Monday, September 30, 2013

v.a. - [1992] - Music from Ethiopia [Caprice]

       This recording gives rich samples of the sounds of tradition in urban musical life in Ethiopia today. The ancient ceremonial music played on the embilta flutes or the vocal art of Alemayehu Fanta or Gebre Hiwot Lemma represent older traditions. The group Sne Bahel offers samples of singing and music which accompanies lively traditional dances from the Oromo and Wollaita ethnic groups. Modern pop music is represented in six tracks by the Abyssinia Band. 

       A really nifty release, Caprice has combined two forms of urban music usually rigidly separated: professionally performed "traditional" music for krar, flute, voice, and Ethio-soul by electric groups that play the real local thing rather than the crossover material we're usually offered. The result is splendid: very varied and splendidly performed music and truth-in-classification.

01. Lemma Gebre Hiwot - Medina / Zelesegna (4:50)
02. Abyssinia band - Yedejih abeba negn [Hanna Shenkute] (6:44)
03. Yohannes Afework - Ambassel (4:29)
04. Abyssinia band - Mis men gidifkini [Girmai Biable] (4:18)
05. Asnakech Worku - Tizita (4:45)
06. Abyssinia band - Endenew yisemah [Hanna Shenkute] (5:30)
07. Areru Shegane, Teka Tema, Yohannes Afework - Tigrigna (3:16)
08. Yared Orchestra - Alegntaye (5:30)
09. Alemayehu Fanta - Salamta (3:00)
10. Abyssinia band - Yiberral libbe [Dawit Mellese] (4:23)
11. Sne Bahel - Haya wolalome (2:29)
12. Alemayehu Fanta - Anchihoyelene / Tizita (7:03)
13. Abyssinia band - Esketayew [Dawit Mellese] (4:35)
14. Sne Bahel - Dowa dowe (3:22)
15. Abyssinia band - Tizita [Hanna Shenkute] (7:11)

Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Anchiye

                      R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D  

       Teodros "Teddy" Makonnen is a composer, arranger, producer, and masterful music performer. "Anchiye" is very rare album. I found it on Soulseek, the best P2P software ever. Don't have any data or coverart, rip is pretty lousy, but music is great. 

1. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Fikrik Beretabign (7:55)
2. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Neh Yene Wolela (9:02)
3. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Tizita & Ambassel (13:42)
4. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Misterawi debdabe (7:43)
5. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Akale (8:29)
6. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Yadabelle (5:31)
7. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Ajire Mewded (4:23)
8. Teodros Teddy Makonnen - Enem Ager Alegn (4:11)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mulatu Astatke - Live @ Altstadtherbst, Düsseldorf Sep-18th-2011

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

                  Excellent performance, exquisite sound. Enjoy!

        Mulatu Astatke - Live at Altstadtherbst, Düsseldorf, Sep-18th-2011 

01 Mulatu's intro             00:19
02 Dewell                      12:59
03 Yakermew Sew           11:19
04 Netsanet                   09:37
05 Azmari / Chic Chica     18:11
06 Yegelle Tezeta           05:54
07 Yekatit                      04:57

Tekle Tesfazgi - Saba Sabina [eritrea]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

       Eritrea is an East African country in the Horn of Africa region. Perhaps the most famous Eritrean musicians in history are Eng. Asghedom W. Micheal, Bereket Mengisteab, Yemane Baria, Osman Abderrehim, Alamin Abdeletif & Atowe Birhan Segid, some of whose music were banned by the Ethiopian government in the 1970s. Also of note is Bereket Mengistab, who has had a lengthy career, and 60s legends Haile Ghebru and Tewolde Redda. The latter was one of the first electric guitar players in East Africa, and a singer and writer of the famous 'allegedly' Eritrea's independence song "Shigey habuni" with love theme as coded message for political freedom .

