A Town Called Addis
Dub Colossus, 2008
This project brings together an extraordinary but little-known African musical heritage, a labour of love recording in a makeshift studio in downtown Addis Ababa, and then a journey back to Real World Studios in England's west country, to capture for the first time ever in the UK some of Ethiopia's finest performers.
This project is the vision of Dub Colossus' Dubulah - aka Nick Page. A prolific composer, guitarist, bass player and programmer, Nick started his music career with Mykaell Riley (Steel Pulse) and in 1990 formed Transglobal Underground with Tim Whelan and Hammid Man-Tu. He produced, wrote, and played on six albums before leaving in 1997 to co-found Temple of Sound with Neil Sparkes.
Ethiopian music is the hidden gem of Africa. At the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, Ethiopia was in the final years of the imperial decline of Haile Selassie and the early years of a brutally repressive junta led by Mengistu. Within the confines of this stifling and constrictive environment there flowered some astonishing music.
At times showing Fela Kuti's influences, in the big band sax flavour and at other times a different take on regional music, this is a music that is accessible to all and championed by the likes of Robert Plant, Brian Eno, and Elvis Costello. The style of contemporary Ethiopian music captured by Dub Colossus ranges from dreamy blues and hypnotic grooves, to Ethiojazz piano and driving funk brass.
A Town Called Addis was inspired by meeting, writing, and working with singers and musicians in Addis Ababa in August 2006; it is a collaboration between Dub Colossus (Nick Page) and these amazing musicians covering Azmari and traditional styles as well as the popular singing styles of the 60s and 70s. It seeks to combine the golden years of ethiopique beats (popular again thanks to the release of the critically acclaimed "Ethiopique" compliations) and ethiojazz with the dub reggae styles of early 70s groups like the Abyssinians and the Mighty Diamonds..."along with a hint of Sun Ra..." says Nick Page.
The first sessions took place in a breeze block hut, under a corrugated iron roof bombarded by the sounds of the rainy season, high up on the mountain plateau where Addis is built. "...the sound of children playing, dogs barking, and women washing all permeate the sessions and help the flavour of the record, albeit as ambient smoke.....Although a howling cat chasing a rat under the roof destroyed one vocal take completely...!
"We brought these unique urban field recordings home to Real World to complete the picture. In March 2008 we invited a group of outstanding performers from Addis to travel to the UK. Some of these artists are unknown talents who have never traveled outside of their country before now, while others such as singer Sintayehu "Mimi" Zenebe (an Addis Ababa nightclub owner known as the Ethiopian Edith Piaf) and master saxophonist Feleke Hail (a classical composer, lecturer and head of music at the Yared Music School, and part of a dynastic tradition stretching back far beyond the classic hits his father arranged for Mahmoud Ahmed in the late 1960s) have a huge reputation. They are joined by Teremag Weretow who, with his plaintive voice, playing his messenqo (one-string fiddle) is a youthful carrier of an ancient tradition; extraordinary pianist Samuel Yirga, an exciting new discovery and young prodigy of classical and ethiojazz; and finally the glamourous star Tsedenia Gebremarkos, winner of a Kora award as the best female singer in East Africa in 2004."
From the most primitive recording context to one of the best in the world, this project is an audio journey that invites discovery of one of the most alluring, funky, and seductive genres of African music.
- Hi-Fi Choice make Dub Colossus it's 'Hot Pick!'
- Live review from The Bloomsbury Ballroom ...many songs fell into euphoric skank, with Zenebe and her fellow female singer, Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie, clapping to bassline that made the dancefloor vibrate, horns calling and responding to echoing suspended piano chords...the range was wide: at one extreme was "Medina", a gospel song performed to mark a period of fasting, sung by Teremage Weretaw in growling wild swoops as he frenetically bowed his messenqo. At the other was a strutting bilingual "Uptown Top Ranking", and the hard disco funk of "Selemi", Nick Page suddenly unleashed the spectre of Nile Rodgers. Financial Times (UK)
- ...a formidable live act that can surprise, delight and get the shoulders shaking in equal measure. ...this intriguing collective of British and Ethiopian musicians are purveyors of intense, atmospheric dance music who actually benefited from this dramatic lack of lighting which made the stage appear to glow like a coal furnace....pianist Samuel Yirga, added an agreeable tension and brightness to the band's sound with his jagged solos, bringing to mind Mike Garson's work on Bowie's Aladdin Sane. Another treat was the Horns of Negus (who have previously worked with Dr John and Dizzee Rascal). They shone because of their ability to hold back, as much as their considerable fire-power. Both female vocalist Sintayehu 'Mimi' Zenebe and Tsedenia Gebremarkos are huge successes in their own right in Ethiopia and their soaring, somersaulting voices effortlessly filled the hall's ocean-liner ambience. The concert peeked with "Mercato Music" from their debut album (one of my favourite releases in any genre over the past few years)...simply circling brass...ascending tension from which there was no escape until the track self-imploded at the