September 15, 2015

Qwanqwa | Volume 2

ARTIST: Qwanqwa
TITLE: Volume 2
“Ethio-jazz” usually refers to the music of Mulatu Astatke, Getetachew Mekurya and the other innovators of 1970’s Ethiopia who combined their country’s pentatonic scales with Western instruments, harmonies and improvisational strategies. The Addis Ababa-based quartet Qwanqwa (Amharic for “language”), on their second album, provide a new angle on Ethio-jazz. Unlike Astatke and his peers, this band uses traditional azmari instruments: krar (a harp-like lyre) and kebero (hand drum). But the krars (there are two, one with standard pitch and one in a lower register) are amplified and run through effects pedals, and rather than the one-stringed masenqo there’s a five-stringed violin played by Kaethe Hostetter (also a member of USA’s Debo Band). Newcomers to Ethiopian music should start with track 6, a typically fast song from the Gurage ethnic group. The first track is an excellent overview of the band’s approach. 5 is a tasty version of a song made famous by Mahmoud Ahmed. And 4 is the band’s tour de force, an extended Ethiopian blues that takes off into outer space. Great concept, great improvising – this is one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard all year.
TOP TRACKS:    1    4    5    6

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