More importantly, do people like you?

You’ll have gathered I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment.

A combination of being out in the wilds and not having any marking/planning/other nonsense to attend to has meant that I’ve been able to loll about and roll around in all manner of vices and playful indulgences – I’ve read, eaten, drunk and walked to a degree that frankly no sane doctor would advise.  It has also meant that I’ve got both the time and the disposition to behave like a proper Blogger (although I suspect this may just be encouraging me to go further and sillier than has previously been the case. So, anyway…

Krar Music

Having plugged the Likembe Blog a couple of days ago, I felt like I wanted to talk about a record I downloaded there which is something of a burner. It’s by an Eritrean musician called Bereket Mengisteab, released in the 1980s, of whom I know nothing. The version made available on Likembe is from a cassette copy which is a bit ropey in places (including a charming Mark E Smith- style two second interlude, where some clumsy ninny has pressed the Record button by mistake) but which I’m certain has long since disappeared from shelves.

Bereket Mengisteab apparently has a long and respected career behind him and is I believe still with us. There is a decent interview / life story of him available here which forms the basis of everything I know about the man (the part about him putting his recording career to one side and fighting for the Eritrean Liberation Front in the war of independence was an eyebrow raiser…).

I wanted to write about the record itself, Lebey, but aside from enjoying his exotic runs up and down the …er… fretboard (almost certainly not right) I realised I simply don’t have the vocabulary or the understanding of the music to make a decent stab at describing it.

The issue is that non-Western music uses a whole different bunch of fundamentals that non-musicians and general record-buying saps simply don’t understand. Much too difficult for the likes of me… But what I can say is that it’s a weird, colourful sound that has me snared and which you’d be well advised to go and download yourself (here, as you’re asking, it’s an old post but the links are still active).

The crux of the sound is that he uses an Ethiopian (or Eritrean, I’m not 100% clear of the nuances) instrument called a Krar, which is a bit like a lyre but more adaptable and has a crisp clear sound that just about survives being electrified. It sounds psychedelic.

Did a bit more googling and came across this wonderful bunch of London exiles, calling themselves the Krar Collective and doing a session for KEXP. Not only does it involve a krar being played lustily through speakers, but also (rather wonderfully) through a wah-wah pedal. Watch all of this but especially the first two songs:

 

(The costumes and in particular the truly cosmic capes deserve a mention. I’m also rather taken by stand-in singer Beli Nigussie, partly by her bird-like vocals but also by her mysterious, exuberantly erotic dancing…)

Now, go pay a visit to Likembe…