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Palm Music

cd cover Crackling out of taxi speakers and the transistor radios of Addis Ababa's many coffee cabanas, the ethereal sound of "Gud Fella," the opening track of Ethiopian diva Gigi's latest album, wafts like the mocca fumes that intermingle with the sweet frankincense which burns 24 hours a day in the Ethiopian capital. "Gud Fella" can roughly be translated as "Too Many Problems," but one need not be an Amharic speaker to feel the lamentations of Gigi.

Gigi (ne้ Ejigayehu Shibabaw) is no stranger to Ethiopian pop charts. She had an international hit in 1998 with her reggae anthem "One Ethiopia," apprenticed briefly with one of Ethiopia's other great divas, Aster Aweke, and has credits in three feature films. Now a resident of New York, she's teamed up with master bassist and remix guru, Bill Laswell and avant-jazz saxman Henry Threadgill. They lead an all-star cast of jazz greats and eclectic fusionistas, including Pharoh Sanders, Herbie Hancock, Hamid Drake, Karsh Kale, and Wayne Shorter. Laswell and Threadgill offer more than irrelevant neo-dub bed or acid-jazz crossover appeal here. Their arrangements are tight and remain true to the pentatonic scales of the krar, the Ethiopian lute that forms the basis of so much Amharic music. As dubby melodica floats over the heavy one-drop of the Laswell rhythm section, sinews of flugel horn decay hauntingly into dusk. The roller disco hustle of "Mengedegna" bounces out of barbershop boom boxes, minibus stereo systems, chatt houses and, yes, even poolside at the $200 a night Addis Sheraton without losing its distinct Ethiopian flavor.

Other standouts include the melancholic reggae of "Abay" and "Nafekegn," an ode to the large Ethiopian community of Washington D.C. in which the 3/4 time signature rhythm and flute work by Threadgill parody the fife and drums of our founding fathers with the good natured lilt of an Ethiopian troubadour. "Sew Argegn" and "Abet Wubet" harken back to the jazzy Afro-reggae of Laswell's days with Senegal's Toure Kunda. From Start to finish Gigi brings to the forefront the bitter-sweet music of Ethiopia. - Matthew Doherty

Audio: "Guramayle" courtesy of Palm Pictures
(p)(c)2001 Palm Publishing, used by permission

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