       Eritrean music has a unique rhythm that sets it apart from the rest of Africa. Modern popular stars include Bereket Mengistab,Teklé Tesfa-Ezighe Tekele Kifle Mariam (Wedi Tukul), Tesfai Mehari (Fihira), Osman Abderrehim, Abrar Osman, Abraham Afwerki, Yemane Ghebremichael, Idris Mohamed Ali, Alamin Abdeletif, Tsehaytu Beraki, Atewebrhan Segid and Berekhet Mengisteab.

       Modern Eritrean popular music can be traced back to the late 1960s, when the MaHber Theatre Asmara began to produce stars like Osman Abderrehim, Alamin Abdeletif, Yemane Ghebremichael also commonly known as Yemane Baria, Jabber, Ateweberhan Seghid, Yonus Ibrahim, Tsehaytu Beraki, Tewolde Redda, Teberh Tesfahiwet and Tukabo. This music was influenced by American psychedelic rock and Motown soul music. The list of eritrean singers and eritrean bands is long.Since then, some musicians, like kraar-player Dawit Sium have helped to incorporate the core indigenous Eritrean musical elements in popular music. Imported styles of music from Europe, North America, and elsewhere in Africa, as well as the Caribbean, are also very popular in urban areas of Eritrea.

01. Tekle Tesfezghi - Kem Delay (6:47)
02. Tekle Tesfezghi - Mlketi (4:39)
03. Tekle Tesfezghi - Chnqi Nay Kltina (7:16)
04. Tekle Tesfezghi - Saba Sabina (5:15)
05. Tekle Tesfezghi - Kuhubky Kubki (4:27)
06. Tekle Tesfezghi - Fqrey Telemeni (4:27)
07. Tekle Tesfezghi - Mehiremaid (4:42)
08. Tekle Tesfezghi - Nbaet Temeaibe (5:16)
09. Tekle Tesfezghi - Bseney Dyu (5:26)
10. Tekle Tesfezghi - Tekele (3:51)
11. Tekle Tesfezghi - Tesfa (5:05)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Walias Band - [1981] - The Best Of Walias [ethiopia]

         Walias Band (sometimes spelled Wallias Band) were an Ethiopian Jazz and funk band active from the early 1970s until the early 1990s. Formed by members of the Venus Band, Walias backed up many prominent singers with a hard polyrhythmic funk sound influenced by western artists like King Curtis, Junior Walker and Maceo Parker. 

      In 1977 they recorded one of the few albums of Ethiopian instrumental music (Hailu Mergia and The Walias Band – Tche Belew) in collaboration with vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, whose role as a bandleader and composer was also a major influence on Ethiopian popular music.

     In 1981 Walias became the first modern Ethiopian band to travel to the United States, playing on a tour with singer Mahmoud Ahmed primarily to audiences of Ethiopian refugees.

     Four members Girma Bèyènè, Mogès Habté, Mèlakè Gèbrè and Haylu Mergia stayed in the U.S. and formed a new group called Zula Band in favor of returning to live in Ethiopia under its dictatorship.

     Mergia took work in Washington DC driving a taxi cab and released solo cassette tapes of traditional Ethiopian music played on analog synthesizer, electric piano and accordion.The remaining members, Yohannes Tèkola and Tèmarè Harègou, continued to play together under the Derg dictatorship for another decade.

    In the late 1990s Walias Band found a wider audience in the west when the French label Buda Records reissued much of the group's music on the Ethiopiques series of compact discs. Their instrumental, "Musicawi Silt", became a popular dance number and has been covered by a number of artists.

     The Walias Band's name derives from the walia ibex, an endangered species of the Capra genus native to the mountains of Ethiopia. They share no members with the similarly named Ibex Band who also backed up Mahmoud Ahmed during the same epoch.

