Saturday, 13 July 2013

uKanDanZ - Yetchalal

CD Version
And now for something...a bit different. Describing themselves on their website,  somewhat aptly one has to say, as "Ethiopian Crunch Music", uKanDanZ are a unique amalgam of French jazz and rock players delivering an almost ska-like sound filtered through a Gallic RIO blender, and played at volume 11, and an Ethiopian singer by the name of Asnaké Gèbrèyès. This certainly is a "crunch"!

Back in 2010 they were a quartet playing ethnic jazz when they met up with Asnaké in Addis Ababa, and made the demo which eventually led to the album.
Vinyl version

The CD version was issued in 2012, and this year saw the release of the vinyl version. It was probably down to cost, but they should have stuck with the CD cover for the record too, as it gives a little clue as to the sheer amount of joy and energy expressed within, something the rather stark LP cover (to your right) fails to do.

The music presented on Yetchalal is a non-stop burst of primal ethnic-jazz vibrancy, topped off with Asnaké's forceful vocals, which is just as well, for a weaker singer could well be drowned in the visceral noise this group create!

Opener Aykèdashem Lebé bursts out of the speakers like an uninvited, garrulous and inebriated guest arriving at a party unannounced. Such is our gatecrasher's infectious enthusiasm initial wariness gives way to total acceptance in a matter of seconds. Distorted low-end guitar and barking alto sax conjure an almost Zeuhl-like marching rhythm; and this album is all about rhythm, oh yes. If you think you can't dance, by the end of Yetchalal you may well have convinced yourself, at least, that you can indeed cut a rug.

After this introductory burst of natural energy Asnaké's cascading Ethiopian tones chime in and come as a real musical surprise, but one that works really well. Being a fan of the Éthiopiques series of CDs released by Paris-based world music specialists Buda Musique from the late 90s onwards I did have an inkling of what to expect, but the combination of fast punky avant-jazz and the Ethiopian celebratory vocal style is a new one on me for sure. Incidentally it is no coincidence that this album is also released by Buda Musique, but I was surprised when checking the Éthiopiques discography that it now runs to some 28 volumes! that's about 23 more than I possess. Somebody stop time, there's so much music out there and not enough time in the universe to even scratch the surface!

It is also surprising to note that for a group that relies so heavily on the rhythm section, that there is no bass guitar in the line up. Daniel Cluzel compensates for this with a lot of low-end rumblings and distortions, and the use of a baritone guitar, an instrument not that common in the rock world.

Asnaké is a great frontman, and a natural showman; Daniel Cluzel, the guitarist, looks never too far from putting his guitar down and joining in with the boogie, as you can see from the YouTube videos available. For some reason Blogger is not letting me post them here, but I'm sure you can find them for yourself!

This album is not all about irrepresible energy; there are slower interludes, the dark and moody La Chamelle - Medinana Zèlèssèyna being a case in point. The first part is uKanDanZ's instrumental twist on what could be a New Orleans funeral marching rhythm, but is probably the meter of a walking camel; the "La Chamelle" of the title. Asnaké sings a plaintive and emotionally charged paen over the second part, and this is completely different to the high energy Aykèdashem Lebé, but nevertheless fits in perfectly. 

This is one great little album and unlike anything else I've heard this year. Highly recommended to those of you who occasionally like to venture away from the Western world on your musical travels.

1. Aykèdashem Lebé (6:11)
2. Addis Ababa Bété (5:21)
3. Wub Nat (4:48)
4. Bèlomi Bènna (3:09)
5. Sema (4:21)
6. La Chamelle - Medinana Zèlèssèyna (9:16)
7. Datsun Sèfèr - Mèla Mèla (5:26)

Line up:
Asnaké Gèbrèyès - vocals
Damien Cluzel -guitar & baritone guitar
Lionel Martin - tenor saxophone
Fred Escòuffier - keyboards
Guilhem Meier - drums

Band website:

Buy from Buda Musique

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