Vol. 23: Orchestra Ethiopia

While most volumes of the super-fine Ethiopiques series focus on the modern and pop music of Ethiopia circa 1960s to 1970s, Vol. 23 sounds like an ethnomusicology study — which isn't a bad thing, just a bit of a departure. From the early '60s through the mid-'70s, Orchestra Ethiopia was dedicated to the revival of traditional folk styles. Though this set's sonic quality is crisp and clear, these performances have none of the urban(e) patina or cosmopolitan grooviness of preceding volumes (such as Volumes 14 or 17, for instance). Vol. 23 features chanted choruses, solo voices heavy with melisma (the manner of "worrying" or stretching sung syllables present in much Arabic and North African music), woodwinds, and percussion. The selections range from ominous ("Kèta Ayqèrem") to regally, soulfully celebratory ("Shègitu"), to what David Bowie's Eno-influenced period (his albums Low and Heroes) might've sounded like had he listened to some hypnotic Ethiopian percussion ("Besetchet"). Occasionally, the melodies take on a very pretty, slightly forlorn Celtic hue ("Tèraraw"). While not a volume for beginners, Ethiopiques, Vol. 23 is a good deal for those interested in the roots of mod Ethiopian sounds in particular, and traditional African sounds in general. (Buda Musique)

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