This record was actually released about a month ago, but given the fact that it had been gathering dust for almost 40 years before that, the extra delay probably won’t do too much harm to the music it contains.
Originally released in 1973 by Phillips Ethiopia (one of the larger record labels then releasing music in the Ethiopia), the record was an attempt to capture the intensity of Amharan wedding music with full studio fidelity. The band, featuring the singers Lemma Gebre Hiwot, Zenebech Tesfaye and Selamawit Gebre Selassie, and arranged by Getachew Degefu, features a mix of both traditional and western instrumentation, creating a composite sound that reflects the diversity that then held sway in cosmopolitan Addis Ababa. All of the performers, particularly Hiwot and Degefu, were staples in the city’s music scene at the time, performing in a diversity of contexts that included theater, traditional music , Zelesegna (a kind of religious praise song), and (obviously) wedding songs.
Like ceremonies the world over, Amharan weddings consist of a mixture between traditional ceremonial songs and in-the-moment improvisation, as the emotional build up is expressed through eruptions (or in this case, ululations) of sound. The songs of this tradition tend to dramatize the personal relationships and social tensions of the wedding in a dramatic fashion, providing commentary on the feeling of participants as the bride bids farewell to her home and is brought to the family of the groom. Despite the fact that the session wasn’t actually held at a wedding, the feeling produced by the musicians seems to be genuine, and the energy that was present at the time of the recording remains palpable. If this video (which comes complete with more information about the details of the wedding ceremony, as well as a ton of amazing pictures of weddings from the period) is any indication, the full album is not one to miss.
Thanks to Addis Rumble for giving us a heads up on the album in this interview!
You can buy the album (out now on Domino Records) on sites like this.