A newcomers-friendly introduction to some impressively original sounds.
Robin Denselow 2012
A note of caution: despite the title, this is not the first offering from this adventurous fusion project, and you could have heard many of the songs before. Introducing… draws from Invisible System’s two previous albums, Punt and Street Clan, as well as The Cauldron EP, and adds some good extra material.
Currently a download-only affair, Introducing… will be released on CD in September, as a "bonus" album with the new Rough Guide to Ethiopia. But it’s well worth checking out now if you’ve not heard Invisible System before.
A boldly unusual project, the man behind it all is Dan Harper. A former aid worker in Ethiopia, Harper built his own studio and persuaded several of the country’s best musicians to record with him. Back in England, he asked a wide selection of British musicians to contribute, with Harper on guitar, bass, percussion and programming.
Results, for the most part, are impressive, with the African recordings matched against settings that range from dub reggae to trip hop and psychedelic rock.
Though there were sections on the Street Clan album where the Ethiopians were almost lost in the exuberant musical blitz, Harper manages to avoid such problems here: the backing is assured and at times even restrained, though still highly original.
The Ethiopian musicians include the great Mahmoud Ahmed (whose compelling voice can be heard on Maljam Kehnoelish), along with pianist Samuel Yirga and singers Tsedenia Gebre Markos and Mimi Zenebe of Dub Colossus. The British players include Justin Adams and Ed Wynne.
Introducing… presents considerable variety, with songs like Oumabetty dominated by powerful Ethiopian female vocals, set against a rumbling bassline, while on Skunk Funk the vocals are set against a slinky groove. Gondar Sub finds African singing dissected by slashing, reggae-influenced guitar lines, and there’s more reggae on the upbeat Mama Yey, which includes Jamaican-style toasting.
The closer, Fiten Azorkugn, sounds more mainstream and contemporary, though it’s dressed up with throbbing bass and percussion. All told, this is impressively original stuff.