14 December 2009

Monday's mp3: Tommy T Makes the Case for Ethio-Dub

CD REVIEW
Tommy T: The Prester John Sessions
(Easy Star Records)


You'd never guess from the music that this album comes from the mind of the man who creates the driving bass lines for gypsy punkers Gogol Bordello. Perhaps, instead, from a friend of Bill Laswell's who has spent time in both Jamaica and Ethiopia. Just as Mulatu Astatke's recent retrospective gives us the roots of Ethio-jazz, Tommy T digs into his Ethiopian roots (he was born and raised in Addis Ababa), blends them with his experiences in Western music, and emerges with a fantastic album of Ethiopian-tinged jazz, dub, and reggae.

In this interview video -- at which SoundRoots is excited to give you an exclusive first look -- Tommy explains his concept for the album, how he's been thinking about and working on it for years, and why it will appeal even to people who have never heard Ethiopian music before.



In an interview at Tadias.com, Tommy T (born Thomas T. Gobena) describes his new project as “an aural travelogue that rages freely through the music and culture of Ethiopia.”  And he's not alone on this journey. Ethiopian singer Gigi (who you may know from her work alongside husband Laswell with Tabla Beat Science) does vocal duties on the tracks "Eden" and "The Response,"  both highlights of the album.

[mp3] Tommy T: The Response feat. Gigi

from The Prester John Sessions

Gogol Bordello bandmates Pedro Erazo and Eugene Hutz contribute to the "Lifers" remix. And elsewhere, Ethiopian melodies emerge from the horn section and through the distinctive Ethiopian violin known as masinko. It's a delicate act of production work to keep these traditional bits balanced with all the modern elements (electric guitar, bass, drum kit, organ) and to my ear, it all works. Fans of  the Ethiopiques series of reissued recordings will know already that these elements aren't actually new to Ethiopian music.

"In the 70s, funk, wah-wah pedals, and jazz had a huge impact on Ethiopian music," Tommy explains. "The Prester John Sessions will give people an idea about the musical diversity of Ethiopia, which includes influences and ideas borrowed from the sounds of the 70’s with the added bonus of up-to-date production values."

If you've enjoyed your way through the Ethiopiques series, this album will take you the next step to truly modern Ethiopian sounds, alongside Gigi and Bole 2 Harlem (a group featuring Gigi's sister Tigist). It's essential listening for the adventurous ear, and a great gateway to the wonders of Ethiopian music.

"I believe in music without boundaries," Tommy says. "Music should be inclusive, not exclusive. People who love music know the best music is created without boundaries and limitations. The Prester John Sessions take that idea to the next level."

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