1.Walias Band - Malada                        [Woubishet Fisseha]    (5:11)
2.Walias Band - Kalatashew Akal                                                (2:35)
3.Walias Band - Tizzita                         [Getachew Kassa]      (10:25)
4.Walias Band - Ashkaru                        [Mahmoud Ahmed]     (3:06)
5.Walias Band - Ye Kereme Fikir            [Getachew Kassa]     (4:47)
6.Walias Band - Inchi Libbe Echo Naw  [Mahmoud Ahmed]    (6:32)
7.Walias Band - Eyuwat Sitnafikagn                                           (3:41)
8.Walias Band - Wa Hoyye                  [Woubishet Fisseha]     (5:13)

v.a. - The begenna of elders - The harp of David in Ethiopia [2009]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

Alemu Aga - "Besmeab - Abatachin Hoy", 
playing the Begenna, the Harp of David from Ethiopia

01. Alemu Aga - The Sacred Names Of The Begenna (6:36)
02. Alemu Aga - Alem Marefiya Nat (The World Is A Place Of Rest) (4:25)
03. Alemu Aga - Hosanna (Cry Of Praise And Adoration To God) (4:09)

04. Seyoum Mengistu - Segid Selam (Worship For Peace) (2:44)
05. Seyoum Mengistu - Gidune (Unwillingly) (4:27)
06. Seyoum Mengistu - Hede Minino (Went To The Hermitage) (3:11)

07. Admassu Fikre - Ehud Lelit (Sunday Night - About The Ressurrection) (2:55)
08. Admassu Fikre - Kidus Kidus (The Praise Of The Lord) (5:31)
09. Admassu Fikre - Medinanazelesegna (The Futility Of Life) (4:08)

10. Tafesse Tesfaye - Besemea (In The Name Of The Father) (3:05)
11. Tafesse Tesfaye - Ergibina Wane ((The Praise Of St. Virgin Mary) (4:34)
12. Tafesse Tesfaye - Wodaje Wodaje (About The Sufferings Of Christ) (3:48)

       Alemu Aga was born in 1950 in Entoto, near Addis Ababa. Alemu Aga has played the Ethiopian traditional lyre Begenna since he was 12, having been trained by a famous master, Aleqa Alemayehu Wolde-Ammanuel, who was his neighbour and teacher at his school.

     After graduating from the Addis Ababa University (with a degree in geography), he taught the Begenna at the Yared Music School until 1980. He now teaches on a voluntary basis and focuses on his research about the Begenna.

      He has published numerous audiotapes and several CD‘s and appeared in concert worldwide. Nowadays, Alemu Aga is the most highly respected Begenna player of Ethiopia.

    Talking on any subject with Alemu Aga, one cannot help but be taken aback by the exceptionally smooth and enchanting tone in which the veteran begena performer utters his measured responses. Of course, given the gracious and calm mood displayed on all occasions by one of the few living authorities on the begena instrument, it could still be possible to pass Alemu Aga's spiritual and melancholic sounding tones as mere natural endowments of that exceptional man. But take the scores of begena lyrics Alemu is known to sing again and again, especially during fasting seasons, on the national radio and you have just begun to appreciate the high degree of sublimity (as they call it in the theatre) that the personality of Alemu has afforded to the art of that unique Ethiopian treasure.

    True enough then that in manners, speech and strict Orthodox Christian way of life, the personality of Alemu Aga, to say the least, could be described as all begena in itself. And this is due to the fact that all the enchanting monotony of lyrical sounds that the traditional string instrument is capable of producing, together with the strict spiritual messages the lyrics carry, have almost perfectly captivated the psyche and physique of the virtuoso performer. "In performing with the begena, one is only supposed to appropriately reflect strictly spiritual and holy messages. Anything less and worldly than that, like modern music, is not attributable to the purposes of the begena and is hence disrespectful," he says.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ethio Stars & Tukul Band - Amharic Hits and Experimental Traditions from Ethiopia [1994]

                               R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

       Ethiopian popular music is in its very nature multi-national. In addition to strong Ethiopian traditional songs, other elements derive from various currents of popular music - from soul and jazz to Italian hits and Islamic vocal styles. The result is a completely original kind of contemporary Ethiopian popular music. It could be described as "Arabic soul singer plays Amharic-Italian funky jazz."

       The origin of popular music in Ethiopia can be traced back to the 1920's when Haile Selassie brought over a group of Armenian orphans from Jerusalem and so formed The Bodyguard Orchestra. They brought new instruments with them, like trumpet and saxophone, and from this and other military bands a night-club scene began to emerge. In 1935, Ethiopia was invaded and though this lasted only a few years Italians stayed and formed some dance bands.

