While browsing through a clothing store the other day, I noticed two racks of shiny new vinyl for sale. I began flipping through their selection and amongst all the trendy pop albums (Grizzly Bear, the Talking Heads, etc.) I found Oh No's (the younger brother of Madlib currently signed with Stones Throw Records) most recent album, Dr. No's Ethiopium. Finding this record reminded me that I've been meaning to do a post comparing it to Dub Colossus' A Town Called Addis ever since Oh No's album was first released.
The pop industry in the West has been appropriating African music into their creations (e.g. Paul Simon's Graceland, Radioclit's project with Malawian-born Esau Mwamwaya, The Very Best, among many others) to give their music that "exotic" air that is so often considered to be "cool" for as long as anyone can remember. As with everything else, this strategy can result in something creative and enjoyable or it can end up sounding uninteresting and unoriginal. In my opinion, Dr. No's Ethiopium and A Town Called Addis act as good representations of the two ends of the spectrum.
Both Dub Colossus and Oh No turned to Ethiopia as their source of exoticism. Oh No, a hip-hop producer, opted to sample the old Ethio-funk/jazz sounds of the 60s and 70s in his beats. It seems to me like he got most of his samples from the classic Ethiopiques (Buda Musique) CD series, using clips of songs by such legends as Mulatu Astatke, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Getatchew Mekurya. The London-based dub producer, Dub Colossus, chose a different approach. Instead of sampling, he actually collaborated with many of the most popular contemporary Ethiopian musicians for his album, combining his dub sound in the studio with the vocals and instrumentals of the artists with whom he worked.
The two albums are very different, using Ethiopian sounds from two separate eras, but the basic idea is the same. I have my own opinion as to which one works better, but I'll keep that to myself. Instead, listen to a few songs off each album, form your own opinions, and then let me know what you think (Click on the song title to listen/download):
Oh No - The Pain
Oh No - Great Oracle
Oh No - The Funk
Dub Colossus - Azmari Dub
Dub Colossus - Sima Edy
Dub Colossus - Neh Yelginete