end. There then followed a couple of new songs which boldly signalled a whole new direction for the band. "Selemi", for example, had an endearing "We Are Family" Sister Sledge vibe about it, although viewed through the same Éthiopiques prism as all their music. Page knocked out an appropriately wah-wahed guitar solo, vocalists Tsedenia and Sintayehu delivered a lyric which seemed to be little more than a continuous chorus, and the consummate brass section put the icing on the cake. This was 1970s disco with added Addis Ababa swing, and was all the better for it...a sublime cover of Althea & Donna's 1977 hit "Uptown Top Ranking" which - while remaining fairly true to the original - also felt sufficiently different to justify its existence....they are now a formidable live act that can surprise, delight and get the shoulders shaking in equal measure. The Arts Desk - Live review from Bloomsbury Ballroom (UK)
- One Of Last Year's 10 Best ...brilliantly fuses Page's dub reggae grooves with a welter of Ethiopian pop and traditional sounds....it's still a big job to meld the modal scales of Ethiopian music with pentatonic Western pop and not end up with the wrong kind of soundclash. But Page gets the mix exactly right. The album's opener, "Azmari Dub," is a classic.... And the record just gets better from there; slinky "ethiojazz" meets downtempo chillout beats on "Tazeb Kush,".... If you're a fan of dub, world fusion or the great Ethiopiques collections put together by Frances Falceto, then don't overlook this record - one of last year's 10 best. Sing Out! (USA)
- Dub Colossus: Live at Edinburgh Festival Unless you're an aficionado of world music (something The World Festival @ St George's West increasingly makes me want to strive to be), the sounds of modern Ethiopea may have passed you by. Try not to let Dub Colossus do the same whilst they are in Edinburgh, performing the show based on their album A Town Called Addis, a European World Music Chart-topper. This nine-piece band are astonishingly good, treating you to the full range of styles of music from their part of the world, from Ethiojazz to dub reggae and Afropop, transporting you effortlessly to the sultry and pounding clubs and dancehalls of Addis Ababa. Vocalists Sintayehu 'Mimi' Zenebe and Tsedenia Gebre-Markos guide you through an excellent set of numbers, each one pulsing with the rhythms, piano and brass of the tight musicians that make up the rest of Dub Colossus, including producer and guitarist Dubulah, ex Transglobal Underground / Temple of Sound. Indeed, the CVs of the band read like a who's who of modern dub & funk, with ex-members of Asian Dub Foundation, Jamiroquai and the Brand New Heavies all now contributing to Dub Colossus' mighty slab of sound. Special mention must also go to Teremage Woretaw, who plays the massinko, a traditional Ethiopean one-stringed instrument throughout. The venue shines as ever, with the stained-glass window of St George's West providing a mesmerising backdrop to some equally well-staged lighting. As the sounds of Ethiopea fill the hall and Dub Colossus get the whole audience up dancing, the atmosphere is electrifying and you'll carry the Ethiopean mood and vibe with you for some time to come afterwards. Edinburgh Festival Insider (UK)
- Dub Colossus: Live Review It is always a little unnerving when the musicians responsible for a favourite studio album get together to perform live, especially when the album is as bravely original as In a Town Called Addis by Dub Colossus. One of the outstanding fusion sets of the past year, this was a collaboration between the British dub reggae enthusiast, producer and guitarist/bass player Nick Page, better known simply as Dubulah, and a diverse group of Ethiopian musicians. Could they sound as good playing live? Indeed they could, especially when so many of London's Ethiopian community turned out to transform Dingwalls into a seething African dance hall. It started with the feisty young singer Mimi Zenebe backed first by Teremage Woretaw on the wailing masenqo fiddle, and then by the jazz piano playing of Samuel Yirga Mitiku. Just as this odd collision of the ancient and modern sounded as if it was about to topple over under the pressure of all the different influences, in came the sturdy reggae rhythms as Zenebe and young singer Tsedenia Gebremarkos began to match Ethiopian pop against Jamaican influences. The Dub Colossus album was an impressive studio collaboration, but for this live show Dubulah often stood back and allowed the Ethiopians to take over. The result was a set in which ballads such as Tizita were given a subtle reggae edge and matched against anything from piano-driven salsa to a glorious treatment of Uptown Top Ranking. By the end, the two girl singers were ordering the audience to sit on their haunches so they could practice wiggling dance moves. The Guardian (UK)
- Instigates A Sense of Wonder A Town Called Addis jams together traditional Azmari singing from Ethiopia with deep, dark reggae dub beats, skittering jazz sax, lush lounge chill-out washes of sound, world groove, and the spirit of punk rock to create an overall sound that instigates a sense of wonder and spcaey-ness...From the Clash-like "Yeka Sub City Rockers" to the almost translucent "Black Rose," this is great, transcendental music from the reggae heartland by way of inner space. Linen Shorts (USA)
- Replete With Magical Moments a...focused alliance of contemporary grooves with the distinctive strains of soul and jazz coming out of modern Ethiopia... The Independent (UK)
