To say that modern African pop is amazingly diverse would be an understatement. Musicologists could spend hours and hours discussing the many different types of pop that exist on the African continent, where one finds everything from music that is really upbeat, festive, and exuberant (soukous and zouk, for example) to the moodier, duskier sounds coming out of Ethiopia, Mali, and the Sudan. Mesgana Ethiopia, a live recording that unites Ethiopian star Ejigayehu Shibabaw, aka Gigi, with bassist/producer Bill Laswell's outfit Material, definitely falls into the latter category. Gigi thrives on moody, haunting grooves, and the big-voiced singer is quite expressive on hypnotic offerings such as "Shemum Mune," "Gudfela," "Mata Mata," and "Baty." One of the interesting things about these performances is the way that Gigi manages to sound contemporary and rootsy at the same time. While Gigi's original material is modern African pop (though she also performs some traditional songs), there is never any doubt that she gets a lot of inspiration from traditional Ethiopian music as well as from traditional Arabic music. But Gigi (who sings in Ethiopia's Amaharic language) also gets a great deal of inspiration from American jazz, soul, and funk (jazz musician Peter Apfelbaum is heard on tenor sax and flute). In fact, the strong jazz influence that is impossible to miss on Mesgana Ethiopia demonstrates that Gigi and Material are well aware of the innovations of the late Nigerian star Fela Kuti, who was influenced by the modal breakthroughs of John Coltrane and other post-bop greats (Coltrane was greatly influenced by world music, and ironically, Kuti ended up being greatly influenced by Coltrane). Gigi's live encounter with Material yields nonstop excellence on Mesgana Ethiopia.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson