As the UK and the US split themselves down the middle and bleeding-heart liberal snowflakes like me contemplate our belly button fluff in the cosy confines of our cultural snobbery, there’s nothing quite like doing it to the sound of great music from around the World. Recent weeks have seen The Monkey groove to sounds from Istanbul, Spain, Zimbabwe and Poland. More on those later, but I can’t wait to share with you notice of a superb album from the hot and dusty lands of Ethiopia.
The “Ethiopiques” series showcases albums and artists from the history of Ethiopian and Eritrean music ranging from traditional styles through pop and jazz. The series began in 1998 and now we have reached No. 30…again, a superb album, this time featuring the respected and legendary singer, lyricist, pianist, arranger, Girma Bèyènè with the band Akalé Wubé.
The collection, entitled “Mistakes on Purpose”, is funky, tight, jazz grooves with some exploratory jamming on some of the longer instrumental flights. John Lennon would be chuffed with the disonnant outro at the end of “For Amha”, for instance, and the closing track “Tewèdjigen Endèhu” is an unashamed hard rock reprise of the slower funky opener.
Akalé Wubé have been plying their trade for some years now, drawing upon Ethiopian music of the 60’s and 70’s, and are now among the world’s leading exponents of Ethiopian grooveness.
This collaboration with Girma Bèyènè is my introduction to them and without doubt I will be checking out the back catalogue. In recent years Girma has been teased back into the music scene after a self-imposed exile from the art form after the loss of his wife. Loss replacing all meaning, perhaps. It’s only when we experience it can we perceive its depth.
But Girma is back – and back with a bang, sharing his talents in the company of some excellent musicians. Here, the saxes of Etienne de la Sayette shine and the guest slots by Cyrille Méchin on baritone sax and clarinet have a sublime depth of tone, not to mention Paul Bouclier’s trumpet.
The arrangements slip seamlessly through funk to pop to jazz with a maturity that only a band who has played together for a while can attain. This is tight, thoughtful music at it’s best and is definitely a band to see live. This is spirit-lifting stuff.
“Mèlèwètesh Menèw” begins with a soul horn riff, cuts the clip down to a meandering “dark of night” speak-piece, ominously picks up and closes with the jammiest of Hendrixisms.
The guitar work throughout is tasty as anything Steely Dan can throw at you and on an album full of jazz and soul and funk, the rhythm section are at the heart of it. Damn, this group are good.
This is an outstanding early contender.
Fire up your streaming service of choice and check them out. This is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year.