Friday, 18 December 2009

Gétatchèw Mèkurya

Gétatchèw Mèkurya - Ethiopiques 14

Primal and shamanic, Mekurya's playing evokes something of saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, with all their passion and in-the-moment invention (though none of Ayler's extended altissimo screeching), with a shot of honking tenor men Big Jay McNeely and Willis Jackson thrown in for added funk.

But the relationship is an illusory one: Mekurya's style developed in complete isolation from the US free jazz it distantly and tangentially resembles, and is entirely Ethiopian in origin and form. It's based on a specialised genre of traditional vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle—pumped up, epic, threatening and boastful, harsh and hoarse-voiced—with discursive modal improvisation at its core. Unlike its US resonances, it's mostly performed in 3/4 time, from slow and menacing through fast and furious. The instrumental variant developed in Addis Ababa dancehalls in the early to mid 1950s.

Mekurya was amongst the first musicians to play instrumental shellela, and he remains its most revered saxophonist.


Ethiopiques & Badume's Band (featuring Getatchew Mekurya) - WOMAD 2009 @ Charlton Park