In 1990, long before world music had acquired radical chic and bankability, Nick Page reinvented himself as Count Dubulah and formed Transglobal Underground, the first pan-cultural groove merchants to discover the heady potential of combining ethnic elements within the hypnotic rhythms and spacey ambiences of house music.
Page made half a dozen intriguing albums with TGU before leaving to form Temple Of Sound, a similar project but with a more pronounced ethnic emphasis. So there could be few musicians better qualified to initiate a more focused alliance of contemporary grooves with the distinctive strains of soul and jazz coming out of modern Ethiopia, as he has with A Town Called Addis. Thanks to the Ethiopiques series of local classics from earlier decades, Ethiopian music has been growing in popularity, and it's entirely possible that its R&B-inflected jazz stylings could make the country the next Mali, musically. Though largely suppressed during the years of the Mengistu military dictatorship, there are archives of extraordinary music waiting to be discovered.
Following a period working with local musicians and singers in Addis Ababa in 2006, Page initiated the collaborations featured on A Town Called Addis, which draw on the Azmari and other traditional forms, along with indigenous pop and jazz styles from the Sixties and Seventies, blending them with Dubulah's natural dub-reggae inclinations and trippy house textures. As the spiritual homeland of Rastafarianism, you'd expect a degree of musical correspondence between Ethiopia and Jamaica, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the opener "Azmari Dub", where proud JA-style brass riffs from the Horns Of Negus strut alongside the serpentine vocal tendrils of Sintayehu Zenebe, whom Page characterises as "the Edith Piaf of Ethiopia".
She's similarly enticing on "Shem City Steppers" and as part of the vocal battalion on the call-and-response of "Shegye Shegitu", a hypnotic handclap groove that also features the messenqo one-string fiddle of Teremage Woretaw, another vital constituent of many tracks. Along with Getachew Werkley's washint flute and Fasika Hailu's kraar harp, it helps stitch together an improvised quilt behind Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie's vocal on "Tizita Dub", while the kraar also produces the lovely, furtive murmurings on which "Entoto Dub" relies.
There are echoes of Fela Kuti's organ outbursts in the flute and organ dub "Yeka Sub City Rockers", while the riffing brass of "Mercato Music" recalls the heyday of Ethiopian star Mahmoud Ahmed. But the album is replete with magical moments, not least the vocal of Bahta Gebrehiwot, on "Tazeb Kush".
Pick of the Album: 'Azmari Dub', 'Shegye Shegitu', 'Mercato Music', 'Tazeb Kush', 'Tizita Dub'