Addis Ababa is bumping. Ethiopiyawi Electronic, a hybrid of traditional and international sounds, is the output of a crop of young Ethiopians with open ears and serious production chops. One of the forefathers of the genre, Endeguena Mulu, serves as an ambassador showcasing the style across mixes, like this one for Dazed, and speaking to news outlets like The Guardian about his hometown sound. It’s no surprise then that his debut vinyl as Ethiopian Records offers a wide glimpse into the genre.
The release page for Qen Sew ቅን ሰዉ sites Ethio-Jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, Krar virtuoso Asnaketch Worku, Amharic crooner Alemayehu Eshete, and Cameroonian synth experimentalist Francis Bebey as key influences alongside the likes of Kode9 and J Dilla. Like Bebey, Mulu’s ears are tuned as much to the rich musical history of his home as the electronic underground bubbling abroad.
“Qen Sew ቅን ሰዉ (For My Father)”, translating roughly to kindhearted, opens the record with intricate overlapping vocals that narrowly avoid collision. It’s weighty too, with a heavy low end that is never absent for too long. Next, a remix of the title track by idiosyncratic house voyagers Beautiful Swimmers, streamlines the vocal and layers in some uplifting synth work. They in no way temper the edge of the original though, thanks to their signature off kilter percussion. “Feluha” is the organic banger of the bunch, and wouldn’t be out of place at a UK club night. Furious hand claps accent rollicking drum patterns and tightly looped trance inducing vocals. The true stars though are the masenqo, a traditional string instrument, and the washint, an end-blow wooden flute. Simply put, they shred. “Lela Lela”, featuring vocal trio Zion Rebels, is a departure from the 4×4 of the rest of the record. While the overall vibe is spirited, at -8 it’s discordant piano and abrupt shifts could be mistaken for an illbient track from the likes of We™ or DJ Spooky. The digital version features a duo of additional tracks. “All The Things” is a dense and meditative percussion workout while “Transcend” grabs some elements directly from one of Bristol’s trip hop juggernauts.
Outside Addis Ababa, Washington DC is home to more Ethiopians than any other city on Earth. It’s logical then that the first major conduit for the Ethiopiyawi Electronic sound emerged from there. Label 1432 R launched with four tracks by E.R.’s close friend and collaborator Mikael Seifu followed by a split between Seifu and the label’s co-founder Dawit. Seifu’s contribution Tuff Ruff, an introspective 2-step shuffler, draws the clearest lines between Addis Ababa and London and garnered much attention for the young label. Much of traditional Ethiopian music is preserved and performed by itinerant Azmari’s, many of whom Mulu field records for his productions. Now their voices are wandering the avenues of the internet as widely as the roads of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Records’ Qen Sew ቅን ሰዉ is available now on 1432 R.