This one-of-a-kind project connects the real-life fireworks of old and new, urban Ethiopian music with the Rastafarian mythology that has long linked this country to reggae via the late Emperor Haile Selassie, whom Rastas deify.
The music was recorded in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and at Real World Studio in the UK, and overseen by guitarist/producer Dubulah (a/k/a Nick Page). Back in the '70s, Ethiopia spawned a singular blend of local Azmari tradition and James Brown funk, but that scene was squashed by an 18-year military dictatorship. Now it re-emerges through a dub reggae filter in which the fabulously ornamented voices of singers like Sintayehu Zenebe and Bahta Gebrehiwot intersperse the haunted tonalities of Ethio-jazz and majestic brass section passages.
The grooves can be rootsy and atmospheric as in "Shegye Shegitu (Blue Nile Mix)." They can also skank hard ("Shem City Steppers," "Ambassel"), veer into cool jazz balladry ("Neh Yelginete"), or soar with polyrhythms of Ethiopian tradition ("Mercato Music"). Blending in traditional strings and flutes, singular soulful vocals, trenchant dub pockets, and inventive production flourishes, this is the most powerful contemporary release out of Ethiopia in years.