Various Artists

Ethiopiques, Vol. 1: Golden Years of Modern Music

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This first volume of the Ethiopiques series just begins to show the scope of the golden age of Ethiopian music, loving assembled, remastered, and annotated. What's obvious is the influence of American soul and blues, the former quite apparent in the Memphis groove of Muluquen Mellese's "Wetetie Mare," with its smoking bassline. Mellese himself has a very androgynous voice, unlike Mahmoud Ahmed, one of the major early Ethiopian stars, whose 1975 tracks sound like Arthur Conley singing in Aramaic, with "Yeqer Memekatesh" a true undiscovered soul classic. The three instrumental pieces that punctuate the disc have a wonderful smoky sound, like late-night jazz played by Booker T. and the MGs. The 1969 cuts from Teshone Meteku could only have come from that decade, with "Yezemed Yebaed" eerily reminiscent of "Black Magic Woman" in everything but its guitar work. But the most revolutionary pieces are from Getatchew Kassa, whose reinterpretations of the revered traditional "Tezeta," in both slow and fast versions, go utterly against history, making the piece relevant for the young -- which, after all, is what rock, hip-hop, and every other movement have done.

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