Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Various - Ethiopiques


Released 2000 onwards on Budamusique
Reviewed by BSSM Steiner, 17/05/2007ce

7 or 8 years ago I picked up an Afrofunk compilation in HMV. It was the first album of non-Western music I ever bought. One of the tracks on it was an otherworldy artefact of fuzzed-up, instrumental Afro Blues Psych entitled 'Netsanet' attributed to Mulatu Astatke. Immediately I set out on a quest to find more music by this mysterious Ethiopian, but my quest was short lived; within a week I had found an entire album of Mulatu instrumentals.

Some of the tracks were more jazzy (on the cover Mulatu is shown in concert with Duke Ellington), while some sounded like sinister spy-funk from a forgotten North African espionage film. The music was incredible, made even more remarkable by the fact that it was being played by institutional bands; the Imperial Bodyguard Band and the Police Band. Equally exciting was the fact that the album was number 4 in a series. Tracking down numbers 1 to 3 was easy - all the albums can be found in the big high street music shops. More difficult was attuning my brain to the music I heard on them. But once I did, my musical landscape was changed forever.

The first thing that hits you about Ethiopian Funk is the toughness of the instrumentation. It's tight, raw, clattering, sand-blasted. Then the vocal comes in. All the singing is in Amharic, the Semetic language of Ethiopia. It is nasal, piercing, tremulous head-singing that seems both lost in the ether and incredibly close. It's like the wailing of space ghosts, and despite having only the most rudimentary notion of what's being sung gleaned from the sleeve notes, I find it incredibly moving.

At the time of writing there are 21 albums in the Ethiopiques series. A handful of them don't contain the music described above, but these are easily identifiable from the covers (eg. the one with the wizened dude outside the hut clutching the one-stringed desert harp doesn't contained dynamite Addis Funk).

If you fancy having your mind blown and your heart broken and mended by ethereal SuperFunk, then Ethiopiques is indispensable. I recommend Ethiopian Groove, Ethiopian Jazz and Swinging Addis to start, then Ere Mela Mela by Mahmoud Ahmed and vol 9 which is devoted to Alèmayehu Eshété.



Reviews Index