Ejigayehu Shibabaw is a prominent Ethiopian singer who rose to international stardom through her overwhelming talent and melodious voice. Ejigayehu, better known as Gigi, has made her career by working with some of the greatest musicians in the music industry. She is a musical genius whose records would send chills down your spine every other second. Gigi’s music contains strong and touching poems that are inspired by scripture, the ancient Ethiopian church, and the beauty of Ethiopian civilization.
Childhood and Early Life
Ejigayehu Shibabaw was born in 1974 in Chagni, Amhara Regional State, Ethiopia. She belongs to the prestigious “Shibabaw” family, which bears children who are stars in Ethiopia. Gigi is the fifth child in a family of ten. Ejigayehu Shibabaw was raised by upright parents who led their life by coffee gowing. Her family’s survival was reliant on the river Ardi’s water to irrigate their coffee plantations.
Gigi grew up singing in the Ethiopian Church, and it was from a priest that she learned how to sing a song. While Gigi grew up in her hometown, she used to listen to traditional and church music.
At the age of 14, Gigi and her family moved to Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Accordingly, her musical horizons broadened as she heard local pop music, American music, a lot of West African music, South African music, hip hop, and anything else she could get on the radio. Egigayehu Shibabaw decided to become a singer and songwriter at a very early age. However, it wasn’t easy for her to pursue her dream, as she faced opposition from her tradition-minded parents. This prompted her to depart from Ethiopia and travel to neighboring Kenya, where she established a band and performed for the first time in 1993 at the age of 19 in Nairobi. After her time in Kenya, Gigi moved back to Addis Ababa, where she quickly made a name for herself as a talented singer and songwriter.
Gigi was married to her producer, Bill Laswel, and they have a son together. However, they are no longer together.
Gigi has a younger sister named Sofia Shibabaw, who is a famous gospel singer in Ethiopia. She had also a deceased sister named Tigist Shibabaw, who was also a singer.
Egigayehu Shibabaw started out as a singer with the National Theatre in Addis Ababa before making her first album. She met the musicians Weres Egziabeher and Fantahun Shewankochew there, and the three of them went on tour together through East and South Africa and some parts of Europe. In France, Gigi got involved in a French theater production of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Later on, she was invited to perform at a Paris world music festival called Imagineer and recorded a live concert. This marked her rise to stardom in Ethiopia. As planned, she was granted a U.S. visa and settled in California, in the United States.
There, Gigi started recording her first album, titled “One Ethiopia,” which was made for the Ethiopian community. Even though only electronic instruments were used in the recording of the album, GiGi’s sensual and emotional voice was still able to immediately move any listener. Her album brought about a national craze and attracted widespread attention.
Consequently, she signed for Palm Pictures after the founder, Chris Blackwell, was impressed with her album and realized the potential of this beautiful young singer. This was also a crucial step in her career because it introduced her to Bill Laswell and other prolific musicians. The best American jazz musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Henry Threadgill, David Gilmore, Aiyb Dieng, Nicky Skopelitis, Pharoah Sanders, Art Baron, Hamid Drake, and Bill Laswell, collaborated with Gigi on her debut recording for Palm Pictures. Then, this amazing ensemble of accomplished musicians began to record an album that is now known as “Gigi” and “Guramyale” (mixed). The album combined jazz, funk, African, and Asian musical styles. It is still regarded as the pinnacle of African and Ethiopian music. The album was one of the best of 2001 thanks to Gigi’s sensual and moving voice and Bill Laswell‘s expansive and organic sound.
In 2003, Gigi released Illuminated Audio, which was a remix of Gigi’s debut album “Gigi.” In this audio, Bill Laswell reconstructs her album by imagining new versions and perspectives to highlight Gigi’s singular vocals.
In 2006, Gigi’s third album, “Gold & Wax,” her second CD on Palm Pictures, was released. The music on the album is a natural fusion of African songs with Jamaican, Indian, and American influences. Bassist Bill Laswell put together a diverse group of musical talent for Gold & Wax, boasting a stellar lineup. This CD features contributions from the legendary Indian vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan, the drummer Karsh Kale, the master of funk keyboards Bernie Worrell, the multi-instrumentalists from Africa Abesgasu Shiota, Moges Habte, Aiyb Dieng, and Assaye Zegeye, the digital futurists MIDIval PunditZ and Skizz Fernando, and the avant-garde guitarist Buckethead. Gigi’s status as the spokesperson for traditional Ethiopian music has been cemented by the release of the album. Moreover, the album took fifth place in the BBC Radio World Music Awards.
In addition to her albums, Gigi has also made an appearance in Buckethead’s Enter the Chicken’s song “Running From the Light” (2005). Additionally, in 2010, she collaborated on the M.O.D. Technologies label’s recording of Mesgana Ethiopia.