New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: ethiopian music

Haunting, Wildly Psychedelic East African Sounds Rescued From an Obscure Archive in Djibouti

Many emerging African nations in the 60s and 70s had a national band. Those were typically established by newly independent regimes, to help concretize a national identity in areas which had been balkanized by Western imperialists. While those groups may have been founded and then exploited for propaganda purposes, their music was often very good, and fascinatingly cross-pollinated. One of the most intriguing was from Djibouti.

That country’s group, 4 Mars’ bandname commemorates the founding date of the ruling People’s Rally for Progress party there. What makes this music so unique is not only the haunting chromatics common throughout what is now Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, but also the global influences that passed through Djibouti’s ports. For centuries, the region has been a major Indian Ocean commercial hub: no wonder the Chinese Communists are building a naval base there.

In a much more fortuitous and peaceful development, the American firm Ostinato Records recently gained access to the massive archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti and is mining the collection for all sorts of treasures never before heard outside the country. The new 4 Mars compilation Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tjadoura – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first release, comprising both studio and concert recordings made by the regional supergroup between 1977 and 1994.

A couple of the cuts here are questionable: how appropriate is it to include a tribute to a repressive political figure? Sure, the praise-song tradition in Africa goes back centuries. But comparatively speaking, does the inclusion of Dixie in an anthology of American folk songs enhance the album’s historical value…or compromise it ethically and esthetically?

The album’s opening track, simply titled Natesha (Compassion) sets the stage: a Bollywood-influenced, melismatic chanteuse out front of what sounds like a lo-fi, vintage synth-driven roots reggae band playing a dark minor-key groove. That beat is actually dhaanto, an ancient East African rhythm that eventually made its way to Jamaica.

The quasi-reggae pulse gets more organic, with swirly organ, spare bass, trebly tremolo guitar and one-drop drums in the epic, almost ten-minute Hobolayee Nabadu (Hello Peace). The group’s saxophonist, Mohamed Abdi Alto – who now leads the excellent Groupe RTD – plays spare, biting minor-key riffs and remains an often haunting presence on many of these tracks.

Dhulika Hooyo (Motherland) is cheerier, with more surreal harmonies and a massed choir which could be half kids: at their peak, the group comprised more than forty members including dancers. How powerful is Tamarta (Power)? Not so much: this is one of the more synthy tracks, guy/girl vocals matched by tradeoffs between flute and keys, shifting to an unexpected latin soul-inflected groove.

Daroor (rough translation: Drought) has a loping, vaudevillian beat behind the Bollywood-style vocals. The number after that is faster: imagine Fela playing rocksteady. The song for an iron-fisted Djiboutien ruler has more of a strut and is a lot shorter. Likewise, the pulse of Lana Rabeen Karo (It Cannot Be Desired), a long one-chord jam which seems less forced: one thing that definitely can’t be desired is having to sing for a dictator.

Tellingly, the female singers are missing until a couple of minutes into the even more disturbingly titled Tilman Baa Lagu Socdaa (Follow the Rules). Like several of the reggae-ish tracks here, Inkaar Walid (The Elders’ Curse) could be a Burning Spear anthem with surreal Chinese flute and Balkan pop influences.

The broodingly catchy Abaal (Gratitude) seems to be of the same early 80s-tinged vintage as the album’s opening number, with flaring metal guitar, warpy synth and hasty, overcompressed lo-fi production. An acerbically modal traditional wedding song gets a bouncy, electric update with keening flute and synth along with more Ethiopian-flavored vocals: it’s arguably the catchiest track here. The concluding epic is a real departure, a melancholy, pentatonic Chinese ballad. Goes to show what a range of flavors the trade winds will blow in. Let’s hope for winds of trade rather than winds of war in that part of the world in the coming years.

Frank London and Adeena Karasick’s Darkly Gorgeous New Album Salutes a Feminist Archetype

“You are bringing in the big guns, opening the sluicegates with your hyperdramatic extra sex, a swishy riff, pithy swift grifters…like a feisty zeitgeist, a forever Riviera,” poet Adeena Karasick freestyles, saluting her title character in one of the early tracks on the new album Salome: Woman of Valor, her new collaboration with iconic trumpeter Frank London., streaming at his music page. It’s a psychedelic, globally-inspired, feminist reclamation of the Salome archetype, recasting her as a fearless, indomitable, multi-faceted persona rather than uber-slut. Typically, Karasick’s intricate, wickedly playful, erudite solo spoken world interludes are spaced in between the individual songs here.

