Wede Harer Guzo (CD)

You often hear about DJs and labels "digging in the crates," but what about digging in the crowded, hot streets and storefronts of Ethiopia? Awesome Tapes from Africa has not only rescued beautiful tapes and LPs from relative obscurity, but it's discovered lost gems that are so ingrained and connected to their own regional music scene and culture that they become an exciting new perspective on music that's so far from the world of Western ears. Hailu Mergia is, without a doubt, their greatest success story. Their first Mergia release was a mysterious and unique mix of endless accordion harmonies and simplified digital drums with almost new agey synthesizers for a low-fi, psychedelic dream. Sourced from Mergia's only cassette copy of the album, Wede Harer Guzo is more indicative of what Mergia could do with a higher budget and a large band. Doing a series of traditional Ethiopian standards with a large brass band, the music is less ethereal than Ethiopia's most famous jazz musician, Mulatu Astatke, and instead goes for heavy beats and funky brass that feels strangely reminiscent of Nigeria's Fela Kuti. "Sintayehu" opens with a catchy, funky riff that instantly amplifies when the brass kicks in and the drums start to pound viciously. It's no longer just some nice jazz track, but goes into a full funk freak-out that feels right at home with long-lost breaks and beats. "Migibima Moltual" is a more sensitive, smoother affair that is perfect for dancing after one too many drinks. The delirious keyboard haze over a slow, modal progression is typical of Ethiopian folk tunes, until the keyboard comes to overtake the song in an unexpectedly aggressive swing. For those who are desiring something on the outer horizons of music, nothing gets more interesting and beautiful than Hailu Mergia.

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