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.

getatchew mekurya – antchi hoye

Deeeeeep music from 1970s Ethiopia.

Here’s an interview with Getatchew Mekurya published by Ethiopian Reporter in January 2012. I’ve reproduced it here as it seems it is no longer available at the original location.

The King of Sax Shining on the World Stage
BY TIBEBESELASSIE TIGABU  –  SATURDAY, 28 JANUARY 2012 08:03

Ethiopia being labeled as a nation of warriors, most of the songs and the stories in the past revolved around patriotism. Whenever there is a mention of freedom-fighters, there were also great musicians in the background inspiring and lifting up their morale.

The musicians gave courage to the warriors before these went to the battle through shellela (traditional pep song). The first instrumental recording of the shellela was done by Getachew Mekuria, a veteran saxophone player. With the unforgettable stage performance, in his lion’s mane headgear, he takes the audience on a journey and tells the unique story of patriotism and heroism of fellow countrymen. Despite a negative attitude towards the musicians at the time, Getachew enrolled in the music career in 1948.  Many musicians describe him as “exceptional”, with the ability to perform long hours on the stage. He is also perceived as someone innovative, as he brought back the old sounds into a new flavor. Through the years, he produced unforgettable works like Akale Wube, Shellela and others. Now shining on the world stage, Getachew is touring the world with his sax and unique style of music. Inspired by his music, a French music group named their band after one of his songs, Akale Wube. Back from one of his big concerts in London, Tibebeselassie Tigabu of The Reporter takes a peek at his six decades of musical journey.  Continue reading