Various Artists

Ethiopia 1: Music of the Central Highlands

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The first of three albums this label released of Ethiopian music, this collection explores the large central highlands area. Variety is a spice used as liberally in the Tangent collections as it is in Ethiopian cooking itself. It is a way of continually pointing out to the listener that the music of this country is unbelievably diverse, no matter what region, religious sect, or population base the anthologizer might limit themselves to. It is also begs for use of a word that has been officially banned from a great number of publications: mind-boggling. The word was truly trounced beyond any real meaning due to its use to describe various heavy metal guitar solos, but begs to be reintroduced as a method of dealing with the sheer genius of some of this music. The mind will not be boggled at first, but feareth not, because the album unwinds slowly and gently at first, with hauntingly slow-paced music from several religious ceremonies, including the beautiful singing of a professional wailer, or alqash, at an Ethiopian funeral. Things spring back to life with the arrival of the one-string masenqo fiddle as well as a superb performance by a young cattle herder on the washint, a type of flute that is so hard to play the performer's panting becomes part of the sound. The instrument called the harp of David, some kind of oversized box lyre, really takes the cake for weird sounds, stealing the show here as it does on several of the Lyrichord Ethiopian collections. Those seeking a link between Appalachian and Ethiopian music need look no further than the solo performance by Taitu Kassa on the bowl lyre or kerar.

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