Tilahun Gessesse – The Voice

These days you’re never more than six songs away from Ethiopia on my iPod.

Listen to this, I mean, really…

Forty years old and still as vibrant as anything coming out today…

Seven Records I’m Proud to Have Bought in 2011

Here’s to Taking It Easy – Phosphorescent

Pride saw arch finger-pointer Matthew Hauk and pals sound a bit Bon Iver-y, which was OK but 2010’s follow up was a much more ballsy, countrified affair, with brass, slide guitars and riffs all over the shop –terrific value. I think I’ve already posted a video of my favourite track ( “God damn, Amanda, God damn it all”), so here’s the opener – Bah bah badda ba badda bah!



Swinging Addis – Ethiopiques Series

Or to be honest, any of the Ethiopiques series of which I bought, I think, eleven volumes during the course of the year. Amazing stuff which I’ve gone on about before. The video here is of Tlahoun “The Voice” Gessesse, and I love it…



Last Days of Summer – White Denim

I say bought …

It seems incredible now but for a good while this record was being chucked away free at the band’s web site, before being given an “official” release this year. It’s probably not quite as strong and self confident as D, but still full of bristle and brawn, and with trademark catchiness all over. Lots of play in the car…



I Often Dream of Trains – Robyn Hitchcock

Listened to quite a lot of Hitchcock this year, partly because of an ongoing Soft Boys thing but also as preparation for seeing him at Green Man, where he was great and did a surprise extra set comprised only of insect songs. Title track is a highpoint, but the version of “Great When You’re Dead” on Later is a treat. Have grown to love this record with something like devotion.



Mighty Baby – Mighty Baby

A charming record that I was tipped off about as a result of the LPGroup 1967 session. I’d be banging on about Rolled Gold, and was told to get hold of this record, Might Baby being the band the Action melded into towards the end of the sixties. Hugely embarrassed to have missed this for so long – it’s a belter! No real footage, I’m afraid…



Pigeons – Here We Go Magic

Really eclectic, interesting and above all smart collection of pop songs on Secretly Canadian. Bought it at the same time as I was grimly trying to get into Merriweather Post Pavilion and consequently is bound up with that record in my mind. The acceptable face being “clever”…



Jun Ray Song Chang – Asa Chang & Jun Ray

I love Twitter! One of my virtual chums mentioned this in passing and reacquainted me with a record I’d loved when it came out but had ab-so-lutely forgotten about. The whole record is a challenging but rewarding listen. Beautiful, compelling, contrary…


Lucky Seven – Ethiopiques

It’s all been a bit quiet on the New Music front, here, hasn’t it?

Actually, I lie, I’m still the beneficiary of a ludicrously generous deal from Emusic, (which I’m sure they’d love to get out of, if they could), and as ever a load of this is new stuff that I’m taking a punt on. Some decent sounding stuff by Wye Oak, Travels, Ducktails and Bleeding Heart Narrative, some of which I shall no doubt post on in the near(ish) future… Also been sent a record to review (which I’m getting on to I promise, Dave). On top of that I’ve just come back from a trip to Fopp in Bristol…

Truth is that my iThing has been completely overrun by all things Ethiopiques. I think I’ve mentioned the Swinging Addis collection and that I’d nominated it for the next album for #lpgroup to cover. In the event, only one other punter voted for it, but it has reminded of how great the stuff is and as a result I’ve gone and bought another six volumes of the series, each one as exciting as the one before. Suddenly, the house and car resound with the goofy sounds of seventies Ethiopia; and Alemayehu Eshete, Mahmoud Ahmed and Mulatu Astatque have become household names over here.

I won’t try to sound like I know all about Ethiopian music and the unique bubble in time that encloses the entire Swinging Addis scene, but if you’re interested (and why wouldn’t you be?) there’s an interview with Francis Falceto the genius behind the series, at the Afropop Worldwide site which is fascinating.

Anyway all you need to know is that a pile of razor-sharp jazzy, souly, RnB recordings emerged, a mixture of American arrangements and unique Ethiopian stylings, generally sung in Amharic. All of it brimming with self confidence and attitude. It’s just breath-taking stuff…

Common flavours are the reedy sounds of organ and rhythm guitar, jumpy exotic vocals and traditional instrumentation. The driving force, however, common to pretty much every track, is the spiky, intelligent and just plain groovy presence of two or three man horn sections all over the place. Can’t find hardly any video of the musicians but the photos suggest all sorts of synchronised moves from the brass players, in the style of the Famous Flames. It must’ve been wild.

An added, somewhat tragic, element to all this is that with the ousting of Selassie by the Derg and President Mengistu, Swinging Addis disappeared completely after a series of curfews and bans were imposed. Some of the main artists went into exile, some died, some just packed it in and went back to their original trades. As far as I can tell, there’s almost no trace of the whole scene in modern day Addis and it’s been consigned to history.

The good people of Buda, however, have now issued 27 (I think) volumes of the Ethiopiques series and with one or two more “difficult” exceptions, it’s all absolute gold.

I haven’t done a Lucky Seven for ages, so it seems fitting that this one should be an Ethiopiques special. You lucky, lucky people!

Lucky Seven – Ethiopiques

Ene Negn Bay Manesh – Girma Beyene

Tchero Adari Negn – Alemayehu Eshete

Aynotchesh Yerefu – Samuel Belay

Eskegizew Bertch – Alemayehu Eshete

Ambassel (fast) – Alemayehu Eshete

Yekermo Sew – Mulatu Astatke

Swinging Addis – Seventies Style

One of the pleasures of #lpgroup is that it encourages you to revisit some of your favourite records, and to discover some new ones. And in some cases both.

This month’s topic is Neither UK Nor US, so obviously there’ve been some Nick Cave, Bjork and Sugarcubes mentions – all good stuff – but I thought I’d go for something else and one of the records I nominated was my copy of Volume 8 of the Ethiopiques series: Swinging Addis. Not sure if anyone’s going to go for it but it sure as hell woke me up. What a cracking record – all James Brown brass and wacka-wacka guitars combined with fuzztone lead and the most amazing fluttering breathless Amharic vocals. It really is a winner.

Predictably, the choice of Seventies Amharic funk-rock is a little thin on YouTube, but there is this by Alemayehu Eshete, who seemed to have been a bit of a legend of the times. I’m not going to pretend I know a lot (or indeed anything) about this record – not even sure of the name. Have fun.

(I have no idea what’s happening around 2:30 – but I like it!)