- The Guardian F and M Playlist ...Many global-fusion experiments are a mess, but Dub Colossus get it right, with their dub reggae-Ethiopia clash driven on by rolling bass lines, brass and strong vocals from Sintayehu Zenebe... Guardian Film and Music (UK)
- A modern dub classic. ....the album grabs listeners' attention with its hyper-defined sounds...Page creates spectacular settings for rustic instruments such as the messenqo one-string fiddle, the washint flute, and the kraar harp and unveils surprise talents including the singer Sintayehu Zenebe, whom Page has called "the Edith Piaf of Ethiopia". UTNE (USA)
- Impassioned... Rarely have dub, world music and jazz been mashed up to such dizzying effect as on this collaborative project by Nick Page -the composer, programmer and guitarist behind Dub Colossus. Working with Ethiopian singers and musicians, Page assembles tunes built from the skittering patterns of a one-string fiddle, sampled chants and impassioned declamatory Azmari minstrel vocals. Meanwhile, the soulful organ and hard-blowing ecstatic horns wind their way into the mix, creating a kind of multi-culti blend that reflects Ethiopia's unique position at the confluence of Muslim, Christian and animistic African traditions. Anchoring everything is the dub aesthetic, with big beefy basslines, prominent percussion, heavy echo effects and carvedout soundscapes. At its best A Town Called Addis brings to mind both the hypnotic, otherworldly dub of Adrian Sherwood's African Headcharge and the dense mystic flights of late-period John Coltrane. Relix (USA)
- A Rewarding Listen ...Dub Colossus fuse traditional Ethiopian music with spacey dub...Azmari Dub sashays along with majestic horns and impressive vocal gymnastics from Sintayehu Zenebe, while the haunting washint flute and simmering organ that weave through Yeka Sub City Rockers recall Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatqe. Q (UK)
- Exuberant Dub Reggae From the gently stomping reggae of Ophir Dub to the widescreen soundscape of Yeka Sub City Rockers, it's an exhilarating fusion. Guardian (UK)
- Surging, exploratory energy... Slinky, unrushed and original, this is a bridge across stylistic oceans that actually brings the world closer together in a fine way. jambase.com (USA)
- Sometimes music can take you to the moon... ...Page really is is an alchemist. He takes music he loves and adds to it so it becomes something else. On A Town Called Addis, Page jumps in the deep end of Ethiopian singing and musicianship to create a completely contemporary marvel. Colorado Springs Independent (USA)
- As if Lee Scratch Perry were producing Éthiopiques. ...Nick Page, who was a mainstay of Transglobal Underground, teams up with fresh young Ethiopian musicians as if Lee Scratch Perry were producing Éthiopiques. Financial Times (UK)
- A Sprawling Idiosyncratic Delight The result is a sprawling idiosyncratic delight that strives one minute for the epic gravitas of great film music and the next just settles into a pleasantly exotic groove. The Word (UK)
- One of the Albums of the Year ....The swirl of sensuous vocals, cinematic horns and grounding bass lines have been brought together to majestic effect...one of the albums of the year. The Independent on Sunday (UK)
- Dub Colossus Brings Reggae to Ethiopia ...no musician had thought to actually join reggae and Ethiopian music, until now....On the record, the two different traditions -- Ethiopian music and dub reggae - bring each other to life. Warbling Ethiopian singers breathe crisp mountain air into dub's humid depths, while dub's heavy bass anchors the sometimes ethereal folk....A Town Called Addis is a rare album. Originally a solo project by a lone producer, it literally took a village to create it. You can hear the dialogue and play in every song. Dub Colossus put his name on the album, but in fact two colossi meet on A Town Called Addis: Jamaica's weighty reggae and Ethiopia's thousand-year folk tradition. Rather than wrestling with each other, they actually find a way to dance. NPR Music (USA)
- Compelling Trans-Global Underground co-founder/bassist Nick Page collaborated with numerous Ethiopian musicians, including Horns of Negus, in a makeshift Addis Ababa studio for this upbeat collection. The funky brass and Azmari singing of "Azmari Dub," the urgent trance grooves of "Entoto," hypnotic jazz of "Ambassel," dreamy sway of "Neh Yelginete (My First Love)" and the deliriously freaky, almost psychedelic "Yeka Sub City Rockers" and "Shem City Steppers" (both vaguely reminiscent of Dengue Fever) make a mostly compelling case for cross-cultural fusion. Pasadena Weekly (USA)
- Recommend to the Point of Being Mandatory ....Put it all together and you have the only other serious contender for my number 1 album of the year... HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO THE POINT OF BEING MANDATORY. Cave 17 (USA)
- An Adventurous Mix of Modern Beats and Jazz Rhythms... ....The brainchild behind Dub Colossus is UK's Nick Page. After a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2006, he was inspired to work with traditional musicians. Notably, the musical styles of the golden years of the 1960's and 1970's. This was the heyday of Ethiopian jazz and dub music. Nick tries to capture that history on this album. It is an adventurous mix of modern beats and jazz rhythms... If you want to explore the music of Ethiopia, it begins with a musical project called Dub Colossus. Inside World Music (USA)
- Focused Alliance of Contemporary Grooves ...there could be few musicians better qualified to initiate a more focused alliance of contemporary grooves with the distinctive strains of soul and jazz coming out of modern Ethiopia... The Independent (UK)