ethiopiques 10 – ethiopian blues and ballads

Today’s soundtrack.

Review by Dan Snowden:

Tezeta, an Ethiopian style with a relatively strict format built on repeated circular riffs, relies on the singer to put his stamp on the form with improvised verses and the up-and-down vocal spirals characteristic of Arabic music. The word itself means something like memory or nostalgia — in musical terms, it’s similar to saudade in Portuguese music, duende in flamenco, or blues and soul in the U.S. music world.

All ten tracks here date from the early ’70s, when versions of the tezeta were an innovative force in Ethiopian pop’s golden age. There’s a surprising variety: swirling accordion handles the circular riff accompanied only by minimal percussion on Fréw Haylou’s opening “Eyètègnu Nègu,” but an almost ’50s rock ballad feel pervades Alèmayèhu Eshèté’s “Tèrèdtchéwalèhu” and Menelik Wèsnatchèw’s “Tezeta” is tranquil and dreamy.

Tezeta is also an excellent launching pad for saxophonists Tèsfa-Maryam Kidané (featured on his own “Heywèté”) and Tèwodros Meteku to provide backing fills and solos behind the singers. It’s instrumental storytelling and the breathy saxes achieve that smoky, brooding flavour that seems unique to Ethiopian music, shading the music with a deep indigo to purple colour.

The slow, mournful versions really bring out that smoky trance sensation here. Sèyfu Yohannès is the first singer to really stand out on his nagging “Tezeta,” supported by Meketu’s fills and Mèssèlè Gèssèssè’s prominent piano. Moges Habté and Feqadu Amdè-Mèsquèl duel tenor saxes over a mysterious Fender Rhodes lick and Andrew Wilson’s sharp wah-wah guitar on Mulatu Astatqé’s instrumental “Gubèlyé.” And Mahmoud Ahmed’s “Tezeta” runs for 12 and a half gripping minutes with swirling organ, muted sax, and bubbling bass runs supplementing the voice of the most expressive singer in Ethiopian pop music.

With nearly 75 minutes of music and extensive liner notes, Tezeta is another impeccable release in the outstanding Ethiopiques series. But even more than 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.

breathless: sound recording, disembodiment, and the transformation of lyrical nostalgia – allen s. weiss

How sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death.

Currently sitting with this book in my reading queue… i.e. trying to wait until I have read the stuff I need to prioritise before diving into it, but having peeped the PDF I’m struggling to!

Breathless explores early sound recording and the literature that both foreshadowed its invention and was contemporaneous with its early years, revealing the broad influence of this new technology at the very origins of Modernism. Through close readings of works by Edgar Allan Poe, Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Cros, Paul Valéry, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Jules Verne, and Antonin Artaud, Allen S. Weiss shows how sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death. Interdisciplinary, the book bridges poetry and literature, theology and metaphysics. As Breathless shows, the symbolic and practical roles of poetry and technology were transformed as new forms of nostalgia and eroticism arose.

breathless

“By suggesting that sound recording changes the very notion of textuality at a key inflection point in Modernism, Weiss literally turns the field of cultural studies on its ear.” (Gregory Whitehead, co-editor of Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde)

“The extremely important, cogent analysis adds immeasurably to our knowledge of cultural production in the critical years between early modern lyric and our own post-modern, post-lyric age.” (Lawrence R. Schehr, Professor of French, University of Illinois)