Last night’s showcase of Ethiopian rock/jazz/r&b/and spiritual music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was the night I’ve been waiting for all summer. I can’t really explain what makes the Ethiopiques music so special, but I’ll try without paying much respect to fact. Which doesn’t make this explanation not true. It just makes it “bloggy.” During a short period in the 1970s, a number of Ethiopian singers took to imitating American rock, soul and r&b, tailoring it to Ethiopian tastes by including traditional hooks, rhythms, and melodies. The sound became a fascination among jazz heads and rock snobs by way of the Ethiopiques CD series, which one friend likened to the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks in that it keeps going and going with no end in sight. Pitchfork jumped on the bandwagon, naming Ahmed the Ethiopian James Brown, and then Jim Jarmusch cast Jeffrey Wright as Bill Murray’s Ethiopian neighbor in “Broken Flowers” for only one apparent reason – so that he could give Murray a mix CD of funky ethiopian jams to play while driving from exgirlfriend to exgirlfriend. It was a nice touch. I’m a little bit breathless about the show today because the concert was one of the most special and spectacular nights for live music in New York City. Damrosch Park, behind Lincoln Center, was packed with fans who have spent hours with this music on their stereo. I didn’t have a single concrete image associated with the music. No photos or videos, just the occasional dream of visiting Swinging Addis to soak it all in. Most in the audience, if not all, probably never expected that they would ever see, hear or experience these performers live and in person. For another James Brown comparison, it’s like being a Gen X’er with a fascination with “Live at the Apollo 1965.” You’ll never see JB at that prime moment. There was a large contingency of Ethiopians, Eritreans and Africans in the audience. But most people had no familiarity with the Ethiopian language and no understanding of what the songs meant. At one point, when the great Ethio sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya spoke to the audience in his native tongue, a young Ethiopian guy next to me laughed. So I asked him what was said. Gétatchèw was giving the audience the choice between two tezetas. Tezetas! I said, I know that song. Turns out a tezeta is like the ethiopian word for hymn, a country song that’s played on special occassions. Well, that was illuminating, I guess. Somehow we were all singing along. One of the wonderful things about this music is it’s this hybrid of so many sounds and forms and genres. As such, it sounds as familiar as it does strange. In it, you can hear the term “world music” imploding. On some level, it’s used as a euphemism for anything “other” than American or British music. This Ethiopian music is the antithesis of other. It’s a funk magnet, bringing together All grooves into the deepest, most welcoming pocket. Seeing it performed is like witnessing this syncretic event, an act of creation by combination that invokes the positive forces in the world. The rhythms, like color and light, convey universal ideas and emotions without the intrusion of of words and their meanings. It’s almost like being a Jew who doesn’t speak a lick of Hebrew. You enjoy it this visceral level, connecting with the past by the sensation of ancient sounds. Well, listening to Ahmed is like being in the coolest orthodox synagogue, listening to the baddest motherfucking cantor hit the tightest groove while davening his ass off. Of course, Ahmed isn’t Jewish, but whatever, the music’s totally spiritual (man) and there’s gotta be some kind of etymological or ethnomusicological or genetic connection. That’s the hope, at least. The programmers of tonight’s event, Bill Bragin of Lincoln Center and Brian Turner of WFMU, gave us all the greatest kind of gift they could – a gift we never thought we’d receive. Above you can listen to “Aynotche terab” by Mahmoud Ahmed, who is pictured above. I can’t remember if he played this song. I doubt it, actually. But hopefully you’ll take a listen and get what I’m talking about here.

August 21, 2008

Last night’s showcase of Ethiopian rock/jazz/r&b/and spiritual music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was the night I’ve been waiting for all summer.

I can’t really explain what makes the Ethiopiques music so special, but I’ll try without paying much respect to fact. Which doesn’t make this explanation not true. It just makes it “bloggy.” During a short period in the 1970s, a number of Ethiopian singers took to imitating American rock, soul and r&b, tailoring it to Ethiopian tastes by including traditional hooks, rhythms, and melodies. The sound became a fascination among jazz heads and rock snobs by way of the Ethiopiques CD series, which one friend likened to the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks in that it keeps going and going with no end in sight. Pitchfork jumped on the bandwagon, naming Ahmed the Ethiopian James Brown, and then Jim Jarmusch cast Jeffrey Wright as Bill Murray’s Ethiopian neighbor in “Broken Flowers” for only one apparent reason – so that he could give Murray a mix CD of funky ethiopian jams to play while driving from exgirlfriend to exgirlfriend. It was a nice touch.

I’m a little bit breathless about the show today because the concert was one of the most special and spectacular nights for live music in New York City. Damrosch Park, behind Lincoln Center, was packed with fans who have spent hours with this music on their stereo. I didn’t have a single concrete image associated with the music. No photos or videos, just the occasional dream of visiting Swinging Addis to soak it all in. Most in the audience, if not all, probably never expected that they would ever see, hear or experience these performers live and in person. For another James Brown comparison, it’s like being a Gen X’er with a fascination with “Live at the Apollo 1965.” You’ll never see JB at that prime moment. There was a large contingency of Ethiopians, Eritreans and Africans in the audience. But most people had no familiarity with the Ethiopian language and no understanding of what the songs meant. At one point, when the great Ethio sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya spoke to the audience in his native tongue, a young Ethiopian guy next to me laughed. So I asked him what was said. Gétatchèw was giving the audience the choice between two tezetas. Tezetas! I said, I know that song. Turns out a tezeta is like the ethiopian word for hymn, a country song that’s played on special occassions. Well, that was illuminating, I guess. Somehow we were all singing along.

One of the wonderful things about this music is it’s this hybrid of so many sounds and forms and genres. As such, it sounds as familiar as it does strange. In it, you can hear the term “world music” imploding. On some level, it’s used as a euphemism for anything “other” than American or British music. This Ethiopian music is the antithesis of other. It’s a funk magnet, bringing together All grooves into the deepest, most welcoming pocket. Seeing it performed is like witnessing this syncretic event, an act of creation by combination that invokes the positive forces in the world. The rhythms, like color and light, convey universal ideas and emotions without the intrusion of of words and their meanings. It’s almost like being a Jew who doesn’t speak a lick of Hebrew. You enjoy it this visceral level, connecting with the past by the sensation of ancient sounds. Well, listening to Ahmed is like being in the coolest orthodox synagogue, listening to the baddest motherfucking cantor hit the tightest groove while davening his ass off. Of course, Ahmed isn’t Jewish, but whatever, the music’s totally spiritual (man) and there’s gotta be some kind of etymological or ethnomusicological or genetic connection. That’s the hope, at least.

The programmers of tonight’s event, Bill Bragin of Lincoln Center and Brian Turner of WFMU, gave us all the greatest kind of gift they could – a gift we never thought we’d receive. Above you can listen to “Aynotche terab” by Mahmoud Ahmed, who is pictured above. I can’t remember if he played this song. I doubt it, actually. But hopefully you’ll take a listen and get what I’m talking about here.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: