Our favourite Ethiopian albums of 2012

 

At Addis Rumble we do not want to lag behind in the ever-intensifying end-of-year-list race. However, we will not overcompensate with endless top 100 lists but will restrict our endeavour to a few areas not covered by dozens of other bloggers out here. We are kicking off with our favorite Ethiopian albums of 2012 and will follow up with a review of the best art and culture experiences that were to be found in Addis during the past year.

Here we go. Whenever Ethiopian music is the topic of discussion most of the talk still evolves around the golden years of the 60s and 70s. This leaves many listeners with the impression that contemporary Ethiopian music is not worth exploring. Sadly so, as 2012 did see a bunch of brilliant Ethiopian records released from various corners of the globe. We have limited ourselves to our 5 favorite albums of 2012 which are presented in no particular order below. Four of these are debut albums which is something that enforces our strong hopes for yet another heyday for Ethiopian music.

 

 

Debo Band: Debo Band (Sub Pop)

The Boston based collective has been around for some years earning themselves an excellent reputation as live performers. This year they finally released their self-titled debut. Danny Mekonnen – Debo’s band leader - told us about their ambitions and the transition from mainly doing covers to releasing own compositions: “We wanted to show the range of the band over the years, so the record contains one-third covers of “oldie” songs, one-third folk songs and one-third original compositions. It’s been a smooth transition because we took our time to develop our own compositions that sound like Debo Band, which is part pop, part folk, part fun.” And this is exactly what the record sounds like. Lots of pop, folk and fun. Plus a fair amount of the distinctive Debo enthusiasm (and then there is the gorgeous cover by Ethiopian artist Julie Meheretu). We hope to see Debo Band in Ethiopia soon.

 

 

Krar Collective: Ethiopia Super Krar (World Music Network/Riverboat Records)

It is time to call off the search for the heir to Asnaketch Worku, the legendary Ethiopian Krar player who died in 2011. The debut by Krar Collective, a London-based trio consisting of Temesgen Zeleke, Robel Taye and Genet Assefa, was another pleasant surprise in 2012. Most of the songs on Ethiopia Super Krar are rearranged versions of traditional songs from the various regions of Ethiopia, and there is a well-balanced mix between ballads and up-tempo songs with Oromigna and Konso being the stand-out tracks. Approaching the traditional sounds of Ethiopia via Ethiopia Super Krar is highly recommended.

 

 

Yeshi Demelash: Qene (Adika)

It was the stunning Qene video that made us aware of Yeshi Demelash. And while the title track does stand out, the rest of Yeshi’s debut album is more than decent and does underline her status as arguably the most talented contemporary female Ethiopian jazz singer. Yeshi is already working on her sophomore record and she will soon start performing regularly at Jazzamba in Addis. We are looking forward to hearing more to Yeshi.

 

 

Getachew Mekuria + The Ex + Friends: Y’Anbessaw Tezeta (Terp Records)

We truly hope that Y’anbessaw Tezeta is not the final album by the 76-year old Ethiopian tenor saxophone legend Getachew Mekuria. But if this were to  be so, it would be a superb swan song for the old lion and his many collaborations with Dutch punk veterans The Ex. Released 5 years after Moa Anbessa, Y’anbessaw Tezeta contains a collection of ethio-punk folk songs and ballads along with an extra CD of historical recordings of Getachew and a 40-page booklet.

 

 

Samuel Yirga: Guzo (Real World)

Another surprise of 2012 was the debut by young Ethiopian pianist and composer Samuel Yirga. We knew Samuel from his performances with Nubian Arc and Dub Colossus, but his mesmerizing solo record blew us away. It is a difficult album to classify. Definitely Ethiopian Jazz but also so much more, it slowly unfolds and showcases Samuel’s incredible talent. The solo piano tunes are pleasantly meditative while the more upbeat tracks feature generally successful collaborations with vocalists such as British-Iraqi singer Mel Gara, the Creolo Choir of Cuba and Nigerian-British singer Nicolette. The greatest revelation in Ethiopian music this year.

 

 

So these are our favourite Ethiopian albums of the year. However, we probably did miss out on lots of good releases. So tell us about your favourite new Ethiopian albums in the comment box below. We are sure there are yet undiscovered gems to be explored.

 

 

 

 

 



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