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Alèmayèhu Eshèté - Éthiopiques 22: More Vintage!

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Artist: Alèmayèhu Eshèté

Album: Éthiopiques 22: More Vintage!

Label: Buda Musique

Review date: Nov. 26, 2007

Alèmayèhu Eshèté is the second vocalist to garner a sophomore compilation in the Éthiopiques series, and like the previous Eshèté anthology (Éthiopiques 9), not to mention the bulk of the series as a whole, the selections illustrate how closely Ethiopian pop artists cribbed from their Western counterparts. But far from a practice of plunder, the integration of funk grooves, heavy backbeat and blues progressions with an Abyssinian chassis was, in a manner of speaking, a full circle appropriation since the forms had at least figurative roots on the African continent.

More Vintage! collects Eshèté’s work with four ensembles between 1972 to 1974. The tenor of the tunes is quite similar to that of Eshèté’s contemporaries Mulatu and Gétatchèw Mékurya, due in no small part to the presence of pianist Girma Bèyènè. Bèyènè brings forth stormy rolling chords on his keys, sometimes in concert with eerie Farfisa lines and pulsing electric bass ostinatos. Snaking rhythmic vamps propel pieces like the opening “Nèy-nèy Wèlèba,” an ode to good times that contrasts starkly with some of the more melancholic topics of later pieces.

Hard churning wah-wah guitar powers the fast version of “Ambassèl,” punctuating a small phalanx of riffing horns. Eshèté testifies on top, his voice invested with a forceful vibrato as he recounts another tale tinged with enigmatic romance. “Yeqer Aynèssa” and “Men Tetchiyé Medritu” slow the tempi down to a loose blues shuffles and feature the potent cerulean guitar of Tamru Woldèab as prominent accompaniment to stories of personal woe. The latter, bathed in a patina of reverb, also works in some Morricone-style whistling. Harrowing verses abound and manifest direct parallels to the most calamity-ridden American variants of the blues idiom: “The fire in my belly has incinerated my insides. No laughter, chatter or pleasantries will assuage him. He suffers, he starves. Yet his family and friends have turned into strangers.”

As bleak as some of the subject matter seems, it’s not all gloom and doom. “Temar Ledje,” “Hodé Fèra” and “Kènoru Lèbetchahé” spin off Stax-worthy grooves, spooling out as didactic entreaties call for personal empowerment and responsibility. “Tenageri” echoes Nigerian Afrobeat in its insistent cyclic rhythm while “Yètentu Feqratchen” sounds almost funereal with its crawling tempo and somber modulating organ.

Eshèté enjoyed a position as one of the most popular artists on the Addis scene when these songs were cut. The reasons for that appeal haven’t waned a bit in the ensuing decades, and this set sits alongside its predecessor as one of the most appealing entries in the thankfully unfinished Éthiopiques series.

By Derek Taylor

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