        Regardless of the effect outside influences, such as American rock have had on musicians, Ethiopian popular music is still very strongly based on both sacred and secular traditions from different parts of the country. Perhaps more relevant than the question of how western music has affected Ethiopian, is how Ethiopian music might one day influence western popular music...

       The Ethio Stars' best known album, Amharic Hits, was split with The Tukul Band.

    Ethio Stars    

       Shimeles Beyene, the leader of the Ethio Stars tells: "We chose the name Ethio Stars because we were the best musicians. We formed the group in 1981... ";"We are running our group by ourselves. Privately, you see. We buy our own instruments. We practice every day. If we don't play well we don't live. What I mean is, we cannot continue like we play in Ghion Hotel if we don't improve our talent all the time. So we practise more and attract more people." ...

       "Day by day our music is changing. Before it was soul music. Now sometimes rock. It changes, you see. Before it was more acoustic, now electronic instruments are very important." "We call it Ahmaric music because of the language. How does it sound? as you can hear, it sounds good! Mostly we have four pentatonic scales: tizita, anchi-hoye, ambasel and bati. We compose depending on them. The most usual rhythm we play is chikchika. It's the same like in the Eshet Eshet, the song sung by Getatchew. You can write the beat in 3/4, but if you make it fast it becomes the beat of chikchika"...

         The Ethio Stars continue to play their infectuous dance music in the hotel clubs of their homeland. Led by saxophone player Shimeles Beyerie, The Ethio Stars have recorded prolifically with their cassettes selling well in Ethiopian music stores. Most of the Amharic songs tell about love. In Amharic you call it fikir.

Ethio Stars are:

Getachew Kassa: Vocal
Girma Chipsa: Vocal
Shimeles Beyene: Trumpet
Girma Woldemichael: Trombone
Bibisha teferi: Guitar
Abiyou Solomon: Bass
Dawit Senbetta: Keyboards
Samson Mohammed: Drums
Mulatu Astatke: Drum Machine

                                     T U K U L   B A N D   

       Tukul Band plays traditional Ethiopian music in a modem experimental way. Musical director Mulatu Astatke is a well known figure in the modernization of Ethiopian music and improving traditional instruments.

       The Krar is a six string bowl-Iyre. Tukul Band uses its modem forms: electric lead krar and bass krar. Krar is nicknamed the devil's instrument (yeseyTan mesaria). According to the legend: God himself made the begena and gave it to Dawit. "Use this instrument to adorn and praise My name", God said. The scheming devil, envious and green-eyed, made the krar in distorted imitation. "Play it and adore all the worldly pleasures", said the devil to mano (Ashenafi Kebede, Krar: The Devil's Instrument. Ethnomusicology Vol.xXI Nr. 3.)

        The Masinko is the only Ethiopian bowed instrument, a 1-string fiddle. It is the typical instrument of an azmari, or entertaining bard ("griot"/ "troubadour"). Getamasay Abebe from Tukul Band plays an electrically amplified masinko. The Washint is a bamboo flute, usually with four finger holes. Ethiopian drums used in this recording are hollow-bodied with skins at both ends. Adungna Chekel plays three upright drums with sticks and chimes.

Tukul Band are:

Yohannes Afework: Washint
Kut Ojulu: Bass Karr
Birhane Haile Maryam: Lead Krar
Getamasay Abebe: Masinko
Adungna Chekel: Ethiopian Drums, Chimes
Mulatu Astatke: Arrangements; Musical Director

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Addis Acoustic Project - Tewesta [Remembrance] [2011]

                      R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D    

     Perhaps because of its own internal diversity, Ethiopia seems particularly open to external musical influences.  Christianity was adopted as the official state religion in the 4th century, although on third of the population is Muslim.  

       Four ethnic groups are dominant, but eighty (!!) different ethnic groups presently exist within Ethiopia.  So this collection of reworked Ethiopian hits of the 1950s and 1960s is quite the eye-opener, with its seamless mix of East African, Latin and American jazz styles.

