[cd 2] - Introducing Invisible System
Invisible System actually has two new records out this year, although both of them incorporate already-released material. The group's music is featured on a digital-only album issued by World Music as part of the compilation entitled The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Music. This disc features earlier material; this enables Dan Harper to welcome new listeners to his canny mix of dark dub, metal, Ethiopian pop, and techno stylings.
Traditional-sounding songs, such as "Hode Baba (I'm Worried He's Moving)", rock along nicely, balancing jangling guitars with a rocksteady groove and lamenting vocals. On later tracks, like "Skunk Funk" - taken from their 2011 album, Street Clan, my favorite record of last year - Harper swirls things up a bit with psychedelic wah-wah work, lovely drifty melodies, and a spooky vocal performance from Tewabe Tadesse. This is also a great way to experience tracks from The Cauldron EP, including the disorienting dub spectacular "Azmari Fuze", with vocals from wonderful singer/clubowner Mimi Zenebe.
Invisible System - Gondar Sub
01.Invisible System - Closer To The Edge (3:36)
02.Invisible System - Gondar Sub (4:04)
03.Invisible System - Tizita (4:04)
04.Invisible System - Dark entries (6:12)
05.Invisible System - Skunk funk (4:33)
06.Invisible System - Azmari fuse (6:41)
07.Invisible System - Maljam kehnoelish (If this is what you want) (4:05)
08.Invisible System - Oumabetty (3:15)
09.Invisible System - Hode baba (I'm worried he's moving) (5:58)
10.Invisible System - Mama yey (5:56)
11.Invisible System - Fiten azorkugn (I turned my face away) (5:49)
The Introducing series has brought some fabulous artists to wider attention. Its latest is a digital- only release of producer and musician Dan Harper's Invisible System. He's a former aid worker who settled in Ethiopia, built a studio and invited some of the country's finest musicians to step inside. He then returned with the tapes to the UK and introduced them to an eclectic range of British musicians.
Introducing comprises four new songs alongside seven from 2009's Punt (nominated for a 2010 Songlines Award), last year's Street Clan, and recent The Cauldron. The line-up includes Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed (whose vocal on the blues 'If This Is What You Want' is glorious), pianist Samuel Yirga and Justin Adams, as well as Dub Colossus vocalists Tsedenia Gebre Markos, Mimi Zenebe and Desta Firka. Two fast, tight new songs, 'Closer to the Edge' and 'Gondar Sub', start it off, while Tizita's powerful vocal is set to a shady, shimmering semi-electronic backdrop, and the new 'Dark Entries' mixes Ethiopian fiddle with a lean chiming guitar. 'Azmari Fuse' sets what sounds like a field recording under a canopy of layered voices, reverb and Ethiopian fiddle. Fusion can be a messy business, but by assiduously mining several deep veins, this is a well-cut gem, bringing flavours of reggae, trip-hop, dub, post-punk and psychedelia to a strong and pungent Éthiopiques core.
A note of caution: despite the title, this is not the first offering from this adventurous fusion project, and you could have heard many of the songs before. Introducing… draws from Invisible System's two previous albums, Punt and Street Clan, as well as The Cauldron EP, and adds some good extra material.
Currently a download-only affair, Introducing… will be released on CD in September, as a "bonus" album with the new Rough Guide to Ethiopia. But it's well worth checking out now if you've not heard Invisible System before.
A boldly unusual project, the man behind it all is Dan Harper. A former aid worker in Ethiopia, Harper built his own studio and persuaded several of the country's best musicians to record with him. Back in England, he asked a wide selection of British musicians to contribute, with Harper on guitar, bass, percussion and programming.
Results, for the most part, are impressive, with the African recordings matched against settings that range from dub reggae to trip hop and psychedelic rock.
Though there were sections on the Street Clan album where the Ethiopians were almost lost in the exuberant musical blitz, Harper manages to avoid such problems here: the backing is assured and at times even restrained, though still highly original.
