It plays over opening and closing credits.
As leader (Albums)
- Tsehay, 1997
- One Ethiopia, 1998
- Gigi (Guramayle), 2001
- Illuminated Audio, 2003 (Laswell’s remix of the 2001 album “Gigi”)
- Abyssinia Infinite: Zion Roots, 2003
- Gold & Wax, 2006
- Mesgana Ethiopia, 2010
- Future2Future by Herbie Hancock
- Sacred System: Dub Chamber 4 (Book of Exit) by Bill Laswell
- Realize by Karsh Kale
- Live at Stern Grove by Tabla Beat Science
- Enter The Chicken by Buckethead
- Radioaxiom by Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble
- Daylightless by Fanu (in Salem and Semena-Worck tracks)
- Putumayo Presents: One World, Many Cultures Compilation
- Putumayo Presents: Music from the Coffee Lands, Vol. II Compilation
- Gigi has further claimed that “I grew up singing in the Ethiopian Church, which is actually not allowed for women….” The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church maintains that “both men and women may join in the singing,” while ethnomusicologist Kay Kaufman Shelemay notes that the church generally prohibited women from singing or playing music in church until the Derg era of the 1970s.