The enticement builds over an echoey wash from Shai Bachar’s electric piano, Deep Singh’s tabla and London’s lyrically pensive trumpet in the album’s first musical number, Song of Salome. As it goes on, London channels more of the acerbic, chromatic edge and meticulous melismas that have characterized his sound as one of this era’s great klezmer and Balkan brass players.

Playing with a mute, he introduces a bracing, suspenseful Ethiopian theme over a chilly, techy haze in Garden of Eros, Karasick celebrating the pleasures of the flesh amid the “cinders of avarice.” London shifts to a hypnotic mashup of Ethiopiques, qawwali and Romany psychedelia in Drown Me, exchanging terse, soulful trumpet riffs with a swirly synth as the tabla holds down the groove.

Dance of Desire has a darkly slinky trip-hop ambience, Karasick deviously referencing a half century or more worth of lyrics, from Wilson Pickett to Leonard Cohen as London’s trumpet teases the listener. Bind Me has a gorgeously brooding, contrapuntal Hasidic melody and a metaphorically loaded lyric: this Salome doesn’t like being restrained.

To introduce Johnny, Karasick sends a shout out to Jean Genet and other bad-boy figures before London’s balmy trumpet and tersely circling, uneasy piano enter the picture. Martyrology, a grisly chronicle of Jewish mystics tortured and murdered over the years, makes a chilling contrast, followed by a haunting, Middle Eastern and Indian-tinged interlude from London that brings to mind Ibrahim Maalouf.

London returns to an anthemic mix of murky Ethiopiques and woozy psychedelia in Yes I Will Yes Say Yes. He shifts to the Middle Eastern freygish mode for the undulating Dance of the Seven Veils, part klezmer, part Palestinian shamstep, featuring an imploring vocal cameo by Manu Narayan . The group return to dusky, forlorn Ethiopian ambience to wind up the record with Kiss Thy Myth. Look for this one on the best albums of 2020 list here, scheduled for the end of the year.

Ferociously Lyrical, Amazingly Psychedelic, Eclectic Sounds From the Free Radicals

Fearlessly political Houston-based collective the Free Radicals have a brilliant, insightful new album, White Power Outage Volume 1 out and streaming at Bandcamp. Over catchy, psychedelically arranged organic grooves that range from hard funk, to roots reggae, to dub and even surf music, a vast cast of over fifty artists speak truth to power with witheringly insightful lyricism. This album is like a great musical podcast about the state of the world right at the first strike of the lockdown: over and over again, this crew breaks down the big picture in ways that make sense, especially considering what’s happened since March 16 here in New York and even earlier in Wuhan.

Not surprisingly, it took more than a year to pull together all 23 tracks here. Hip-hop artist Obidike Kamau kicks it off over with America Is a Lie, over a slinky, live funk groove with wah guitar:

I know how much this hurts your feelings
It’s not because you strive for justice, but I’ve heard this bullshit all my life
The propaganda you spit, the rose-colored myths you declare
…I guess it goes back to your gangster beginnings
Your genocidal belief in unhappy endings
…I know a thief appreciates possession being nine tenths of the law
And you’re a liar
I ain’t in fear, your reign is temporary
I see it leaving here

EQuality delivers another broadside so good all 58 seconds of it are worth reprinting:

If multiple black men are found dead in the apartment of a millionaire tied to the Democratic Party named Ed Buck, and nobody investigates his role in the incident, does it make a sound?
Bartender I’ll take another round
But pouring kool-aid in a wine glass don’t make it merlot
A cat having kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits
Well I’ll be George Washington Carver selling peanuts to the peanut gallery at the art gallery See what’s on the walls, pictures of poverty and pain
‘Cause that’s what sells n____s to negros
Some inverse tradeoff
Paid off the most popular rapper so the house can run the field n____s
Capitalism and Christ cut a deal in the back of the Vatican
As the Pope pours another round of scotch
Excuse my cynicism
The gospel according to a con

“Maybe we just catch a case and disappear without a trace,” says rapper Nosaprise over the loopy psychedelic backdrop of Cash Out — and he’s not talking about COVID.

