Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Dub Colossus in a Town Called Addis

Alternately playful and rousing, spacey and hypnotic, Dub Colossus’ debut cd isn’t just a remix. The brainchild of Transglobal Underground founder Nick Page, it’s a collaboration with an A-list of Ethiopian musicians, some of whom had never left the country prior to recording this. Some of this has the woozy, mesmerizing, rustic feel of a vintage Lee “Scratch” Perry dub reggae production from the mid-70s; elsewhere, it has a more high-tech, Finley Quaye style downtempo lounge feel with washes of electronic keyboards swirling behind the horns, keys or guitar. Page – who plays bass and guitar here – brought together chanteuse Sintayehu “Mimi” Zenebe (billed as the “Edith Piaf of Ethiopia”) along with saxist/composer Feleke Hailu (who’s also the host of the Ethopian version of American Idol), young piano star Samuel Yirga and one-string fiddle virtuoso Teremage Woretaw, among others.

 

The cd is a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers. Some of the songs are pretty much straight-up roots reggae with vocals in Amharic, frequently featuring some really pretty, vivid horn work. Others vamp on a single chord, instruments creeping into and then out of the mix as it slinks along. In general, Page keeps a light hand on the space echo and reverb, making the dub sections all the more evocative. With spooky organ and sparse guitar, the long, haunting, Arab-inflected instrumental Yeba Sub City Rock evokes the many remixes of the Specials’  Ghost Town that abounded throughout the late 70s. Shem City Steppers maintains the ominous feel, picking up the pace over a bouncy Bob Marleyesque beat. It gets even eerier on the completely noir Ophir Dub, which wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch film. Black Rose layers vocals over a reggae riddim and an arrangement that blends Isaac Hayes style soul with 90s electro-lounge; Neh Yelginete (My First Love) is nothing short of beautiful, floating along on Hailu’s summery, Sonny Rollins-inflected sax fills. The other tracks feature such seemingly unlikely accents as a classical piano intro, a long fiddle jam and a slowly accelerating duel between horn section and electric piano. That it all works as seamlessly as it does testifies to the chemistry between the musicians.

 

Zenebe’s vocals have a compellingly bright, soulful feel and the rest of the singers follow suit. There’s a warmth and a spontaneity here so frequently missing from Western-conceived collaborations with African musicians, and happily none of the exploitative feel of something like Paul Simon’s Graceland. This ought to resonate equally with reggae fans as well as moviegoers who fell in love with the great Ethopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke’s work on the Broken Flowers soundtrack. 

December 28, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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