For most Westerners, the Ethiopian connection to popular music goes no further than Rastafarian reggae musicians' worship of the late emperor Haile Selassie as their spiritual leader. In recent years, however, more and more Ethiopian music has made its way to the world music mainstream, via such forward-looking singers as Gigi and Aster Aweke and the excellent Ethiopiques series of vintage recordings. Bole 2 Harlem, Vol. 1 is something else altogether though, unlike any other Ethiopian music heard outside of the country. For good reason, too: it's as much a New York creation as it is one of Africa, perhaps more so. As its name makes very clear, Bole 2 Harlem is about drawing a direct line running from the African nation (Bole is the name of the major airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) to America's capital of black artistic innovation. The recording was conceived and produced by an American, Dave Schommer, who ran a weekly jam in a Moroccan/French restaurant in downtown NYC. For the album, Schommer gathered together a group of singers and musicians with roots in Ethiopia (Gigi's sister, Tigist Shibabaw, is one of the vocalists here) as well as other African nations, Brazil and the U.S., and then allowed nature to take its course, with Schommer himself providing much of the instrumentation. The result is a decidedly contemporary mix, incorporating as much hip-hop, funk and reggae as it does elements of traditional Ethiopian music. Bole 2 Harlem, Vol. 1 makes generous use of electronics, funky horn charts and rhythm section, and the thrilling, charged vocals of Maki Siraj, an Ethiopian expat based in New York. The cultural mix is seamless but the music transcends it -- put these grooves on in any dance club and it's a fair bet feet will soon be moving, even if not a single soul in the room has a clue where the music came from.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin