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Critics Award Abyssinia Infinite (CD cover) nominated in the fRoots Critics Award

Abyssinia Infinite (Ethiopia)

Song : Alesema
Album : Zion Roots (Network Medien, Germany)

In the Abyssinia Infinite project, the singer Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw and her All-Star-Ensemble create a distinctive blend of harmonious Ethiopian music sound and influences from west and east African soul music that has never been so uniquely compelling.

CD Review

Bati Bati, a traditional Ethiopian song once recorded by Aster Aweke, provides a gentle enough welcome. Ejigayehu 'Gigi' Shibabaw shows a warm and agile contralto, with characteristic Ethiopian changes of tone and fluttering leaps of pitch, beside sweet saxophone, harp and modest keyboard interventions. This hardly hints at the fireworks to follow. Shortly into the second track, the rhythm gets a little more intense, in come harmony voices, and a dry-bone harp picks up on a riff reminiscent of Eric Clapton on 'Cat's Squirrel'. Suddenly Gigi breathes deeply and moves up a few gears: the hair begins to rise and the eyes start to glisten, and you're off on a roller coaster ride through rarely-visited states of mind, thrill following thrill in regular succession.

Though quite sparsely furnished, this music is deep and powerful - a state-of-the-art marriage of ancient (handclaps, flute, harp) and modern technology that aims to transcend both. Much credit goes to producer Bill Laswell. Apparently this is their second album together - I would like to hear their first - and it seems to mark some kind of high water mark for the well-travelled master of conjuration and trance.

In Gigi Shibabaw he has found a singer with the range and resources to bring out the best in him. The musicians used - Tony Cedras on accordeon, Aiyb Dieng on percussion, plus several Ethiopian masters - bring intelligence, concision and a sense of adventure to the project. And it is a project, proud to revive the 'c' word - Zion Roots declares itself shamelessly as a 'concept' album. Much of this derives (as set out in the fascinating sleeve notes) from the fundamental civilising influences of Ethiopia throughout history. Interesting to see that Gigi treats her music and material from the standpoint of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian: a few missionaries like her and our C of E churches might burst.

Simply, a great singer. Just one word of caution: there is no reggae on the album at all.

Rick Sanders for fRoots 2003








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