“Beware the boogieman, terror threats scaring us out of psychological reason,” D-Ology warns in Look at That, a far-reaching catalog of threats from police brutality to transhumanism.

The Great Australian Heist, featuring hip-hop lyricist Bryte from down under, reminds how the slave trade devastated his country’s indigenous population…and how that resonates today in, as just one example, the way fracking is destroying the country’s already scarce water supply. He doesn’t get into the fascist lockdown situation there, the most repressive clampdown on human rights outside of China and Israel right now.

Swatara Olushola takes over the mic in Racist Car No Driver, revealing a sinister white supremacist motivation behind driverless cars: their “garbage in, garbage out” technology was designed not to recognize the presence of black people in the street. Earlier in the record she contributes another rocksteady-tinged protest song that also pokes savage fun at technosupremacists.

The musicians here turn out to be a phenomenal roots reggae band. The best of many of the reggae tunes here are the intricately arranged Daughter of Diana, with Kam Franklin on vocals, and Student Debt Dub, an Ethiopiques number fueled by bass and brass. Yet the best straight-up instrumental on the album is the sarcastically titled Deepwater Horizon, a slinky, reverbtoned minor-key surf rock instrumental – it’s really cool how the bass gets to carry the melody for a verse.

Later on the band careen into punk klezmer for a bit, then toward the end of the record Matt Kelly contributes Piece of the Rock, a Celtic/punkgrass mashup sung from the point of view of a greedy oligarch. “Come take a hit of my rock,” he snarls.

Highlights among the many other tracks here also include also fiery, politically charged reggaeton from Karina Nistal; Rashard’s More Power, a political update on vintage James Brown spiced with vibraphone and horns; and Genesis Blu & Jasmine Christine’s Chariot Rock, a conscious hip-hop reinvention of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot over dubby, Ethiopian-tinged loops. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page here at the end of the month.

Amazing, Psychedelic, Danceable New Sounds From Djibouti

How much damage has the global lockdown done in Djibouti? That country has suffered enough without everybody having to wear those stupid masks. And if the digital gear necessary to record Groupe RTD’s new album The Dancing Devils of Djibouti existed on the band’s home turf last year, it wasn’t available at the time. A portable studio had to be flown in to catch the group’s marathon three-day session, fueled by high quality weed and qat (the national drug of Yemen, whose popularity extends to Barbary Pirates territory). The result is an ecstatically slinky mix of music with echoes of Ethipiques, but also roots reggae, Bollywood and Middle Eastern habibi pop. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

In the album’s opening track, The Highest Mountain, guitarist Abdirazak Hagi Sufi runs reggae skank and big stadium hooks over keyboardist Moussa Aden Ainan’s keening multitracks backing frontwoman Asma Omar’s expressive, Bollywood-influenced delivery. This is insanely catchy minor-key music.

You Are the One That I Love (sticking with the English translations of the song titles here) is sort of reggae, sort of ska. Omar’s insistent intensity rises over sax player Mohamed Abdi Alto’s looming lines and the bubbling groove of drummer Omar Farah Houssein and dumbek player Salem Mohamed Ahmed.

The soulful, suave Hassan Omar Houssein takes over the mic on The Pearl Necklace, a pouncing minor-key ballad, followed by The Queen, a mighty, deliciously swirly anthem with some spectacular organ work from Ainan.

Alto’s Interlude turns out to be mostly a haphazard guitar -and-synth tableau in the blues scale. I Want You has the kind of stampeding drive that you would expect, with guitar, sax and rapidfire organ lines behind Houssein’s chill, melismatic vocals. That’s Where You”ll Leave His Reward (a religious reference, maybe?) has hints of a 70s disco strut and a warm major-key pulse.

Look at Me, with its catchy minor-key blues riffage, is more reggae-ish, validating any argument that both reggae and blues came from this part of the world. Joy could be a great lost classic from Jamaican reggae legends the Abyssinians’ iconic first album, more or less: it validates both that group, and this one here. They close the record with a gnawa-flavored shout-out to the spirits. How serendipitous that music from this part of the world could possibly be available at such a twisted time in global history.

