Ejigayehu Shibabaw, or Gigi as she is popularly known, is one of the most successful contemporary Ethiopian singers worldwide. Coming from an ancient tradition of song originating in the Ethiopian Church, she has brought the music of Ethiopia to wider appreciation and developed it in combination with a wide variety of styles. Gigi was born and raised in the north-west Ethiopia small town called Chagni. She lived in Kenya for a few years before moving to San Francisco in about 1998. She 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 new album. She has also appeared in ‘Running From the Light’ in Buckethead’s Enter the Chicken.
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 Agewña, the language of Gigi’s father’s village.
Gigi’s voice may be heard in the Hollywood film Beyond Borders (2003), in which Angelina Jolie portrays an aid worker during the 1984 – 1985 famine in Ethiopia.
She released her sixth album, Gold and Wax on Palm Pictures, in 2006.