With ties--most of them clearly nonbinding--to the sanctioned musical institutions of Ethiopia in the 1960s (police bands and the like), the singers and players on the Ethiopiques series of reissues were in a funky bind. They had pledged some allegiance to Emperor Haile Selassie I and his imperial declarations, but their muses picked up distant signals from North America, including jazz's horn charts, funk's on-the-one rhythms, and an overriding sense of urgency in music made by youth. Here's volume 8 of the Ethiopiques series, testimony in 70-plus minutes to the winning power of the youth culture's music. With the series' most unabashed nod to James Brown in Alèmayèhu Eshèté's six tracks, volume 8 goes further than its predecessors in documenting a jazzy, soulful, electric-keyboard-fueled scene that simply ignores conventional musical borders. Eshèté's vocals bark and then soar over the webbed rhythms with all the force of Brown's--and an additionally rich range of guitars and keyboards that race around and through each other like polyrhythmic drums. What volume 8 shows is that the impact of soul, jazz, and funk (try Lèmma Dèmissew on for size) provided so much quiltwork to be syncopated together in these hip, danceable tunes. Listening to Samuel Bèlay's band kick the horns over an artfully hanging-back rhythmic tide, it's hard to imagine that a musical culture this rich could be stymied by the late 1970s--just a few years after Selassie's regime was crushed. --Andrew Bartlett
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