Brooklyn’s Funnest Band Put Out One of the Most Casually Creepy Albums of 2019

Hearing Things are Brooklyn’s funnest band and have been for the last three years or so. They play dance music that’s equal parts film noir, soul, go-go music, surf rock, creepy psychedelia and new wave. They’ve also been more or less AWOL lately since the core of the band – alto saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – have all been busy with other projects. But they’ve finally made an album, Here’s Hearing Things – streaming at Bandcamp – and they’re playing the release show at around 9 PM at C’Mon Everybody on May 24. Cover is $10.

Live, the band often sound like the Doors playing surf music, which makes more sense than you might think considering that Ray Manzarek got his start in a surf band. This album starts out in high spirits, gets more sardonic and ends very darkly.

The first track is Shadow Shuffle, a deliciously twisted remake of Green Onions: the band vamp out the second verse instead of sticking with a creepy chromatic reharmonization of the old Booker T & the MG’s hit. Schlegelmilch swirls and Bauder punches in alto and baritone sax parts throughout the catchy Tortuga, a go-go tune as the Stranglers would have done it.

Wooden Leg is a subtly sardonic horror theme in the same vein as Beninghove’s Hangmen, Bauder fluttering furtively in the low registers as the band picks up steam: it’s the album’s most deliciously noir epic.

Likewise, Stalefish is a more traditional, horror surf take on Turkish psychedelia, guitarist Ava Mendoza firing off slashing chords over baritone guitarist Jonny Lam’s snappy, evil basslines. Houndstooth is an evil, faux-loungey take on a blue-flame roadhouse theme, animated by irrepressible flurrying drumwork and more whipcracking from Lam.

Hotel Prison would be a slyly swayng take on balmy early 60s summer-place theme music if if wasn’t just a little too outside the lines. The outro is cruelly funny. Mendoza’s echeoey leads contrast with tongue-in-cheek, blippy organ. goodnatured sax and expertly flurrying surf drums in Uncle Jack. Then the band completely flip the script with Transit of Venus, the band’s first and most trippily macabre adventure in Ethiopian jazz,

The abum’s most epic number, Ideomotor opens with Bauder’s bass clarinet over jungly drums, Schlegelmilch’s organ slinking between them as a brooding, dubwise Ethopian theme gains velocity. .The album’s final cut is Triplestep, coalescing into a menacing mashup of Ethiopiques and a death row strut. Bauder gets the alto and baritone to get the Pink Panther to cross over to the dark side, up to a defiantly soaring alto solo that makes a killer coda for the album as a whole. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year if we get that far.

The Budos Band Bring Their Darkest, Trippiest Album Yet to a Couple of Hometown Gigs

The Budos Band are one of those rare acts with an immense fan base across every divide imaginable. Which makes sense in a lot of ways: their trippy, hypnotic quasi-Ethiopiques instrumentals work equally well as dance music, party music and down-the-rabbit-hole headphone listening. If you’re a fan of the band and you want to see them in Manhattan this month, hopefully you have your advance tickets for tonight’s Bowery Ballroom show because the price has gone up up five bucks to $25 at the door. You can also see them tomorrow night, April 6 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the same deal. Brooding instrumentalists the Menahan Street Band open both shows at 9 PM

The Budos Band’s fifth and latest album, simply titled V, is streaming at Bandcamp. The gothic album art alludes to the band taking a heavier, darker direction, which is somewhat true: much of the new record compares to Grupo Fantasma’s Texas heavy stoner funk spinoff, Brownout. The first track, Old Engine Oil has guitarist Thomas Brenneck churning out sunbaked bluesmetal and wah-wah flares over a loopy riff straight out of the Syd Barrett playbook as the horns – Jared Tankel on baritone sax and Andrew Greene on trumpet – blaze in call-and-response overhead.

Mike Deller’s smoky organ kicks off The Enchanter, bassist Daniel Foder doubling Brenneck’s slashing Ethiopiques hook as the horns team up for eerie modalities, up to a twisted pseudo-dub interlude. Who knew how well Ethiopian music works as heavy psychedelic rock?

