This is the odd man out in the Ethiopiques series, which is ostensibly dedicated "the golden age of Ethiopian music." However, you could make a case that the fall of the Derg dictatorship in 1992 brought its own golden age, and it was celebrated in the azmaribets, the folk cabarets that proliferated in urban centers, notably Addis Ababa. In many ways, it was pretty much the only popular music available. It's quite folkloric, and inevitably acoustic, and the Addis style, known as bolel ("car exhaust fumes"), as practiced by many of these performers, is often improvised, frequently sarcastic -- a reveling in the new freedom. Of course, there are differentiations between the artists. Zedwitou Yohannes, one of the females singing in the cabarets, for example, as a habit of whistling while taking in breath, which comes across as quite distinctive, while her sister, Yezinna Negash, sometimes refers back to historical events to make her point. The azmaris use allegory a great deal, and their music, generally accompanied by strummed stringed instruments and percussion, might seem simple, but it offers a stunning level of complexity. And if you want to hear how Rastafarianism has traveled to its spiritual homeland, listen to Adaneh Teka sing "Bob Marley," which quotes the legend's "Everything's Going to Be All Right" -- and in English, along with the name the name of other famous performers and soccer players -- amid a fiddle line that can chill.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson