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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Orchestra Ethiopia

By Tom Orr
Published April 16, 2008

Ethiopiques 23
Buda Musique

It’s been nearly a decade since the Ethiopiques series began, and how very worse off we’d all be without it. While many of the installments spotlight the modernization of Ethiopian music, this 23rd psalm focuses on Orchestra Ethiopia, which was a traditional ensemble. The reign of emperor Haile Selassie might have been geared primarily toward bringing Ethiopia into the modern era, but the music didn’t suffer from the preserving of tradition, as evidenced by the orchestra’s enduring popularity in the ’60s and ’70s. Group and solo pieces feature the mysterious and wonderfully hypnotic sounds of such instruments as the begena and krar harps, messengo fiddle, washent and embilta flutes, meleket trumpet and percussion borrowed from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There are also vocals aplenty, brimming with that sort of uniquely tart wailing that characterizes Ethiopian song. Although the recording conditions clearly weren’t on the cutting edge, failings like these go out the window in a heartbeat. This is magical music, at once compelling, challenging and fascinating.