There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to world music: the purists who believe that ancient musical traditions must remain undiluted to survive, and the fusionists who believe that it is the ability of artists to adapt their cultural traditions to modern tastes that will allow them to survive. Though often blasted by traditionalists for his trademark world music collusions, bassist/producer Bill Laswell has done a remarkable job of straddling the lines dividing these two camps, working with world music favorites like the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Simon Shaheen, and Foday Muso Suso to concoct heady stylistic brews that update their respective traditions for 21st century audiences. Laswell's latest discovery is 27-year-old Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw, a stunning Ethiopian singer whose self-titled debut establishes her as one of Africa's most accomplished young artists. Her mellifluous vocals are backed by an impressive multicultural lineup that includes Laswell on bass; guitarist Nicky Skopelitis; saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Pharoah Sanders, and Henry Threadgill; and percussionists Aiyb Dieng and Karsh Kale. But the emphasis here is on Gigi's voice, which moves from soaring melodic passages to a breathy falsetto over songs that combine her native traditions with elements of funk, dub, soul, and West African and Indian sounds. From the exuberant buoyancy of "Gud Fella" to the syncopated urgency of "Aynama" to the beautifully soulful balladry of "Adwa," this is the rare debut that sounds like a fully formed artist, ready and eager for her time in the international music spotlight.
by Bret Love