02 October 2006

Monday's mp3: Old Ethiopia Meets New York

Ethiopia's first family of hip strikes again. This time it's Gigi's little sister Tigist, who joins up with Maki Siraj as the voices of a multicultural monster that takes East African grooves to a new level.Bole2Harlem CD cover

Anyone familiar with the marvelous Ethiopiques series of releases will find this album a natural progression into modern sounds. But for the uninitiated, this will be nothing short of a musical revelation, a plexus punch of exotic vocals and catchy beats backed by a wall of horns.

The group grew from a collaboration between Ethiopian-American vocalist/ songwriter Siraj and composer/ producer/ multi-instrumentalist David Schommer, who explains where some of the musical influences originated:

I go to my corner bodega and hear the best salsa and merengue. I walk down to the Ital juice store and hear the best reggae. The Senegalese and Malian vendors are blasting their traditional and modern music. Our album has a little bit of all that stuff in there. Some of the songs, like ‘Hoya Hoye,’ are like a walk down the street in Harlem. I heard one of the hat vendors playing an old school break-beat and thought, ‘Of course! That’s the same tempo as Hoya Hoye!’ Then I came upon one of Harlem’s church choirs spilling onto the streets on a Sunday morning. That inspired the opening line of the song that goes ‘Feelin’ alright!’ We used riffs that could be either from the American Blues or from Amharic Tizita. We are open to all the sounds of Harlem and the experiences of Ethiopia.

This could have been a risky venture. Combining such disparate elements as traditional Ethiopian singing, kalimba, hip hop beats, reggae guitar, dance beats, kora, gospel organ might have resulted in an unpalatable brown stew with indistinguishable ingredients. With the elements tastefully ("gently" seems inappropriate term for such a powerful album) combined, Schommer steps up as a world music force. And Bole2Harlem makes the kind of earthy, danceable music likely to be met with enthusiasm by critics and world music fans alike. Bole2Harlem magic bus

From the Ethiopian port of Bole to the cultural hub of New York's Harlem ("the entry/exit place for Contemporary African Music in America," the liner notes point out), this music starts from the experience of Ethiopians abroad. “Bole2Harlem is about being from Ethiopia and living in Harlem, in America, around the world,” says Siraj. “It’s a journey, one CD that takes you thousands of miles from one place to another.”

[mp3] Bole2Harlem: "Ametballe"
[mp3] Bole2Harlem: "Ya Selam"

from the album Bole2Harlem Volume 1 (Sounds of the Mushroom)

One of our favorite tracks at present is "Ensaralen Gojo," which happens to come with a video:

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