           As the liner notes explain, the overthrown of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 gave rise to a much more aggressive electric sound in Ethiopian music subsequently, with Ethio-jazz, R&B and pop artists such as Mahmoud Ahmed and later, Aster Aweke and Gigi attracting the attention of world music enthusiasts.

         But the electric style was preceded by the acoustic, which featured guitars, accordion, double bass, mandolin, clarinet, oud, drums and miscellaneous percussion.  

      The music on this CD has a mellow vibe, occasionally bordering on “smooth jazz,” and the seemingly 
effortless playing the by the six native Ethiopian musicians in the band transports the listener to hip, smoky cafes that would have flourished during the period.  

       Most of the fifteen songs on the program use the classic pentatonic (five-note) scale, although adherence to the scale is more or less strict, depending upon the arrangement.  

     The prominent use of clarinet and accordion as dual lead voices is reminiscent of Jewish klezmer music at times.  The music is most distinctive and “Ethiopian” when it combines modal scales and loping but highly complex time signatures (5/4, 6/8), as on the gorgeous “Ambassel” and “Yigermal.” 

     Elsewhere though, influences are more tangled and subtle.  The rhythm foundation on a number of pieces is predominantly Latin (the ostinato riff and rhythm of “Yetintu Tiz Alegn” comes very close to Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman”), while melody lines and orchestration can suggest everything from Argentine tango to Celtic music. 

         Leader, arranger and guitarist Girum Mezmur has clearly listened to a good deal of jazz guitar (Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, etc.) and he integrates tasty but highly nuanced jazz lines into a number of tunes.  

       Indeed, an ethnomusicologist would find this music to be a veritable treasure trove, although one doesn’t have to analyze it in order to enjoy it.  For Ethiopians, a great deal of nostalgia is undoubtedly wrapped up in these pieces, but for everyone else, the pure musicality of the CD will be quite sufficient.  

       In fact, after a few spins, the music will likely insinuate itself into the listener’s consciousness to the extent that it will take up permanent residence.  Highly recommended.

01. Addis Acoustic Project - Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin (4:43)
02. Addis Acoustic Project - Ambassel (6:15)
03. Addis Acoustic Project - Almaz YeHarrarwa (6:01)
04. Addis Acoustic Project - Ante Timeta Ene (6:01)
05. Addis Acoustic Project - Fikir Ayarejim (3:58)
06. Addis Acoustic Project - Etitu Beredegn (5:19)
07. Addis Acoustic Project - Anchim Ende Lela (5:57)
08. Addis Acoustic Project - Mashena (5:00)
09. Addis Acoustic Project - Yene Hassab (4:56)
10. Addis Acoustic Project - Yetintu Tiz Alegn (5:06)
11. Addis Acoustic Project - Ema Rumba (4:38)
12. Addis Acoustic Project - Enigenagnalen (5:22)
13. Addis Acoustic Project - Kewedet Tegegnech (4:34)
14. Addis Acoustic Project - Alemoush Mambo (4:12)
15. Addis Acoustic Project - Yigermal (4:36)

Girum Mezmur, acoustic guitar, semi-acoustic jazz guitar, accordion, vocals &     arrangement
Henock Temesgen, double bass, vocals
Nathaniel Tesemma, drums, percussion
Ayele Mamo, mandolin, vocals, lead vocals
Mesale Legesse, kebero, darbuka, bongos, hand percussion
Dawit Ferew, clarinel, vocals
Ahmed Elmak, oud
Endris Hassen, massinko


   R   E   V   I   E   W   S  :   

           Addis Acoustic Project Revives Classic Ethiopian Grooves on Tewesta (Remembrance) Ethiopia isn't usually the first locale that comes to mind when one thinks of music made with acoustic guitars, accordion, mandolin and clarinet. Yet those instruments are at the core of Tewesta (Remembrance) (Harmonia Mundi/World Village), the new release by Addis Acoustic Project, a sextet that transports instrumental Ethiopian pop hits from the 1950s and '60s into the modern world. 

