Befitting my love of Walt Frazier fur coats and Quaalude jokes, my favorite installment of the Ethiopiques labyrinth might be episode 13, Ethiopian Groove: The Golden Seventies. Presumably, most hip-hop heads know the 27-volume (and counting) compilation for one of several reasons: the Mulatu Astatke music that Jim Jarmusch selected for Broken Flowers, Oh No’s Ethiopium, or the one track I can remember off that Nas and Damian Marley record.
But the abyssal depth of the curators’s crates and the country itself amounts to far more than a few choice samples and the occasional gem unleashed on late-night NPR. New Year’s resolutions are for the faint-hearted, but one personal goal of mine is to listen to more old music and thus, escape from the perpetual treadmill of NEW AND EXCLUSIVE ephemera. Yesterday, I was struck anew by “Antiye,” a track from Aster Aweke & The Sensation. Recorded sometime in the late 70s, shortly before the-then teenaged Aweke emigrated to the United States. the Addis Ababa-raised soul legend ostensibly came stateside to study — but the more likely reason was repression in the wake of the “Red Terror” of the Mengistu government.
Nicknamed the “Aretha Franklin of Ethiopia,” Aweke moved to the Bay Area and Washington D.C., prior to establishing permanent residence in Los Angeles. Her voice fluctuates like a sine wave, rising above and then dipping underneath the exotic farrago of brass horns, esoteric string instruments, and quite possibly a lute. Think a platonic hybrid of Joanna Newsome and Erykah Badu and you won’t even begin to come close. Instead, I recommend the tracks themselves — a singular manifestation of the mysterious beauty of Ethiopian music and the sacral powers of injera.