Barzakh Festival: punk band The Ex revel in Ethiopian music rhythms

We speak to Andy Moor of Dutch punks The Ex about their forthcoming gig at NYU Abu Dhabi

Dutch punk group The Ex will perform with Ethiopian dance troupe Fendika on Thursday at NU Abu Dhabi. Courtesy NYU Abu Dhabi
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It would have been a sight to see if an earlier incarnation of The Ex were to perform as part of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Barzakh Festival on Thursday. 

With anarchic punk anthems such as Stupid Americans and the full-throttled assault of their 1979 debut Disturbing Domestic Peace, the four piece's thrashing guitars would have peeled the paint off the Arts Centre's Red Theatre's walls.

But that was a long time ago. The Ex of today may not be nearly as loud but that adventurous punk spirit is still there.

For nearly four decades, the Dutch-based rockers made a name of confounding labels, having touched upon various genres including punk, rock, world and European folk music. But one thing for sure, there is one tag they don’t want to be associated with.

“Fusion. I hate that term,” explains Scottish guitarist Andy Moor. “Whenever I hear that term my toes curl. It’s just not what we do. We always keep our sound, but we try to incorporate the music that we love.”

Currently led by Dutchman Arnold de Boer on vocals and guitars since 2009, the shape-shifting quartet’s musical crushes have been as many and varied since first emerging in the Amsterdam rock scene.

Over the preceding four decades, the band shed as many as styles as personnel with up to 15 ex-members to their name. Guitarist and co-founder Terrie Hessels is the only original member left.

Moor – who joined the group in 1990 – explains the The Ex’s eventual move towards exploring more experimental and African sounds was an organic process. The more they explored the world, the more inspiration they found.

“We got to the stage where none of us listen to punk music anymore,” he says.

“I barely listen to guitar music at the moment unless it’s Angolan funk from the 1960s.”

Indeed, it is in the loping melodies and polyrhythmic riffs of Ethiopian and Eritrean folk music where the group are comfortable.

Ever since the release of their 2004 album Turn – produced by the notoriously uncompromising Steve Albini – each of the group's follow up albums have focused on music from the region with a particular emphasis on Ethiopian jazz.

Moor states their love for that style of music stems from the cassette tapes they gathered during their travels.

“We would hear these songs on these tapes and we would be amazed and we would think, ‘yes, this will sound great with what we do’,” he says. “After that we would go out and find who these artists are, which is totally different now because it is the other way around when it comes to streaming music.”

Such quests resulted in strong partnerships including recording with the late, great Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya and the dance troupe Fendika.


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The latter group, led by dancer and choreographer Melaku Belay, will join The Ex for a joint performance this Thursday. In addition to their separate performances, both performers will come together for a concluding set which they have been recently jamming out in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

“We found a way to make these songs work together,” Moor says. “We don’t try to sound Ethiopian and they don’t sound like The Ex and in the process we sound fresh and like a totally new band.”

The Ex and Fendika will perform as part of Barzakh Festival on Thursday at 7.30pm in the Red Theatre, NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. Tickets are Dh105 for adults and Dh52.50 for students from