                  Informed not only by classic African music but by jazz, Latin and other styles, AAP creates an intoxicating, charming blend of sounds that called "a gentle groove with carefully rounded edges."

            Addis Acoustic Project is the brainchild of Girum Mezmur, who directs and arranges the music as well as contributing acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars, accordion and vocals. Each of the other musicians--Ayele Mamo (mandolin, vocals), Dawit Ferew (clarinet, vocals), Henock Temesgen (double bass, vocals), Nathaniel Tesemma (drums, percussion) and Mesale Legesse (kebero, darbuka, bongos, hand percussion), plus Ahmed Elmak (oud on one track) and Endris Hassen (massinko on one track)--is a virtuoso who brings a full spectrum of musical colorings to this gentle but lively music, rich in history and now speaking to a new generation.

               Addis Acoustic Project, on Tewesta (Remembrance)--the title is in the Ethiopian Amharic language--seamlessly fuses the traditional with the contemporary. For those who grew up with access to Ethiopian music during the mid-20th century, this is music that will be instantly familiar. But even for those who did not--and that would include the vast majority of Westerners-these are songs that feel comfortable and homey, melodies and rhythms that grab hold upon the first listen.

          AAP was formed by Girum Mezmur with the intent of finding common ground between the authentic Ethiopian pop sounds of a bygone era-specifically the era just preceding what many consider the "Golden Age" of Ethiopian pop-and jazz, and then bringing it up to date in something wholly fresh-sounding. Mezmur carefully chose the instrumentation for the band, building it around his own accordion playing and other instruments that were commonly used in the Ethiopian pop he wanted to revive, including double bass, drums, clarinet, mandolin and the kebero, a cone-shaped, double-headed hand drum native to Ethiopia. After choosing the instrumentation, Mezmur set about finding the ideal musicians for his dream band, auditioning prospective members until he felt that the connection between them was just right.

         Only then did Mezmur begin to assemble a repertoire, scouring record stores and old radio station playlists and speaking to individuals who remembered the era. The group debuted in March 2008, honing its sound at countless gigs and ultimately heading into the studio in Addis Ababa in 2009 and '10  to cut the songs that now comprise Tewesta Remembrance. Girum Mezmur produced the sessions.

         The vast majority of the tunes collected on this recording revolve around the emotion most common throughout the history of music: love. The translations give that away quickly: "Fikir Ayarejim," which means Love is Eternal, was a popular song, made famous by Ethiopian vocalist Menelik Wossenachew, that originated in Sudan. AAP's interpretation features the great Sudanese oud master Ahmed Elmak guesting. Other highlights include "Enigenagnalen" (“We Shall Meet Again”), a love song originally by Girma Negash that speaks of hope, and "Yigermal" (“Such a Beauty...What Are You Called?”), a traditional folk song featuring mandolin and clarinet.

        Perhaps the song that best sums up the mood and feel of Tewesta (Remembrance), however, is "Yetintu Tiz Alegn," whose title translates to “Remembrance” or, more specifically, “Remembering the Olden Days.” Originally made popular by Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse, it was also recorded by the legendary late South African singer Miriam Makeba on her smash hit Pata Pata album in 1967. With its alternately elegiac and celebratory rhythms, global vibe and clustered harmony vocals, it's a tour de force that perfectly encapsulates the then-and-now motif Mezmur had in mind when he initially conceived the group. The jubilant track mirrors the excitement generated at an AAP gig, where audience interaction is not only common but expected.

              For Mezmur, the emergence of Addis Acoustic Project has been the realization of a lifetime goal. After finding an accordion in his Addis Ababa home that belonged to his uncle, Mezmur became, well, mesmerized, obsessively learning the instrument and then moving on to guitar, piano and arranging music. Citing a diverse list of influences ranging from Ethiopian guitarist Selam Seyoum to the late American jazz master Wes Montgomery, Mezmur honed his chops while learning music theory and the art and business of leading a band. Attending the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa and working with different bands gave him experience and insights, all of which he draws upon now as the creative 
force behind AAP.