Spider Web only has a Part 1 on this album, built around a catchy hook straight out of psychedelic London, 1966, benefiting from a horn chart that smolders and then bursts into flame It’s anybody’s guess what the second part sounds like. The band’s percussion section – Brian Profilio on drums, John Carbonella Jr. on congas, Rob Lombardo on bongos and Dame Rodriguez on various implements – team up to anchor Peak of Eternal Night, a deliciously doomy theme whose Ethiopian roots come into bracing focus in the dub interlude midway through.

Ghost Talk is a clenched-teeth, uneasily crescendoing mashup of gritty early 70s riff-rock, Afrobeat and Ethiopiques, Deller’s fluttery organ adding extra menace. Arcane Rambler is much the same, but with a more aggressive sway. Maelstrom is an especially neat example of how well broodingly latin-tinged guitar psychedelia and Ethiopian anthems intersect. 

The band finally switch up the rhythm to cantering triplets in Veil of Shadows: imagine Link Wray jamming with Mulatu Astatke’s 1960s band, with a flamenco trumpet solo midway through. Bass riffs propel the brief Rumble from the Void and then kick off with a fuzzy menace in the slowly swaying Valley of the Damned: imagine a more atmospheric Black Sabbath meeting Sun Ra around 1972. 

It’s a good bet the band will jam the hell out of these tunes live: count this among the half-dozen or so best and most thoroughly consistent albums of 2019 so far.

Sold-Out Revelry With Balkan Brass Monsters Raya Brass Band at Symphony Space

There’s something refreshingly new and exciting happening in what might seem to be an unexpected space on the Upper West Side. This past evening, Raya Brass Band sold out Symphony Space, delivering a wickedly tight set that was just feral enough to seem like the six-piece Brooklyn Balkan collective were about to leave the rails at any second. They didn’t really do that until the end of the show, when they left the stage and went down into the crowd of dancers gathered at the front of the stage.

That’s right – dancers packing the floor at Symphony Space.

How did this neighborhood institution, best known for its annual classical music marathons and the NPR shows that tape there, suddenly get so cool? They’ve got a new series they call Revelry, where if you’re thirty or under, you can get in for twenty bucks – ten dollars less than older folks have to pay. Meanwhile, the downstairs bar stays open throughout the show and afterward. But you can get a drink at any club in town. What’s most exciting about this series is that Symphony Space is bringing in fresh talent that’s probably never played the Upper West Side before. They’ve imported some of the roster of bands from Barbes – Brooklyn’s best venue – and from other scenes as well.

Raya Brass Band packed Barbes back in January, but they always do that. It was dowmright inspiring to see them do the same in upper Manhattan in a space four or five times as big. Although they varied their tempos from funky to lickety-split, and their meters from a straight-up 4/4 to who knows what – some of these Balkan beats are impossible to count unless you have to play them – the show was more like one long jam with a thousand dynamic variations. There were a couple of Macedonian-style vamps where the group would shift back and forth between major and minor…an endlessly delicious series of sharp-fanged chromatic riffs…a klezmer-inflected number late in the set…and a final slinky, darkly glistening river of Ethiopian jazz after over an hour onstage.

Co-founder Greg Squared played the whole show on alto sax this time out, making it look effortless as he flickered between microtones, occasionally playing through an octave pedal for a spacy, techy effect. Trumpeter Ben Syversen didn’t spar with him as much as simply trading off long, goosebump-inducing volleys of chromatics – although he did a little jousting with accordionist Max Fass. Who is the band’s true anchor, providing rich washes of sound that were serendipitously up in the mix (sometimes the accordion gets lost at a place like Barbes) .

Nezih Antakli provided the boom on a big standup tapan drum, while fellow percussionist Kolja Gjoni played a standup kit: nobody could have asked for more cowbell. Tuba player Steven Duffy brought both slithery vintage Bootsy Collins basslines as well as pinpoint-precise oompah, and finally the kind of funny WAH-wah solo that every tuba player ends up having to take at some point.

