Saturday, November 1, 2008

Digital Ethiopia Pt. 2




As I explained in
"Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1," the last decade and a half have seen an explosion of Ethiopian musical releases recorded in the United States. While these productions have the benefit of state-of-the-art recording facilities, they tend to lack the freshness and immediacy of the home-grown recordings of the '70s and '80s. In this post I'll be highlighting some of the great Ethiopian female singers who have made careers in this country but I also want to post a couple of tracks by a musician who doesn't fit into that category.

Tadesse Alemu was from Wollega province in western Ethiopia and seems to have begun his recording career in 1997, when he released Ethiopian Wedding Songs (Ethio Sound Productions). This is the only recording I have by him, but he released several others, all in the same vein: traditional melodies updated for modern times. Here are two tracks from Ethiopian Wedding Songs:

Tadesse Alemu - Shinet

Tadesse Alemu - Hedach Allu

Alemu is said to have passed away in 2007, but he has a number of videos on YouTube, including this adaptation of a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox hymn (I think some of the footage is lifted from The Passion of the Christ!):



Hamelmal Abate's song "Kalkidan" was included on my compilation African Divas Vol. 1. Her career began during the dark days of The Derg when she performed with the National Theater (formerly the Haile Selassie 1 Theater) and recorded several hit cassettes. After stints with the Roha Band and the Ethio-Stars she moved to the United States in the early '90s. "Tirulegn" is from her 2006 CD Gize Mizan (Amel Productions):

Hamelmal Abate - Tirulegn

Hana Shenkute, singing with the Abyssinia Band, graced 1992's Music from Ethiopia (Caprice CAP 21432), and she's been getting rave reviews lately for her performances across the US with the Either/Orchestra.
I'm pleased to present this tune by her from her debut solo release Hana (Yared Cahen Productions YCP-HSD 001). A pleasant change from most of the synthesizer-driven sounds here, backup is by the Admas Band (more about them below):

Hana Shenkute - Addis Fekere



A tune by Abonesh Adnew was featured on my collection African Divas Vol. 2. Currently residing in Washington DC, Abonesh is one of Ethiopia's finest new vocalists and sings in many of its languages. Here's a video featuring her music, and here's another. "Limitawey" is taken from her excellent 2004 release Bahilen (Electra Music & Video Center):

Abonesh Adnew - Limitawey

One of the most popular postings on Likembe has been "Ethiopian Honey", featuring Kuku Sebsebe's outstanding '80s cassette Munaye. Of course you know I'm a huge fan of this wonderful singer, and I wish I could tell you more about her. All I know is that she was apparently resident in DC for a number of years, recently had a "comeback" and is said to have returned to Ethiopia. Although I don't think her recent work measures up to Munaye, I'm happy to present another tune by her, from her 2003 CD Tinish Geze Sitegn (Nahom Records):

Kuku Sebsebe - Hallo Belat



My daughter Aku asked, "Is Chachi Tadesse trying to be the Ethiopian Beyoncé?" There's no question this sexy LA-based singer has what it takes in the looks department, although her musical stylings are quite different from those of the former Destiny's Child member. While her debut release Global Rhythm (C.T. Records, 1994) went for a "World Beat" (God, I hate that term!) feel, 2000's Medina (C.T. Records) hews closer to the standard Ethiopian sound. Here are two tracks by Chachi, one from each CD:

Chachi Tadesse - Africa

Chachi Tadesse - Medina




In the course of researching this post, I came across a very informative interview with Kay Kaufman Shelemay, a professor of music and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Among other things, she discusses the musicians who make up the Admas Band, a group that is ubiquitous on Ethiopian recordings made in the US, in fact they play on most of the tunes showcased in this post and in
"Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1." Fasil Wuhib, Abegasu Kibrework Shiota, and Hennock Temesgen, shown below (l to r) comprise the core of the group:



Bassist Fasil Wuhib played with the Dahlak Band and the Ethio-Stars before emigrating to the US in 1990. Abegasu Shiota, who plays keyboards
, was born in Japan of a Japanese mother and an Ethiopian father. Like Mulatu Astatqé, he studied at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston and recently returned to Ethiopia, where he has a recording studio and teaches young musicians at the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa. Bassist and producer Hennock Temesgen has also returned to Ethiopia. Together, these musicians have performed with just about all of the Ethiopian artists who have made their way to the United States.

None of these recordings are available through the usual channels, but they are well worth searching out. An excellent source in Los Angeles
is the Merkato Ethiopian Gift Shop, 1036½ S. Fairfax Ave. (323-935-1775) which is in the middle of Little Ethiopia, a one-block stretch of restaurants and shops.
I
n Chicago, Abyssynia Market, 5842 N. Broadway (773-271-7133) and Kukulu Market, 6129 N. Broadway (773-262-3169) both have nice selections of music. I understand a good source in DC is Ethio Sound, 2400 18th St. NW (202-232-6076), and there are many other sources in the area. Online, AIT Records and Nahom Records are both good.

6 comments:

Neu Mejican said...

Thanks for this.
One of my favorite later Ethiopian albums is Spirit of Sheba by Netsanet Mellesse...Do you know if that was an Ethiopian production, or was it also recorded in the US (or Europe)?

John B. said...

"Spirit of Sheba" was produced by Francis Falceto of "Ethiopiques" fame and recorded in Paris with a mixture of Ethiopian and French musicians.

gaston monescu said...

damn! great post man.
and thickened with great links and tracks.

matthew said...

Hello John,

Great post featuring some of my favorite Ethiopian singers- Tadesse Alemu and Hamelmal!! We spoke with Tadesse's wife soon after he passed away on July 30, 2007. Tadesse was born in the village of Chaabar Kabale in the Wollega region. He grew up in Debra Zeit (45 km south of Addis). He started his schooling in Debra Zeit and finished in Dire Dawa, in Eastern Ethiopia, on the road to Djibouti. Tadesse started to teach himself music when he was in the army. He started his professional career relatively late and eventually released 5 cds. He sang in Amharic, Tigrigna and Oromo, and was particular popular for his religious songs.

Great stuff, John, if you haven't yet, check out Fekeraddis Neketebeb!! She's my favorite modern Ethiopian singer.

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog after reading a very interesting article in Mute Magazine and thought it was worth linking back to it. In the article Andy Moor (The Ex) discusses the controversies of the popularization of African Music in the west. Worth reading!

http://www.metamute.org/en/content/i_like_listening_to_awesome_tapes_from_africa

MuzikJunky said...

Tadesse Alemu’s first album is brilliant, 100% crossover-free, completely unsafe-for-the-white-folks Ethiopian music. “Shinet” is an absolutely perfect song—no choruses, no bridges, just three notes and a drum machine, which is what makes music good. Who needs direction and melody in a song? The problem with this album is it’s simply not long enough: “Shinet” could be 5 hours long, and I would never get bored of it. If the background singers sound like dying cats, it's your problem. I love it! Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find this music outside of Washington, DC, so if you’re there, go seek out Nahom Records and Ethio Sound. It’s a shame that this genius passed away. Peace.