By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The concept behind Dub Colossus is the stuff of music-head dreams: Recruit some of the more stunning voices out of Ethiopian popular and traditional music—the kind of flitting double-harmonic-soul warblers that made Buda Musique's ongoing Éthiopiques compilations a cult hit, and World Music Network's The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia an enduring revelation—and present them to "the West" in a new way, without the synthesizer horns that dominate so much contemporary East African pop. (A deal-breaker for many tastes, those keyboards might be a stronger barrier to crossover than language or custom.)
London producer Count Dubulah honors his Addis Ababa guests with a sharp spotlight, stripping the call-and-response Ethio-blues of "Shegye Shegitu (Blue Nile Mix)" to bare handclaps, acoustic guitar, and faint lounge piano under the throaty cries of Doku Club owner Sintayehu "Mimi" Zenebe and two backup singers. More cinematic than funky, the track could play perfectly between Moby's "Honey" and Atmosphere's "Puppets," and that's probably the point. Elsewhere Dubulah (Nick Page of Transglobal Underground) does that ambitiousness one better by casting the various other azmari in a thick, modern dub reggae so wackily overproduced that its echo has the crystalline shimmer of an ecstasy bubble bath. There's a poetic and historical connection between Jamaican music and Ethiopia, one not entirely free of pain or irony: Rastafarians worshipped Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie as a god. Yet Dub Colossus in a Town Called Addis finds a link that's less obvious until you hear the album yourself: the melodic synchronicity between Ethiopians' Arabic-scale melisma and the self-styled "Far Eastern" melodica tunelets of late dub pioneer Augustus Pablo.
Dub Colossus in a Town Called Addis
This is "the exotic" refracted back and forth so many times—across oceans, seas, and years—that it feels almost familiar, or might to hipsters who bought the Broken Flowers soundtrack for Mulatu Astatke's modal funk, or for hip-hop kids claiming M.I.A. as "my jam" and downloading more than one Punjabi MC now that Snoop Dogg has gone South Asian. Urban ears anticipating the first U.S. president of Kenyan descent might tilt further and further south and east, and eventually stumble across this.