Birth nameEjigayehu Shibabaw
Born1974 (age 49–50)
OriginChagni, Ethiopia
Years active1997–present
LabelsPalm Pictures

Ejigayehu Shibabaw, known by her stage name Gigi (born 1974), is an Ethiopian singer. She has performed the music of Ethiopia in combination with a wide variety of other genres, often in collaboration with her former husband Bill Laswell, a bassist and producer.

Early life and career

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.[1][a] 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.[4] 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.

Gigi's voice can 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 Three album, Gold and Wax on Palm Pictures, in 2006.

She has also appeared in "Running From the Light" in Buckethead's Enter the Chicken (2005). In 2010, she recorded Mesgana Ethiopia with Material, released on the M.O.D. Technologies label.[5]

Her 2001 song "Guramayle" appears in the 2006 documentary God Grew Tired of Us. It plays over opening and closing credits.

Personal life

Gigi was married to her producer Bill Laswell.[6][7] Her younger sister, singer Tigist Shibabaw, died under unknown circumstances in 2008.[8]


As leader

Other appearances


  1. ^ Gigi has further claimed that "I grew up singing in the Ethiopian Church, which is actually not allowed for women…."[1] The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church maintains that "both men and women may join in the singing,"[2] 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.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Ejigayehu Shibabaw Official Myspace". Archived from the original on September 12, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  2. ^ Sergew Hable Sellassie; Belaynesh Mikael (December 1970), "Worship in the Ethiopian Orthodx [sic] Church", The Church of Ethiopia: A Panorama Of History and Spiritual Life, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, retrieved February 19, 2013 – via
  3. ^ Shelemay, Kay Kaufman (September 15, 2006). "Ethiopia: Diaspora and Return". Afropop Worldwide (Interview). Interviewed by Banning Eyre. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  4. ^ Falceto, Francis. "Alfanalech - Gigi Between Past and Future". Les nouvelles d'Addis. Archived from the original on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 2007-07-12. What is new with Gigi and Bill Laswell, is the extremely modernist bent of an enterprise which marks, like it or not, a radical break with the usual routine and the decadence prevalent for the past quarter-century.
  5. ^ "Mesgana Ethiopia: New Music from Gigi". CultureMob. 21 October 2010. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  6. ^ Anil Prasad (2011). "Bill Laswell: Intuitive spontaneity". Innerviews. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  7. ^ "The Quietus | Features | Strange World Of... | The Strange World Of... Bill Laswell". The Quietus. Retrieved 2024-02-22.
  8. ^ "Ethiopian Singer Tigist Shibabaw of Bole 2 Harlem Dies in Bahar Dar". January 21, 2008. Retrieved 2010-05-01.