A Rare NYC Show and a Killer Roots Reggae Album by Israel’s Zvuloon Dub System
Israeli band Zvuloon Dub System play Ethiopian music, roots reggae style. A bright brass section carries the haunting modal riffs that make music from Ethiopia so instantly distinguishable from every other style on the planet. Add lustrous, ominous organ and spare, jangly guitar, occasionally played through a wah. Set that to a deep one-drop groove from the bass and drums, with a clavinova doubling the bassline a lot of the time, and you have a good idea what they sound like. They’ve got a new album, Anbessa Dub (Spotify link) and a gig at SOB’s on June 15 at 9 PM; $10 adv tix are highly recommended
The album opens strongly with the ominously organ-fueled minor-key instrumental Alemitu, followed by the slinky Tenesh Kelbe Lay, which is basically a blues. Like a lot of the songs here, this one alludes to but never hits the undulating triplet groove that so much of Ethiopian music has. And it fades out rather than hitting a decisive ending. Likewise, Sab Sam would be Afrobeat if the beat was faster; the organ solo midway through, sliding down with an icily watery tone, is arguably the high point of the album.
Man Begelgelni mashes up jazz-tinged 70s soul guitar, a bouncy, Bob Marleyesque vamp and droll video game effects from the synth, an overview of thirty years of roots reggae through a sun-warped Ethiopian prism. Strong baritone singer Mahmoud Ahmed guests on Ney Denun Tieshe, which with its incisively wary alto sax solo and bubbly guitar sounds like Debo Band at halfspeed. Creepy, carnivalesque organ gives Yehoden Awetech Lengeresh a psychedelic 70s edge, while Tsbukti Fektret, with guest singer Yaakov Lilay, gives the guitar a chance to get especially weird and trippy, its trebly tone almost a dead ringer for an electric harpsichord against the incisive horn riffage.
The warm, soul-inspired Endermenesh, sung by Zemene Melesse, sounds like a stripped-down Ethiopian take of Marley’s Could You Be Loved, lit up by oldschool soul guitar and purposeful trombone. Zelel Zelel returns to the blend of peak-era Marley, Ethiopiques and early 80s dub, with yet more of that deliciously macabre funeral organ. The album ends with Yene Almaz, a hypnotic, slowly swaying folk tune with screechy riti fiddle as the lead instrument. If classic reggae grooves, or Ethiopian music, or stoner sounds in general are your thing, don’t miss a rare chance to see this mysterious and excellent band live.