Second album from the mighty Dub Colossus, back with their inventive fusion of jazz-dub, reggae, Seventies Ethiojazz and traditional tunes. When their first album - A Town Called Addis, was released back in 2008 it was hailed as one of the most inventive fusion albums of the year, with its blend of contemporary and traditional Ethiopian styles, jazz and dub reggae. The album received rave reviews, spent several months at No 1 in the European World Music charts, and was nominated for a Songlines Award. Now the mighty Dub Colossus are back with a lengthy, even more varied and sophisticated album that moves the experiment on with the Ethiopians predictably playing a greater role in the proceedings. It's still an experimental fusion set, not a straightforward recording of Ethiopian songs, but the successes of the past two years have led to growing trust and confidence in the band. The result is an album that constantly surprises and changes direction, from atmospheric, wide-screen, drifting jazz-dub instrumentals, breathy love songs, and bluesy traditional pieces. Then there's reggae, from the jazzy, brass-backed Dub Will Tear Us Apart to the gently sturdy Wehgene, and there are two Ethiopian-flavoured re-workings of great reggae classics. A key track is Althea and Donna's Uptown Top Ranking, a Number One hit in the UK in 1978, given a Ethio makeover.
Former Transglobal Underground and Temple of Sound main-man Nick Page, aka Count Dubulah, formed Dub Colossus as an outlet for hybrid interaction with Ethiopian musicians he encountered in Addis Ababa in 2006. The resultant debut album, A Town Called Addis, was widely praised for its border-stretching capacities and sonic adventurousness, giving traditional Ethiopian styles a modern re-working with a thoroughly dubwise sensibility. Sophomore set Addis Through the Looking Glass continues the journey with an even more complex stew, featuring guest input from Dr Das of Asian Dub Foundation, Jamiroquai’s drummer Nick Van Gelder, and founding Steel Pulse member Mykaell Riley. But its overall irresistibility truly comes courtesy of the Ethiopian players, who were apparently more in the driving seat this time around.
The base of the music holds trademark elements of that which so enchanted audiences on the Ethiopiques series: vocalists Sintayehu Zenebe, Teremage Woretaw and Tsedenia Gebremarkos call to mind the legendary figures of Ethiopian music’s golden age, while sax man Feleke Woldemariam and the Bole Better Brass blow an updated Imperial Bodyguard style; expressive keyboardist Samuel Yirga also makes important melodic contributions throughout. It all serves to help ground the music in its Ethiopian origins, before Dubulah and crew drag in various blues, jazz, folk and rock elements, ultimately blasting the whole shebang into the dub stratosphere.
On tracks like Tringo Dub and the playfully named Dub Will Tear Us Apart, everything hangs together exceptionally well, appearing as the kind of music that might have resulted if Kingston’s finest dub mixers made a pilgrimage to Addis in the roots era. The bluesy re-make of The Abyssinians’ immortal Satta Massagana furthers this theme, and even if the Ethio-pop re-working of Uptown Top Ranking is a weaker link in the chain, instrumentals Feqer Aydelem Wey and Yezema Meseret are quietly dazzling. By the time we reach the closing goulash of Gubeliye, the disc has taken in hard bop, psychedelic rock, ragamuffin dancehall and streetwise RnB, hidden textures easily missed on first listen ready to be discovered. Dubulah says the aim is to constantly surprise, and he really pulls off the feat on Addis Through the Looking Glass, for predicting the course quickly becomes an impossibility.
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