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Throw Ethiopiques on your sound system, and you will know you are in uncharted waters. One minute you'll swear you're hearing James Brown speaking in tongues, the next you'll think you've hit on the hottest new samples for a hip hop band from outer space. But this is music from Ethiopia's golden years—with a budding following not that different from the ska rebirth fifteen years ago.

These raw sounds of Ethiopia were originally put out by Amha Records—a label founded in 1969 by 24-year-old Amha Eshèté in defiance of the Imperial decree requiring all music production and import to be overseen by the government-sanctioned national theater.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.1
Buda Musique

The influences of American soul and blues are obvious here, the former quite apparent in the Memphis groove of Muluquen Mellese's "Wetetie Mare," with its smoking bass line. But the most revolutionary pieces are those that go utterly against history, making the piece relevant for the young—which, after all, is what rock, hip-hop and every other movement have done in the past!

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.2
Buda Musique

Once the explicit strangeness of first hearing Ethiopian pop wears off, its uniqueness starts to sink in. Because traditional Ethiopian songs delight in wordplay, double entendres and extended metaphors, pop arrangements tend toward starkness, the better to spotlight the dramatic vocals.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.3
Buda Musique

The third installment of Buda's Ethiopiques series is one of the best, an unlikely occurrence as most of this material was released in 1975—a year after the fall of Emperor Haile Sallassie and the rise of a repressive military regime that quickly brought to an end the Golden Age of music. From trance-heavy tracks to James Brown-style funk and ska-like rhythms, this collection has it all!

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.4
Buda Musique

An album of instrumentals, Ethiopiques 4 is a case study in the inventive blending of the influences that comprised the Ethiopian groove. Strains of funk and reggae permeate the thick, chunky bass lines, multiple saxophones swirl with the hypnotic, sounds of the East, and resonating with jazzy tones reminiscent of John Coltrane and Lester Young.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.5
Buda Musique

This volume of the Ethiopiques series is the one that veers closest to what Westerners think of as the traditional modern sound of Africa. The cycling stringed instruments, chanting vocals and handclaps all remind one of juju music—not that that's a bad thing. This just might be the best single disc of traditional African music to emerge in the years prior to 2001.

Mahmoud Ahmed
Ethiopiques, V.6
Buda Musique

For many years everything we knew about Ethiopian music cam through Mahmoud Ahmed. His brassy, electric urban pop, swinging and hypnotic, heart-rending and funky, was completely different from anything else coming out of the African continent. His first album, Almaz (V.6) bears witness to the talent of one of the greatest Ethiopian artists of the past 35 years.

Mahmoud Ahmed
Ethiopiques, V.7
Buda Musique

For many years everything we knew about Ethiopian music cam through Mahmoud Ahmed. His brassy, electric urban pop, swinging and hypnotic, heart-rending and funky, was completely different from anything else coming out of the African continent. These recordings from the golden age of Ethiopian funk continue to have a lasting impact on American audiences.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.8
Buda Musique

Volume 8 includes classic soul and R&B from the time when Addis Ababa was a swinging town! All tracks were recorded between 1969-1973 before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie and vividly capture the spirit that flowered briefly and the music that drove it.

This music stomps and swaggers, dripping with horns, nearly toppling with attitude. This is music the hip cognoscenti simply can't believe passed beneath their radar for so long. Most of these folks might crowd the line toward amateur, but their sincerity and fire cannot be denied.

Alèmayèhu Eshèté
Ethiopiques, V.9
Buda Musique

Like most of the other volumes in this series, #9 is a stone blast all the way through. Eshèté was a soul singer in the classic tradition, who didn't so much sing to his audience as seduce it, working himself and his fans into a sweat-soaked frenzy. Features ferocious horns, groovy guitar licks and a definite Mideast influence. Anyone with a passion for funk or the sound of '70s Africa should pick up this set!

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.10
Buda Musique

With nearly 75 minutes of music and extensive liner notes, this is another impeccable release in the outstanding Ethiopiques series. But even more than the earlier soul-influenced compilations geared toward dancing, these brooding love blues laments cut to the emotional core essence of the country's music. This music sounds distinctly Ethiopian, like it could be from no other place on the planet. The literal translation of the word "Tezeta" is memory, or nostalgia, and as it applies to music in Ethiopia it is akin to the American genre known as the blues, hence the subtitle of this collection.

