Ethiopiques - Barbican, London
Imagine Elvis Presley, James Brown, Quincy Jones and Maceo Parker sharing a stage for the first time ever, and you will have some idea of the expectations riding on this concert. Mahmoud Ahmed, Alèmayèhu Eshèté, Mulatu Astatké and Gétachèw Mèkurya are the four biggest surviving stars of the Swinging Addis scene of the mid-1970s, a brief musical flowering before the rule of the Derg imposed two decades of silence.
Friday night at the Barbican saw them perform together for the first time, to a hall packed with Ethiopian expatriates and western fans drawn in by the éthiopiques series of CDs.
Providing the musical backing throughout were the Grammy nominated US-based Either/Orchestra, American musical magpies. Opening the show with Mulatu Astatké on vibraphone, they felt clever, musically skilled, but meandering.
But when Alèmayèhu Eshèté took the stage everything changed. Either/Orchestra had treated Astatké as a guest; Eshèté regally treated them as his band. Eshèté was tireless. In a shiny suit with lapels as wide as the Rift Valley, he kicked, danced, strutted downstage to flirt with the front rows. There were grunts, there was heavy breathing. Long sustained notes whipped the crowd into frenzy. His vibrato and tremolo worked overtime. When he launched into “Ambassel” the Ethiopians in the audience caught their breath as if they had never thought they would hear these songs again.
Wearing a headdress and a blue stole with a gold embroidered lion, Gétachèw Mèkurya stalked out into the audience, playing the guttural saxophone riffs of “Shellela”. Round him, flashbulbs popped and strobed, defying the Barbican heavies vainly running up and down the aisles.
Mahmoud Ahmed’s appearance only increased the hysteria. After some Ahmaric banter with the crowd, he sang his most famous songs. “Bèmen Sèbèb Letlash” was sinuous, with a tight extended coda; “Erè Mèla Mèla” was imperious, the musical backing fading away to an ominous build-up of chords as Ahmed’s voice commanded, pleaded and implored.
For an encore, all were back on stage. Ahmed and Eshèté joined in the latter’s warhorse, “Addis Ababa Bete”, swopping lines and chorusing, dancing together as Mèkurya blasted the saxophone responses and Astatké beat his conga. The audience screamed as if together they might banish 17 years of curfew.
- Either/Orchestra featuring Mulatu Astatke:
Yegelle Tizeta (4.12) – Mulatu Astatke (vibes/keyboard/congas); Charlie Kohlhase (baritone sax solo)
Derashe, Assossa and Dewel (8.02) - Mulatu Astatke (vibes solo)
- Alemayehu Eshete: Addis Ababa Bete (6.02) - Tom Halter (trumpet solo)
- Getachew Mekurya with the Either/Orchestra:
Shellela (4.33) - Gedamay (1.59) - I Faram Gami (5.26)
- Mahmoud Ahmed: Atawurulegn Lela (6.04) - Russ Gershon (tenor sax solo); Joel Yennior (trombone solo)
- Either/Orchestra featuring Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Getachew Mekurya and Mulatu Astatke: Addis Ababa Bete (6.40)
The Either/Orchestra are Russ Gershon (tenor sax/soprano sax/leader), Tom Halter, Dan Rosenthal (trumpets), Joel Yennior (trombone), Godwin Louis (alto sax/flute), Charlie Kohlhase (baritone sax), Rafael Alcala (piano/organ), Rick McLaughlin (bass), Pablo Bencid (drums) and Vicente Lebron (congas/percussion)
|SOURCE||DAB||SOUND QUALITY||A+||FORMAT||Mp3||BITRATE||224||TRACKS #||8|
|LOCATION / VENUE||London||Barbican||DATE||27–06–08|
|NOTES:||More pictures of this show here|