Taking something of a break from their usual tendency to take a wide range of music from an area, the folks at Rough Guide have this time around focused their attention in on only one major aspect of Ethiopian music: the 'swinging '60s''. Admittedly, this is by far the most important period in Ethiopian popular music, with everything since being shaped, in some part, by the stars of the day. The sound is entirely unique, much like the rest of the nation's identity. During this period of creative exploration, the sound of Addis Ababa's nightlife was cemented to some extent, making heavy use of atypical piano progressions by masters such as Alemayehu Eshete and Girma Bèyènè, and jumping, roving, off-balance but powerful horn arrangements (the brass section was just developed in the last century, after a gift from Russian tsars to the country's official bands around the turn of the century). Vocals cover the range from the same sort of roving aesthetic to the more popularized and somewhat more streamlined concepts of Mahmoud Ahmed. Somewhat more modern stars are also represented, hailing largely from the time of the 'Derg', under a Stalinist government -- Aster Aweke and Netsanet Mellesse both hail from this period, though their ultimate popularity has come afterward. Despite the lack of the more ancient sounds of Ethiopia (there is one piece played on the ancient begena here), it's an outstanding album, with an interesting focus on some of the slickest, jazziest, and yet most foreign-sounding music many Westerners are likely to hear. Give it a spin or two just for curiosity's sake, but keep listening to the hooks.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg