Abyssinia Infinite 

Zion Roots

Some of the most exciting contemporary sounds are being produced by African musicians. Probably the most outstanding example of this process is Mali's Oumou Sangare, who for some inexplicable reason hasn't made a new record in several years. Fortunately, other significant artists from around the continent deserve serious attention, and Abyssinia Infinite's new release -- featuring Ethiopian vocalist Gigi Shisabaw -- marks Gigi as among the most promising.

Modern elements -- horn sections, guitars, electronic keyboards, accordions -- are used here with exemplary restraint to blend with traditional instruments like the kirar (Ethiopian harp) and washint (a bamboo flute) for a completely convincing new/old sound. Equally impressive is the way Shisabaw's warm voice floats over the mix to deliver her message, even to those who can't understand what she's saying.

It's particularly significant to hear Ethiopian musicians working in this context, because during the twenty years that followed the coup that overthrew Haile Selassie in 1974, musical life in the country was stifled by the brutal Derg regime. In fact, in order to pursue her vocation, Shisabaw had to leave Ethiopia to live in Kenya while still a teenager. She returned in 1996. but in recent years has moved to New York, where she has connected with other expat African musicians, many of whom appear on Zion Roots. The producer here is Bill Laswell, who has a seemingly endless list of credits to his name, but none more impressive than this one, in which every track takes you on a magical musical journey. Duck Baker

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