Alèmu Aga
Ethiopiques, V.11
Buda Musique

Consisting solely of Alemu's soft voice accompanied by the beguena, these songs have a mesmerising quality. The beguena's strings buzz and rattle as Aga sings both religious and secular songs in a low, smoky voice. And although the instrument's melodies are seemingly repetitive—given its limited range and single tuning—they form a fascinating counterpoint to Aga's vocal lines.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.12
Buda Musique

Creaking horns, wheezing Farfiza organ and soulful, Middle Eastern-tinged vocals are the hallmarks of these rare recordings from the Golden Age of Ethiopian popular music, made during Haile Sellasie's reign before the military shut down Addis Abbaba's nightlife. Soul, jazz and UK '60s pop had infiltrated the music, adding new color to the swirling, elliptical local grooves—often with stunning effect.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.13
Buda Musique

From the early '60s through to 1974, Ethiopia lived its "wild years:" the years of pop, soul and rock 'n roll; of miniskirts and bell-bottoms, of Afros and Elvis hairdos--it was a time of intense urban fun. This was undoubtedly the golden age of modern Ethiopian music. Never had the capital seen such intense nightlife--Addis was on par with 1960s swinging London!

However, this age of the record was also the finale of Ethiopia's wild, happy years. As soon as the military leaders rose to power, record production dropped off rapidly, only to end altogether in 1978. Censorship, curfews, propaganda, harassment of musicians and the forced exile of many artists decimated Ethiopian music for a long while after.

Gétatchèw Mèkurya
Ethiopiques, V.14
Buda Musique

Gétatchèw Mèkurya is probably the most revered veteran of the Ethiopian saxophone. A real giant, both mentally and physically, he is at the top level of Ethiopian saxophonists and the inventor of an extremely distinctive musical style, the saxophone shèllela. This musical form was daring, improvisational, angry and impetuous. Without resorting to clichés, shèllela was a sort of free jazz before its time; what with the political situation in Ethiopia during the '50s and '60s, Mékurya knew absolutely nothing about Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, about free jazz or anything else going on in American music.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.15
Buda Musique

More from the golden age of modern Ethiopian music!

Asnaqètch Wèrqu
Ethiopiques, V.16
Buda Musique

Before Asnaqètch Wèrqu became famous as a singer and krar player, she was well known for her brilliant career as an actress and dancer. Wèrqu was the last great singer, storyteller and free-thinker to carry on the tradition of "poetic jous ting." She did not just experience the vicissitudes of life, she constantly found the voice to transform them into poignant laments or sarcastic ditties, which have earned her respect and recognition to this day!

Tlahoun Gèssèssè
Ethiopiques, V.17
Buda Musique

Although he is almost completely unknown to Western audiences, for Ethiopians Tlahoun Gèssèssè is "The Voice"--an absolute, unequalled icon for the entire country, rising above ethnic and linguistic divides.

Based around seven modernist pieces, arranged by the brilliant and innovative Mullatu Astagé, this disc also presents ten other songs featuring various accompaniment: the Army Band, Exhibition Band, Police Orchestra and more.

Ethiopiques Artists
Ethiopiques, V.18
Buda Musique

"Asguèbba!" is the Azmari's cry urging listeners to enter into the dance, an invitation carrying the same sexual innuendo as the Latino "¡Va dentro!" The recordings on this disc are intended as a continuation of those on Tètchawèt! (Ethiopiques V.2) and feature most of the artists from Volume 1. The songs are accompanied by the mèessenqo (string fiddle), the krar lyre, the keber drum and the accordion.

Mahmoud Ahmed
Ethiopiques, V.19
Buda Musique

"This latest edition in an excellent series that chronicles Ethiopian jazz and funk showcases the mesmerizing voice of Mahmoud Ahmed (who is also the focus of volumes six and seven). These recordings were cut in 1974, when he sounded in peak form. His Amharic croon soars above pugnacious horn lines, spacey keyboards and swirling electric guitars of the Ibex Band. The final track is a haunting 12-minute lament called Tezeta. His ominous tone and somber words eerily foreshadowed the following year when a brutal military junta shut down virtually all music in Ethiopia for a generation." - Aaron Cohen, Chicago Tribune

Ethiopiques, V.20
Buda Musique

The 20th in the critically acclaimed Ethiopiques series, Live in Addis takes Ethiopiques - and Ethio-jazz - to a new place. The Either/Orchestra, a 10-piece jazz orchestra based in Boston, are among the first non-Ethiopian artists to become serious interpreters of Ethiopian music over the last eight years.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou
Ethiopiques, V.21
Buda Musique

An outstanding pianist and a remarkable composer, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou (now a Christian nun in a Jerusalem monastery) once recorded her own piano solo works, steeped in Ethiopian culture.The rich, personal poetry of these songs brings to mind Claude Debussy or Carlos d’Alessio’s “India Song” – a rare curiosity indeed, with beautiful melodies and a charming interpretation.

Copyright © 2006 Allegro Corporation. All rights reserved.