R E U P L O A D
Over the last ten years, thanks largely to the Herculean efforts of French researcher Francis Falceto (he's the man behind the Ethiopiques CD series released by Buda Musique: each of the twenty-seven volumes so far released are essential listening), curious music lovers have discovered the glories of 1970s 'Ethiopian Groove', a potent brew of traditional rhythms, brilliant arrangements, swinging horns and soulful vocals. These stirring recordings from the 1970s were the fruit of a decade of musical innovation. Influenced by the musical wisdom and instruction of Nerses Nalbandian (a composer, arranger, chorus leader, and music teacher of Armenian origin, who worked with hundreds of Ethiopian musicians), and the R&B, Soul, Rock and Pop hits broadcast by the American military radio at Kagnew Station (an American military base outside Asmara, the capital of Eritrea), and played in the nightclubs and discotheques of Addis Ababa, a young generation of Ethiopian musicians, throughout the 1960s, created, to again quote Francis Falceto, a 'societal revolution' through music. These 'adadis zefanotch', or 'new songs', were distinctly modern- in their instrumentation, arrangements, and groove-and uniquely Ethiopian, in their melodies and 'feeling'.
This new style of music was nurtured by two of the country's great musical incubators, the Police Orchestra and Emperor Haile Selassie's Imperial Bodyguard Band: these ensembles, like all music ensembles in
time, were controlled by the government. The greatest singers, and musicians,
of the 1970s-Tlahoun Gessesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, Bzunesh Beqele, to name just
three-honed their skills through thousands of performances with these
ensembles. Unfortunately, aside from a few 45s released in the mid-1960s,
no commercial recordings of these ensembles were made until 1969, when Amha
Eshete created Amha records, Ethiopia's first independent record company
(according to Falceto there were just under 500 Ethiopian 45s and around 30 lps
released between 1969 and 1978, when record production stopped completely).
There were, however, reel-to- reel recordings of both groups made by Armenian
merchant Garbis Hayzagian, and by Radio Ethiopia . Ethiopia
|Police Band (1965)
In the late 1960s (probably 1967 or 1968), Leo made his first trip to
, where he
quickly met many of the city's musical luminaries. One of Leo's more gracious
hosts was the composer and conductor Tsegaye Debalqe, who at the time was also
the Music Director of Radio Addis Ababa .
Before Leo left Addis, Tsegaye Debalqe gave Leo this reel with fifteen songs
featuring the Police Orchestra, the Imperial Bodyguard Band, and some of the
era's greatest singers. These recordings were made in 1961 (the 1953 date on
the label above refers to the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar, which is eight years
behind the Gregorian calendar), and are a wonderful snapshot of the opening
salvos of Ethiopia's musical revolution. Ethiopia
01 - Lieut. Mesfin Haile, Hirut Beqele & the Police Orchestra
The first song on the reel is a duet between Lieutenant Mesfin Haile and Hirut Beqele accompanied by the Police Orchestra, featuring a terrific violin player. They sing, "Life is Tough. This world is an unforgiving and bitter place, and now you are leaving me.
02 - Unknown singer, Bzunesh Beqele & Police Orchestra 'Altchalkoum'
Next up is a recording of "Altchalkoum", one of Tlahoun Gessesse's most famous, and most controversial songs; ostensibly a dispute between two lovers, this song was actually a protest against the imperial regime. The title of the song can be translated as 'I can't stand it anymore', and after the failed coup d'etat of December 1960, this song led to Tlahoun's arrest and emprisonment. This version of the song, however, does not feature Tlahoun. It is a duo between Bzunesh Beqele and a male singer I have not yet been able to identify, again accompanied by the Police Orchestra.
|Imperial Bodyguard Band
03 - Bzunesh Beqele & Imperial Bodyguard Band
Bzunesh Beqele was the greatest female singer of her generation, one of the first artists to embrace the 'new songs' of the 1960s. She was born in Harar in 1935, came to Addis at a young age to attend school, and by her mid-20s had joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band, where she spent most of her career. She released a series of singles in the early 1970s, and at least two cassettes in the 1980s-both of which are fantastic. She passed away, in 1990, at her home in
she was only 54 years old. Several years ago, the Ethio Sound record label
released a great compilation of her early 1970s Phillips singles. This next
track is the earliest Bzunesh recording I've heard. Addis Ababa
|Imperial Bodyguard Band
04 - Tefera Kassa & the Imperial Bodyguard Band
Tefara Kassa was another of the Imperial Bodyguard's great singers. Although he doesn't seem to have made many commercial recordings, he was very popular in the 1960s. He still lives in Addis. (I have heard that parallel to his musical career, he also worked, for many years, at the Ministry of Information). These next two songs are upbeat dance numbers. In this first track he sings, 'I wished for her and I got her, I wanted her and she is mine. Because of her I am happy.'
05 - Tefera Kassa & Imperial Bodyguard Band 'Merengue Cha-Cha'
This next track is one of my favorites on the reel. It is a charming distillation of the different spirits that would eventually create the potent 'Ethiopian groove' of the 1970s. He sings, 'When we dance to the Dorze rhythm, we are really happy. Merengue cha-cha.' The song brings together Latin rhythms, the traditional dance style of the Dorze people (from
Ethiopia), with a Dorze melody and singing style, resulting in a
song that is simultaneously traditional and modern!
06 - Police Orchestra & unidentified singer 'Shigetu'
These next two songs are modern arrangements of more distinctly traditional material. This first track, by the Police Orchestra, is a popular melody sung in Oromo. Unfortunately, I have not been able to identify the singer. If you have any ideas, please get in touch!
07 - Imperial Bodyguard Orchestra & unidentified vocalists
Here is the Imperial Bodyguard Orchestra interpreting a Dorze melody from
Southern Ethiopia. I love the vocal polyphony.
08 - Imperial Bodyguard Band 'accordion instrumental'
Last but not least, an accordion-driven instrumental by the Imperial Bodyguard Band. For many years this song was played by Radio
to kick off the day's
|Zelwecker and Imperial Bodyguard Orchestra
Thank you very much to Mulatu Astatqe, Tizita Belachew, Negussie Mengesha, and Solomon Kifle for their help with research and translations.