Five white guys from Paris playing Ethiopian sounds? If it sounds unlikely, you better check Akalé Wubé. The project was launched in October 2008 as the brainchild of producer Francis Falceto, who created the amazing “Ethiopiques” series of albums. The name itself came from a song by saxophonist Getachew Mekuria, which can translate as “my beauty” or “the beauty of the soul”.
They reinterpret and reinvigorate many great old songs from the 60s and 70s, including swing or groove (“Jawa Jawa” in Amharic). They replace the singer with an eloquent flute that manages call and response and a guitar hero Loïc Réchard with vocal solos. Even the shakers got soul.
Akalé Wubé’s repertoire included some of their own compositions, including “Nebiyat”, a ballad that strayed into psychedelic jazz which banshee sounds as a guitar is slowly tortured to death and cascades of percussion. Also a hopping Tigrinya number. They manage to revive the retro energy and add their own adventurous arrangements. What more does a jazz band need – they even have a man with a moustache (Paul Bouclier), dropping beads of sweat as he trumpets and then switches to…. electric krar for that distinctive string sound that also pumps rhythm, stirs the soul and spins the world. The beat soon starts playing the double speed and double rhythm tricks that are worthy of the wax and gold modes of expression. The flute man Etienne de la Sayette manages all the haunting sounds of Ethiopian music, so nostalgic for memories (tizita) of lost loves, pastoral green hills and evening cows coming home to the village. He proves that there must be a bit of Ethiopian soul in all the world’s inhabitants, we are all related.
Local band Krar Collective, a Rich Mix favourite, also played amazing sounds and their wrap up performance with the Parisians was amazing. Singer Genet Assefa has a smile and a strong voice that whisks the audience away from November London to a world of great Addis clubs and live music, scenes such as Razzmatazz and Black and White. Temesgen Zeleke is fellow singer and skilful krar player (dubbed “the Hendrix of the krar”), matching the krar against the drums (read this Guardian review), including Robel Tesfaye who can also win bubbling and everchanging rhythms from the dramatic Ethiopian kebero drum (another great review here), whose beats stir through the predawn still at the start of mountain robed church services. “Wolaita” was as full of delight and duplicity as the town, and the joyful anthem “Addis Abebe beyt-ey” (my home) is a powerful statement of the global Ethiopia and their spiritual and musical home.