The big takeaway here; if you live on the Upper West or points further north, Revelry at Symphony Space is the place to be on Thursdays nights. The next show is Oct 18 at 7:30 PM with the charming, female-fronted Avalon Jazz Band playing cosmopolitan European swing. And if you’re up for a shlep to Barbes, Greg Squared is playing there every Sunday night in October at 7 PM with a rotating cast of New York Balkan and Middle Eastern talent. Psychedelic Romany jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel plays there afterward at about 9:30 with his band.

Two Thirds of a Potentially Magical Triplebill Revisited at the Met Tonight

More about that great triplebill staged by the World Music Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art tonight, March 24 at 7 PM: it’s a reprise of two thirds of what should have been the best concert of 2017 but wasn’t. The problem wasn’t the artists on the bill: it was the sound. But the Rogers Auditorium at the Met has superb sonics. Central Park Summerstage is an outdoor venue and can’t compare, and although the sound there last summer was usually pretty good, it was problematic that August evening when two charismatic singers with North African ancestry, Emel Mathlouthi and Alsarah led their respective bands, opening for the godfather of Ethio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke.

Mathlouthi and Alsarah & the Nubatones are both on tonight’s bill along with Jordanian chanteuse Farah Siraj, and as of this morning it wasn’t sold out, probably because of the price, $35. But if you have the cash, it’s worth it, especially if you figure that each artist is only about twelve bucks apiece.

On one hand, the Central Park gig was a chance for each woman to put their strengths front and center. Both draw on a long tradition of allusive, imagistic classical Arabic poetry for their lyrics and subject matter. Alsarah’s kinetic dancefloor anthems address themes of Nubian longing and displacement in Aswa Dam-era Egypt. Mathlouthi’s icy, cinematic art-rock opaquely references struggle and resistance: in her formative years, she was a heroine of the  Arab Spring in her native Tunisia.

Alsarah’s set kicked off the afternoon. Her not-so-secret weapon is oudist Brandon Terzic, whose rippling microtones drove the rise and fall of the songs. It wasn’t til the end that he got a chance to stretch out and solo; the time out, the band’s most wildly applauded solo spot was a boomy trip through a funhouse mirror of North African rhythms from master percussionist Rami El Asser. Given less time onstage than her epic album release show at Flushing Town Hall back in the spring of 2016, the bandleader didn’t talk to the audience as much but still found room to mention how the Nubians’ forced relocation to cities mirrors the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East as well as anti-immigrant violence here at home.

Mathlouthi was next on the bill. Her not-so-secret weapon is her voice, a powerful weapon that began looming and eventually took some dramatic flights upward. Backed only by keys and drums, she stood more or less motionless, drawing the crowd in. But while the stage monitors were probably working, the PA wasn’t. Midway through the show, the atmospheric keys that have been a major part of her sound lately disappeared from the mix and didn’t return until almost the end. Much as her voice was strong against the beats – a trippy, techy electroacoustic mix – the grandeur and angst of her songwriting never reached altitude. As with the opening act, she didn’t interact with the crowd as much as at her own epic show at the Global Beat Festival downtown back in 2015: “The world’s biggest terrorist is capitalism,” was her most acerbic comment.

Mulatu Astatke headlined. It was strange to see that the space wasn’t completely sold out for the guy who, if he didn’t invent Ethiopian jazz, has done more to bring it to a global audience than anyone else. Joined by an inspired, horn-spiced pickup group including but not limited to Jason Lindner on keys, Marcus Gilmore on drums and Roman Diaz on congas, Astatke delivered a haunting, gracefully rippling,  chromatic mix of mostly midtempo numbers punctuated by a very long percussion interlude. He took the lead on electric piano on most of the tunes, Lindner holding his own when taking over on the techier songs and taking them subtly toward P-Funk territory without ripping their austere fabric. It was great to finally get to see Astatke live, but a bad taste lingered. What an incredible show it would have been if the PA had been working for Mathlouthi.

An Amazing New Compilation Album of Rare, Magical Sounds Never Before Available Outside of Somalia

Thousands of years before the medieval European patronage system took shape, African dictators made it a practice to surround themselves with the best musicians they could find. Somalia’s Said Barre, no doubt inspired by Haile Selassie’s campaign to blend big band jazz with indigenous sounds in adjoining Ethiopia, set up a culture ministry of his own. Barre’s motivation was to help solidify Somalia’s status as a new nation-state. Beginning in the late 1960s, the result was some of the most amazing music to ever come out of Africa. Less than twenty years later, in a stroke of colossal irony, the dictator tried to destroy it when he realized that great art is always opposed to tyranny.