            In his liner notes to Tewesta "Remembrance,” Mezmur writes, "The essence of this project is about presenting the music of that era [the '50s and '60s] in an authentic manner, yet with a new twist. 

             Equally important is also preserving the sound and instrumentation of those days. I hope this recording captures these elements and does justice in these respects."

    Undeniably, it does, but what ultimately makes Tewesta (Remembrance) such a winner is that one need not even know that these are old songs remade for today's world in order to fall in love with them. Addis Acoustic Project, on Tewesta (Remembrance), has gone beyond its own stated goal and has created music that is truly timeless.


       ‘…a seamless re-imagining of a nation's musical history …’
                                             by Manuel Abreu

         Timelessness comes in a variety of guises. For Addis Acoustic Project (AAP) bandleader Girum Mezmur, it comes by following a path many other intelligent and ambitious musicians have followed recently: synthesis of old and new. Mezmur also arranged these visionary rediscoveries. He says in the liner notes to the Tewesta album: "The essence of this project is about presenting the music of that era [the '50s and '60s] in an authentic manner, yet with a new twist." "Tewesta" means "remembrance" in Amharic, and what Mezmur has done on AAP's debut, after two years of sharpening their sound through live performance, is remarkable.

      This music is a seamless re-imagining of a nation's musical history, teasing out different vectors of sound possibility through the updated sound, allowing other musical idioms to seep through. While Mezmur was also devoted to "preserving the sound and instrumentation of those days," his vibrant arrangements allow for different aspects of the world of music to meld with traditional Ethiopian music, this exploration allowed by the downplayed importance of vocals and the focus on instrumental music. Consider "Fikir Ayarejim," which translates to "Love is Eternal." Popularized by Sudanese singer Menelik Wossenachew, the original song is led by a sultry synthetic orchestra and casual, shuffling drums, standard fare for Ethiopian oldies pop.

      The AAP remake, however, opens with Latin-tinged drums, moving into a muscular accordion and oud led groove (master Ahmed Almek on oud). The rhythm of the song maintains the upbeat quality of the original, but Mezmur allows the melody to expand significantly, though without any egoistic solos--it's a bold move, essentially a statement of the semiotic weight of melody. Anyone intimately familiar with these songs will immediately recognize the melodies, regardless of the missing vocals. 

    The best part about this album is that even if you don't know the originals, you don't need to. It's hard not to enjoy this, conceptual ambition aside. It's those melodies--they grab you by the collar, like an excited child in the castle of her dreams, leading you eagerly down the twisting hallways.

While in Chicago in February of this year, Addis Acoustic Project’s founder and guitarist Girum Mezmur appeared solo at the Ethiopian Diamond II Restaurant.

    The Latin jazz influence is even more pronounced on "Yetintu Tiz Alegn," which I believe translates to "Remembrance of Olden Days." Old master Tilahun Gessesse also has a version of this track. While the first half of the track only evokes Latin rhythms, led by Ayele Mamo's mandolin, a breakdown leads the listener straight into a minor-key, chromatic-drenched Latin guitar solo by Mezmur. Indeed, the music of AAP is about finding common ground between Ethiopian music and other genres of music, particularly jazz, Latin music, and folk. The lack of emphasis on vocals--though they are present--combined with the innovative arrangements moves AAP's debut from purely Ethiopian music to a more universal idiom. I don't want to call it world music, but I suppose that's the only label available.

       While maintaining an unmistakable cultural identity, Mezmur and other musicians like him are interested in creating a dialog with other genres, other nations, other time periods, and this is a trend I strongly support. AAP's resplendent music is about communication, and aside from crossing historical and cultural bridges, they also cross the bridge to the listener's ear. The amount of variety here is outstanding, as well as the musicianship. One eye-opening moment is, in fact, the closer--and by the way, even though the album is over an hour in length, it keeps you enthralled the whole way through--"Yigermal," which warps 3/4 to its own whims through subtle subdivision, featuring claps on the chorus and led by mandolin and clarinet. Mezmur is a master of timbre and combines instruments perfectly for his evocative needs. Indeed, sometimes he attempts to traditionalize more than modernize: compare the eerie "Anchim Ende Lela" with a much jazzier version by Girma Degefu.