The Ethiopian musicians include the great Mahmoud Ahmed (whose compelling voice can be heard on Maljam Kehnoelish), along with pianist Samuel Yirga and singers Tsedenia Gebre Markos and Mimi Zenebe of Dub Colossus. The British players include Justin Adamsand Ed Wynne.
Introducing… presents considerable variety, with songs like Oumabetty dominated by powerful Ethiopian female vocals, set against a rumbling bassline, while on Skunk Funk the vocals are set against a slinky groove. Gondar Sub finds African singing dissected by slashing, reggae-influenced guitar lines, and there's more reggae on the upbeat Mama Yey, which includes Jamaican-style toasting.
The closer, Fiten Azorkugn, sounds more mainstream and contemporary, though it's dressed up with throbbing bass and percussion. All told, this is impressively original stuff.
Robin Denselow 2012-07-27
It makes perfect sense that World Music Network would put out a second edition of The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia. The first, in 2004, was a near-perfect sampler comprised of classic tracks from the Ethiopiques collections. Volume 2 goes further, showcasing not only Golden Age performers like Mahmoud Ahmed and Orchestra Ethiopia but also several fusions of those old time sounds with other genres, ideas and players from outside Ethiopia. Thus we are treated to sax great Getatchew Mekuria jamming through a new version of that great standard "Musicawi Silt" accompanied by Dutch band The Ex, the funk/hip hop leanings of Bole 2 Harlem, Krar Collective's tart mix of ancient lyre riffs and modern attitude, Tirudel Zenbe's interpretation of traditional rhythms for contemporary dance floors, solo piano brilliance from Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou (who got her start way back in the 1940s) and much more, including a hot bonus disc by Anglo-Ethiopian outfit Invisible System, who mix familiar Ethiopian modes with techno, dub and all manner of sonic experimentation. Wild, wonderful and very highly recommended.
World Music Central Review
The latest of the label's unlabeled updates/Second Editions/Volume 2s of national overviews they did well by the first time (catalogue number: 1286CD) favors 21st-century material whether it's quinquagenarian Dutch punks inviting a septuagenarian saxophonist up from Addis or Tirudel Zenebe's abrasive Ethiopian disco. On some of the 13 tracks, the beats and tonalities first documented by the completist overkill of Buda Musique's Selassie-era Éthiopiques collections are infused with a funkier feel, but the old-school stuff also sounds pretty fresh-my favorite is a contemplative workout on a buzzing lyre called the begena by Zerfu Demissie, one of many artists here better served as a taste on a sampler than an album-length meal. Which in turn is provided by Anglo-Ethiopian Invisible System's bonus disc, a best-of that often surpasses their track on the overview. Start with "Gondar Sub," or "Dark Entries."
Robert Christgau USA
Which roughly translates as "With Invisible System, which like Dub Colossus dub reggae in its 'package' but has a broader spectrum of styles handling, including post-punk and even techno, finally we get another side of Ethiopian music presented."
Dutch review of the Rough Guide
People really began discovering vintage Ethiopian music with the superb Ethiopiques series, which showed just how varied and soulful the scene was in Ethiopia during the 1970s. It's arguable that it's just as vibrant these days, as this excellent compilation shows. There are some international collaborations from Dub Colossus and Invisible System (who are given an entire bonus album with this disc and are well worth hearing, managing to be sonically adventurous, incorporating many elements, including dub, into their sound, without losing the essential Ethio-centric core of the music), but the focus is on the homegrown. There's still soul, from Mahmoud Ahmed, then the strangeness of Krar Collective, who've been garnering widespread praise, and it's easy to understand why. Jazz has long been part of the spectrum and the glorious Samuel Yirga offers plenty here. The overall variety of the disc makes it a joy, an excellent snapshot of a country's music, and an indispensable primer. Add in cult favorites the Ex on one cut and you have a real winner.
Chris Nickson www.allmusic.com / itunes