May 31, 2010

Imperial Tiger Orchestra - Addis Abeba


Afrobeat junkies and audio tourists alike can immerse themselves in Ethiopia's musical world. Swiss connoisseurs Imperial Tiger Orchestra bring their stylish homage to Paris, accompanied by Ethiopiques mastermind Francis Falceto and a screening of the short documentary Abyssinie Swing.

The Imperial Tiger Orchestra's approach to Ethiopian music is that of Pépé le Moko's towards Algeria, rather than the neo-realistic The Battle of Algiers. Driven by a sincere reverence for the haunting melodies which echoed through the streets of 1960's Addis Abeba, they accentuate mystique and mood.

Their brass heavy interpretations of songs from Ethiopia's heavy-weights-- Muluqén Mélléssé, Mahmoud Ahmed, Rahel Yohannes-- are certainly not authentic, but transcend rote mimicry by imbuing each song with a cinematic atmosphere. By capturing the foreignness of another time and another place, exploiting the eastern and Arab exoticism, and visualizing discoveries as gritty noir flicks the group succeeds in creating their own music.

Ideally the Imperial Tiger Orchestra would be found in the corner of a tightly packed café, surrounded by brightly garbed girls and grim-faced hustlers. Cigarette smoke would hang in the air, pools of cheap liquor would collect in scarred table-tops, the danger of a knife-fight or police patrol would be palpable. The Centre Culturel Suisse may lack the proper ambiance, but the band should provide plenty of their own for your evening's journey.


The Orchestra’s repertoire consists of revamped remakes of songs from the golden age of Ethiopian music: a powerful horn section, deadly percussions and relentless keyboards provide a merciless and efficient instrumental reinterpretation and improvisation based on original vocal songs. Preserving the natural beauty of melodies and Ethiopian sound while exploring uncharted territory, playing with textures and dynamics, adding distortions and noise to complete beautiful pieces, the self-proclaimed counterfeiters embrace dark hypnotic rhythms, obsessive basslines and grooves from electronic music. Far from any purist notions, the musicians surprise and delight with traditional Thaï “phin” guitar mixed into traditional ethiopian “kebero” percussions. Just one example among many others. It’s groove experimentation, it’s improvisational heat.



1. Djemeregne (original track by Muluqen Mellesse)
2. Bati (Live – Traditionnel)
3. Emnete (Live – original track by Mulatu Astatqe)
4. Etu Gela (original track by Mahmoud Ahmed)
5. Bati (Studio version)
6. Harer Dire Dawa
7. Aha Gedawo
8. Selam Temagwet

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