       Mezmur's take on Girma Negash's hopeful love song "Enigenagnalen" (We Shall Meet Again), opens with a lusty, rueful guitar solo which is offset by Dawit Ferew's mourning clarinet, painting a picture of both the beauty and futility of hope in the face of life's circumstances. Whether the lovers meet again is not the point, only that the hope exists, that it can flower. The mambo-like rhythm drives the song forward. Nathaniel Tesemma and Mesale Legesse, who handle the percussion, are to be commended for their tight, powerful grooves, which never lack subtlety. As well, Dawit Ferew is ablaze throughout, displaying his mastery of the clarinet in the Ethiopian style. Mezmur painstakingly assembled his band -he himself handles guitar and accordion -and it pays off.

       While you don't need to know anything about the source music behind this wonderful album, I found that research into the originals gave me a greater appreciation for the brilliance of Mezmur's arrangements and his band's playing, as well as a deeper understanding of the context of the musical conversation AAP is trying to have. As well, I can pretty much guarantee that any musical discoveries this album leads to will be golden--Ethiopian music, old and new, is a veritable rabbit hole and gold mine which I recommend you delve into. For starters, there's the Ethiopiques series. But I'll leave that to you. For now, let me just repeat that this is an excellent album, and whether you're interested in the context of Mezmur's ideas for finding common musical ground, you won't be disappointed.


           ‘…onto something very special…’
                                            by Tom Orr

        Given the volume of great vintage music from Ethiopia that's been discovered (or, more accurately, rediscovered) and made available in the last decade and a half, and considering how deeply those new/old Ethiopian sounds are loved by listeners well beyond the standard world music crowd, it was only a matter of time before a band like Addis Acoustic Project came along. Founded by guitarist/accordionist/arranger Girum Mezmer, the group re-creates in mostly instrumental style Ethiopian hits of the 1950s and ‘60s, a time when instruments like the mandolin and accordion were prominent and the funkier, horn-heavy sounds celebrated in much of Buda's Ethiopiques series hadn't yet arrived.

        If the latter is the Ethiopian music you know and love, rest assured that what you'll hear on Tewesta isn't so very far removed from it. The serpentine melodies, zesty riffs and uniquely Ethiopian swing 
are here, although in a more stripped-down form. Alongside Mezmer are players who combine youthful strength and veteran savvy on mandolin, bass, clarinet, drums and percussion, often branching off into jazzy asides, Latin grooves or klezmer-like liveliness before slipping back into melodies that couldn't be from anywhere else but Ethiopia. AAP's intimate approach also shows the extent to which early Ethiopian popular music gleaned from sounds of nearby Sudan and even far afield influences like 

     European waltzes and the works of Armenian arranger Nerses Nalbandian. At once traditional, experimental (it'd be great if Mulatu Astatke hooked up with these guys), and accessibly catchy, Addis Acoustic Project is onto something very special. Tewesta is a delight of a disc, and let's hope there's more of its kind in the works.

Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu Steps Ahead @ Glatt & Verkehrt [Krems, Austria - 30.7.2011]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

1. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - I - Dewel (13:07)
2. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - II - Yekermo Sew (11:46)
3. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - III - Netsanet (8:17)
4. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - IV - Chik Chikka (19:06)
5. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - V - Motherland (12:05)
6. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - VI - The Way To Nice (7:04)
7. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - VII - Yegelle Tezeta (5:07)
8. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - VIII - Yekatit (5:42)
9. Mulatu Astatke - Krems 30.07.2011 - IX - Mulatu (12:18)

Mulatu ASTATKE | vibraphone, congas, piano; 
Shabaka HUTCHINGS | saxophone; 
Byron WALLEN | trumpet; 
Richard Olatunde BAKER | percussion; 
Tom SKINNER | drums; 
John EDWARD | double bass; 
Alexander HAWKINS | keyboards; 
Danny KEANE | cello