Review by Carolina Amoruso
Ethiopian popular music makes you stand up and take notice. From the myriad local genres that funnel into the sound, to the brilliance in color and tone of Mulatu Astatke’s Ethio-jazz, to influences from the rest of Africa and the Gulf States, and the inevitable infiltration of Western pop, this amalgam is a national treasure that offers endless discoveries.
Minyeshu Kifle Tedla's fifth release presents us with a cornucopia of these intriguing sounds, stamped with her distinctive lyrics and vocals, and her collaboration with Eric van de Lest on compositions and arrangements.
The mood of Netsa‘s ten tracks varies from rousing to contemplative to sentimental, and one comes away from the album elated. Minyeshu sings in lesser-known regional languages, yet she has a way of reaching all takers with her varied tones in seductive minor key selections of Ethiopia’s pentatonic scales.
"Erta Ale" (excerpt)
“Erta Ale” is a punchy crossover tune fusing funk, Ethio- and straight-ahead jazz, and a blend of traditional sounds; it is said to honor the natural beauty to be found around us all. “Erta Ale” ushers us to a musical playground of earnest merriment in a riot of saxes, with the baritone and soprano holding decisively to their sonic poles, enclosing all else within; notable is Wouter Schueler’s grumbling baritone that makes the heart thump just a little more in efforts to diminish the airy, tart wail of the soprano. Partners in the revelry are a funky electric bass, retro electric keys and their tinkly effects, handicapping and some yelping in good fun.
Sung breathily at times, Minyeshu gives her love song, “Qulef,” a soft personal touch. The arrangement is cool, savvy and western, led easily by van de Lest’s relaxed piano arpeggios. Minyeshu’s intonation remains Ethiopian; her vocal is effortless, just short of dreamy, nearly spoken, cannily shadowed by the soprano sax,. The pairing allows the sax to give the tune more heft, although the tune remains contemplative; it’s a love song, not of amour fou, but of lasting and deep sentiment.
"Ethioyo yo Pia" (excerpt)
As suggested by its title, Minyeshu promises more fun with “Ethioyo yo Pia.” Her vocals are coquettish as she goes from one iteration to the next of play, changing rhythms or juggling fetching cadences, echoed at times by a chorus comprised of her own voices that adds a light but assertive effect. The unmistakable honk of the baritone sax asserts itself, reinforced by the electric bass. The sax delivers a defining voice throughout, playful and authoritative at once. “Ethiyo yo Pia” really gets going, launching into a dance with an insistent chorus, as of a bunch of kids skipping, hopping, or jumping rope. Or bouncing a yo-yo, perhaps? The sections with saxophones, whether baritone or soprano, reign, funky and jazzy; they’re the boss now and Minyeshu welcomes their brief takeover. To remind us of the tune’s traditional roots, it goes out with the sound of a cowbell, leaving the western graces behind.
Ethiopia’s many diverse peoples and cultures come together on few felicitous occasions. A pastiche created by empire and annexation, Ethiopia is a nation where these groups are often at war with each other, causing much bloodshed and devastation. Songs such as Minyeshu’s, upbeat, colorful and enriching, that sample the artistry of these cultures, create an exciting and hopeful harmony.