In 1988, the northern city of Hargeisa was a stronghold for freedom fighters working to bring down Barre’s reign of terror. Barre was worried that Radio Hargeisa, the local branch of the state radio network, would rally the opposition. Realizing that the station would become a target of the dictator’s bombing raids, personnel there worked furiously to remove fifty years’ worth of priceless archival recordings.

And then buried those cassettes and master tapes deep underground, where the bombs that eventually destroyed the city wouldn’t get them. Some of those recordings were spirited across the border into neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia. Now, Ostinato Records have put out an incredible compilation, Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa (streaming at Bandcamp) that draws from those archives. None of the album’s fifteen tracks have been released outside of Somalia, and very few have ever been heard outside of East Africa. This collection could do for Somali music from the 1970s and 80s what Barbes Records’ Roots of Chicha anthologies have done for cumbia. Maybe in five years’ time the whole world will be listening to dhaanto.

That’s the slow, loping groove that propels the album’s first track, Nimco Jamaac’s  Buuraha U Dheer (The Highest Mountains). It starts out with an uneasily wavering, microtonal vocal improvisation and then morphs what sounds like roots reggae, except that this is a native Somali beat rather than slowed-down ska. It validates any argument that reggae isn’t a western hybrid but an original African rhythm!

Like many of the other tracks here, the instrumentation is spare: in this case, lo-fi synthesizer patches, guitar and drums. The flutter and wow from the original cassettes is still present, an early example of the longstanding African tradition of making albums on the best-available technology, in this case probably a boombox recording of a live show or a rehearsal.

The rest of the album is a mix of ballads and dance numbers. Bollywood-influenced high-soprano songbird Aamina Camaari’s Rag Waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo is translated as “Men Are Cruel and Kind” – maybe we should take that as a compliment! More likely, it’s a coded political message. Lyrics were censored under the Barre regime, so many of these lost-love songs are laments for a time free of repression or enemy invaders.

Calm crooner Ali Nuur sings a number whose title has been lost,  pouncing along with clangy, trebly guitar and ominous minor-key organ. Hibo Nuura’s acerbic, brassy, Afrobeat-influenced Haddii Hoobalkii Gabay (If the Artist Lets You Down), a late 80s tune, speaks to the perils of selling out at the worst possible time.

Gacaltooyo Band, fronted by chanteuse Faduumina Hilowle, are represented by Ninkaan Ogayn (He Who Does Not Know), a slow, haunting mashup of noir soul, Bollywood balladry, Ethiopiques and what sounds like J-pop – Somalian pentatonic scales come across as positively Asian in places here.

Iftin Band were one of the most popular state-sponsored acts from the 70s. They have two tracks here. The first is a similarly haunting, slinky duet by popular singers Mahmud Abdalla “Jerry” Hussen and Maryan Naasir,  Xuduud Ma Leh Xubigaan (This Love Has No Boundaries). The other, Anaa Qaylodhaankaan has snappy bass, smokily ominous organ and a guitar line that’s a dead ringer for Mark Knopfler.

Another popular early 80s group, Dur Dur Band have singer Muqtar Idi Ramadan crooning the gritty, soul and Ethiopiques-influenced Duruuf Maa Laygu Diidee (Rejected Because of My Situation), a smash hit about a romance imperiled by class discrimination. And one of the era’s biggest Somali singers, the stunningly tender-voiced Sahra Dawo, delivers Gorof (Elixir), which could be Men at Work with infinitely better vocals.

Watery chorus-box guitar, punchy organ and woozy, echoey vocals permeate Xasan Diiriye’s Qaraami (Love) – it’s one of the most psychedelic tracks here. Sharaf Band have Xaawo Hiiraan singing Kadeed Badanaa Naftaydani (Life is Full of Trouble), an aptly plaintive mashup of what could be I-Threes songstress Judy Mowatt and a Bollywood ballad.

