Monday, 21 January 2008


The parallel worlds of music history are perhaps endless. I'm very grateful for the appearance of the Very Best Of Ethiopiques 2CD package since I've long been looking for an excuse to dip into this most tantalising of archives - at 23 volumes and counting, it's rather a costly and time-consuming exercise (so much for there being "nothing happening" in music) to absorb all of the compilations individually so this primer is more than handy.

Mekurya strikes me as the most instantly significant of the artists collected here; "Shellele" carries a recording date of 1972, but it could just as well be 1956, or for that matter 1906 - the saxophonist, who is apt to dress in full military battlegear when performing, bases his playing on the century-old tradition of ululatory war cries known as Shellele; loud, acerbic, incantatory and very individualistic. Thus does "Shellele" the tune come across to these Western ears like sixties Gato Barbieri jamming with Johnny and the Hurricanes; that throaty rasp which instinctively sparks off an awkward mixture of awe and fear set against deadpan organ and rhythm. The fifties of Raymond Scott and Sun Ra as well as Joe Meek may well spring to mind but Mekurya is swift to demolish any cosy lounge notions by spitting out rapid lines of rough pointillism; surely a direct influence on Pharaoh Sanders but more obviously prophetic of Evan Parker with the slap of tongue against reed, the furtive scramble of a line. Like Mingus, he always threatens to break into scarifying total freedom but never quite does. But the groove is ominously hypnotic, stealthily threatening; another joining of unlikely aesthetic dots, and clearly Volume 14 - the volume devoted to a more thorough examination of the music of this particular Negus - is the place to start the in-depth listening.