When Meklit Hadero, Gabriel Teodros and Burntface, aka Ellias Fullmore, met in the studio to see what happened, well, so many great songs tumbled out so fast, and the creative connection proved so strong, that the three knew there was no looking back on their journey… Earthbound.
That’s the CopperWire effect. Copper—the most common of metals, yet far from ordinary. “It’s the cheapest material you can find, but a huge amount of electricity can go through it,” Burntface says. Coiled together, these three artists have discovered themselves to be a vessel, a conduit that transmits a creative power greater than themselves—one that zaps through the barriers of genre and geography that would label and divide them, and for which they have no use.
Their vantage point: Outer space. Like other visionaries before them—Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, David Bowie, Octavia Butler—CopperWire step off the surface of the planet, claim their extra-terrestrial roots, the better to make sense of our world and engage it humanely.
They know a bit about aliens and alienation. They were raised with Ethiopian roots but mixed and transplanted in America, shaped in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., New York. They are children of folk and rock and hip-hop who are catching up to their parents’ Amharic language and traveling back to a homeland in the throes of challenge and change.
From the metal imagery of airplane and spaceship to the sharpness and sheen of the beats, this is a mineral, material album. But copper is grounding, too, and it’s no accident that the inspiration to make Earthbound came to the three while on a trip to Ethiopia, performing in the capital and small country towns. There, Meklit, the singer-songwriter, found herself improvising to Burntface’s beats, her band adding bass and horn licks. Burntface and Gabriel, the MCs, beat-boxed to Meklit’s melodies. Meklit says “The metaphor of traveling back and forth—it’s not just traveling over land, but to an entirely different part of your mind and of yourself.”
“Step out of your comfort zone,” Meklit sings on the song Mahalia Einstein, and the group follows its own advice. Steeped in classical music, co-producer Chris Coniglio worked with Burntface to texture the right space-opera soundscape without compromising the boom-bap immediacy of hip-hop. Meklit connected with scientists at NASA’s Kepler Lab and the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program, which searches for inhabitable worlds beyond our own—to harvest actual star sounds and hybridize them into CopperWire’s music, even into the sound of her own voice. Burntface, not just an accomplished MC and producer, is also a software developer. He secured a strategic partnership with AppSynth Media to create a series of innovative mobile applications for CopperWire that explores augmented reality technology, and generative music as part of a multi-threaded narrative inspired by the Earthbound album.
Like so many migrants, CopperWire’s members balance the idea of distant origins with the resolute engagement with all the places they find themselves, as a method of making themselves at home. That means youth mentoring and activism in Seattle for Gabriel, or helping run a community arts non-profit in San Francisco for Meklit, a TED Senior Fellow. It also means projects with other artists from hip-hop to traditional music that aim to strengthen communities and the environment, from the Nile River to America’s urban neighborhoods.
On Earthbound, the three enact characters—Gabriel as Getazia 13 Zeritoicus-Oxygen, or Getazia for short — the half-alien, half-human; Burntface as Professor Askala Bilaq a.k.a. Scholar Black — the ice-cool scientist; Meklit as Ko Ai — the messenger and supernova-born solo traveler capable of entering the minds of different people… or the soul of the computer. It’s a space opera, after all; but the characters are not just for the album. They step out of it and into the struggles and wonders of life. “We’re going to Earth for the first time,” Gabriel says, “to learn about what being human means.”- Siddhartha Mitter