4 Mars – another state-sponsored group – contribute Na Daadihi (Guide Us), an insistent Afrobeat-tinged number with blippy keys and brass. Danan Hargeysa. a northern band with Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi out front, contribute the upbeat Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb), raising the question of whether or not Dr. Dre might have somehow discovered this stuff and nicked the keening synth for his own shtick.

Sharero Band, with the darkly nuanced Faadumo Qaasim on vocals,  deliver Qays iyo Layla (a Somali counterpart to Romeo & Juliet) with Afrobeat, roots reggae and Bollywood tinges. And Waaberi Band chug their way through the trippy Afrobeat instrumental jam Oktoobar Waatee? Waa Taayadii (What’s October? It’s Ours).

Much as many of these songs and artists have been iconic in the global Somali community for decades, this is brand-new to most of the rest of the world – and one of the best albums of 2017. And it’s available on double gatefold vinyl with a fascinating and informative thirty-page booklet.

An Awesome New Album and an East Village Release Show by Ethio-Jazz Songstress Meklit

Multi-instrumentalist singer Meklit is one of brightest lights in Ethiopian jazz  But that’s just the starting point for the ex-Brooklynite songwriter, who springboards off that  into a high-voltage mix that also draws on classic soul, funk, rock and ancient Ethiopian folk music. Her Lincoln Center show back in April was off the hook. Now she’s got a new album, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and a release show tomorrow night, June 21 at 8 PM at the old Nublu at 62 Ave. C.. Cover is $22.

Since she absconded for the west coast, she’s assembled a killer band. Their not-so-secret weapon is tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley. The rest of the vast cast on the album also comprises but is hardly limited to drummer Colin Douglas, percussionist Marco Peris Coppola and bassist Sam Bevan. The rest of the crew spans from Ethiopian masenko fiddler Endris Hassen to the Preservation Hall Horns.

The triumphantly bouncing, swaying opening track, This Was Made Here, celebrates a DIY esthetic, but there’s also a lot of defiance in the bandleader’s “I’m not gonna wait, no more!” as Tassew Wondem’s Ethiopian wood flute leaps and bounds overhead. The brightly circlingI Want to Sing For Them All also has a defiant undercurrent – on the surface, it sends shouts out to Meklit’s influences, from Prince to a litany of Ethio-jazz stars, but it’s also a reminder that pigeonholing is a big mistake. As Hannah Arendt liked to say, stereotyping is the worst thing in the world. Andrew Bird’s violin pairs with the masenko as the dance rises to fever pitch.

Meklit breaks out her krar harp for the album’s catchiest track, Supernova. Powerful low-register brass fuels a vast, pulsingly dramatic backdrop as Wiley goes into wary Ethiopian mode. The mantra is “Where did you come from,” the point being that everything we’re made of came in with a bang: don’t we owe it to ourselves to keep that going?

Likewise, the Preservation Hall Horns supply the bluster behind Kibrome Birhane’s spare, incisive piano in the funky anthem You Are My Luck. Bird brings his violin back to the subtly polyrhythmic, mutedly moody Yerakeh Yeresal. Then the band pucks up the pace with You Got Me: hearing the New Orleans brass sink their teeth into Meklit’s gorgeously biting, emphatic Ethiopian arrangement is a trip, and a revelation.

Yesterday Is a Tizita brings back the grey-sky atmosphere, a lament that rises to the point where the sky clears and Meklit announces that “Our mistakes became the sun” –  her loping triplet melody is one of the album’s most delicious moments.

Wiley’s catchy, ominous baritone sax riffage drives Human Animal, a straight-ahead mix of hard funk and Ethio-jazz, with hints of 80s new wave. Sweet or Salty maintains that balance of 80s British pop and rustic Ethiopian themes, with acidically swirling masenko against lushly enigmatic strings and understatedly jubilant rat-at-tat percussion.

Happy Birthday starts out as a cute attempt at a replacement for an all-too-familiar ditty that could really, REALLY use a replacement, then becomes an intricate thicket of melody, winding up with a jaunty conversation between Wiley’s tenor sax and one of the trombonists. The album closes with Memories of the Future, shifting back and forth between a majestic, distantly uneasy sway and a jubilant, cantering theme fueled by the New Orleans horns. Lots going on here, plenty to sink your ears into over and over again – one of the best albums of 2017, bar none.