Ethiopiques 24
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Various Artists
Ethiopiques 24
Buda Musique

For those who have kept up with this series, the otherworldly novelty of the earliest volumes released in the late 1990's has perhaps worn off. But they have also been rewarded with everything from solo pianists, King David's Harpists, historic recordings of orchestras as well as classic, 1970's-era Ethiopian soul as interpreted by Cambridge, Massachusetts' Either/Orchestra live in Addis Ababa. Yet,, perhaps Buda has seen its biggest success with the multiple volumes of Ethiopian pop music from the 1st half of the 1970s, the bulk of which was released on Amha Eshete's self-named label, Amha. The scene's biggest names- Mahmoud Ahmed, Alameyehu Eshete, Tlahoun Gessesse and a host of others- cut sides with Ahma, and in the process took the wonderfully eerie Ethiopian tonal scale and married it to Western soul and heavy does of funk. As a result, police and army bands, which had been the only big bands to operate legally during the Sellassie regime's 1950s-60s heyday, were replaced by more daring independent musicians. The musical fallout gave the country a brief period of liberation, complete with a heady nightclub scene.

Like volumes 1, 3, 8 and 13, Ethiopiques 24 is devoted to the funkier side of 1970's Ethiopia, as Sellassie seemed to look the other way. Stars of other volumes, such as Seylou Yohannes and Ayalew Mesfin, appear here and the music, as always, is spectacular. Wubshet Fisseha and the Exception Five Band's lone track, "Sew Endayhon Yelellem," mixes a horn line that could come from nowhere but the landlocked East African nation with scratchy guitars, one of which takes a brutally raw solo midway through. Tamrat Molla and the Venus Band's "Ber anbar Sebelewo" steals quietly in before erupting in celebratory handclaps so typical of Ethiopian and Tigray music. Behind it all are the usual assortment of cheap organs, jubilant horn charts and choked guitar and bass licks.

That the Buda series has nearly exhausted Amha's entire output doesn't show in the least here. However, perhaps the oddest inclusions come from Mulatu Astaqe. One of the two tracks featuring him find his band straying from classic Ethio-style and delving into a hard Latin groove that stands apart from everything else released in the entire series. Further deviations occur with two tracks by the Ashantis, a decidedly non-Ethiopian African band who were most likely hired to play in one of Addis Ababa's hotels. On one track, "Come On and Do It," sung in English, they crank out a fairly typical funk performance, while "I Wanna Do My Thing," despite its title, is gentle soul.

While Amha's catalogue is nearly depleted, the series is far from it, and Ethiopiques 24, like any of the above mentioned volumes, is an excellent place to either begin digging into this music, or at least re-connect with what made the series so awesome to begin with. - Bruce Miller

Many Ethiopiques titles are also available from cdRoots

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