This is one of two songs from Buda Musique’s Ethiopian music series that have been on pretty consistent rotation for me, with the other being Tezeta (Nostalgia) from Mulatu Astatke. While recorded in a very different climate, something about these two songs just feel good now that it is starting to finally get colder here at Orion’s Bastard HQ. I chose this one in part because the story of Esmahoy Tsegue is deserves a much wider audience, though whether a post on this blog delivers that is another, more embarrassing question.
She was born to a wealthy family in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and was sent off to boarding school in Switzerland at the age of 6. Though the Ethiopiques series from which Mother’s Love is taken is meant to focus on Ethiopian jazz, Emahoy’s views her own music as the result of her blend of classical training and traditional Ethiopian Orthodox chanting, according to a profile in The Guardian. From the same Guardian profile:
In the 1930s, she returned to Addis: portraits from this period show a gorgeous young woman with a wry smile and a bold fashion sense. She went to high-society parties and sang for Haile Selassie. She had a car and raced a horse and trap around the city. She was a feminist: the first woman to work for the Ethiopian civil service, the first to sing in an Ethiopian Orthodox church, the first to work as a translator for the Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. “Even as a teenager I was always asking, ‘What is the difference between boys and girls?’” she told me. “We are equal!”
That life was brutally disrupted when Benito Mussolini, with an eye on a potential colony, invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and three members of Emahoy’s family were killed. She was evacuated to Europe, but she was unfazed in her determination to become a musician and eventually found her way to Cairo to study with esteemed Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz.
After years of studying classical music, she became a nun and began focusing on her religious duties and playing music on the side. It was here that she developed this unique blend of classical music and the chanting mass of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which started with the 6th-century Ethiopian saint Yared. You can hear examples of this kind of chanting, which is still practiced today, on youtube. Despite being 93 years old, Emahoy is still composing and recording music, though it’s not clear whether another album is in the works. In addition to the Buda Musique compilation available on their website (link above), Mississippi Records also released a compilation of her work that includes Mother’s Love as well as another great song of hers, Homesickness. I’m convinced Homesickness is an arrangement of the Mulatu Astatke song I mentioned above, but I guess you’ll have to listen for yourself to be the judge of that.
Syrinx was an electronic music group from Canada at a time where the coolest thing you could be doing was experimenting with synths and electronics. John Mills-Cockell seems to have been the prime mover behind the group, and he spent the 60s doing what I would do if I had a time machine: experimenting with tape manipulation and electronics while studying classical composition at the University of Toronto. Well maybe I wouldn’t be in Toronto but you get the idea. Before forming Syrinx, he toured North America with a collective called Intersystems, which combined spoken word, tape manipulation, and other electronic tricks. Check out one of my favorite tracks of theirs here. Mills-Cockell joined up with Bernie Finkelstein to record his music on Finkelstein’s new label True North, and once Mills-Cockell met Doug Pringle and Allan Wells the group was up and running. There is an excellent write-up over at Bandcamp Daily about the group with lots of cool archival pictures and more details about the bands recording history.
This compilation of re-issued and previously unreleased material from Syrinx comes courtesy of Rvng Intl., which still has copies of the release in CD and LP form as of this writing. They also put out a short documentary on the group that is worth checking out too. Hollywood Dream Trip was originally released on their self-titled debut record, but the group put out only one more release before disbanding, with Mills-Cockell going on to compose for film, TV, and theater along with apparently producing techno music. I was torn between Hollywood Dream Trip and this longer track also from their debut Chant for Your Dragon King, which anybody who digs this would probably also enjoy.
Though they definitely have a grown-up sound, The Equatics released their only album Doin It!!! while they were still in high school. Bassist Benjamin Crawford was the catalyst that brought the Equatics together. A cadre of young musicians in Hampton, Virginia formed the nucleus of the group, and they played a mixture of funk, soul, and (perhaps surprisingly) prog rock, as Crawford was a big fan of Yes. After playing gigs near Hampton, the group decided to enter the Pepsi New Sounds of 72 contest, which involved sending a demo jingle to the company for the chance to win time in the studio. They were featured in the top 10 and recorded their jingle. Pepsi then followed up on the promotion by asking people to send in bottle caps along with votes for their favorite jingle, but this time the prize was much bigger: the chance to record an album at Pepsi’s expense.
The group’s campaign to get people to vote for their jingle paid off, and the result was this album. Once they got in the studio, the band’s manager (and Crawford’s football coach) Frank Johnson tried to move the band towards soul standards like Ain’t No Sunshine, in part because Johnson had always dreamed of being a soul singer. In fact, Johnson provides the vocals on this and another great track from the album Merry Go Round. The group cut the record in a hurry, not even bothering to name the label that was to be responsible for the record. Very few copies of the album were ever distributed, and most were limited to the Richmond, VA area until it became a favorite of crate-digging collectors. Differences between Crawford and Johnson eventually led the group to break up, leaving behind just this one record.
If you’re looking for the original I can only offer you good luck, but Doin It!!! was reissued in 2010 by Now Again Records. If you’re in the mood for more soul cut by young folks, check out I’m Not Ready For Love, which I wrote about a while back.
Though it’s hard to tell based on how good this album sounds, this is the only recorded collaboration between Hailu Mergia and Dahlak Band. Mergia was a member of Walias, which had regular gig at the Hilton in Addis Ababa. Because of a military curfew, patrons of the Hilton bar who weren’t guest would be stranded until sunrise, though with Walias playing it’s hard to imagine they minded too much.
Dahlak were a popular backing band around the same time, and they hooked up with Mergia because other members of Walias were busy in the studio with other vocalists. Mergia was eager to follow-up on his the success of his previous record with Walias, Tche Belew, so he recorded Wede Harer Guzo with Dahlak in the nearby Ghion Hotel, where Dahlak Band were the regulars. The album features instrumental arrangements of a number of well-known Ethiopian tunes as well as original compositions. While Mergia asserts these arrangements were quite popular in Ethiopia at the time, it was not widely distributed and may have been remained a local favorite if Mergia himself hadn’t sent the tape to Awesome Tapes From Africa, who restored and re-issued the recording to its former glory a few years ago.
Word to the wise: before you tell someone “I love The Final Solution,” it’s best to make sure they know you are referring to the soul band and not something more sinister. Alas, in the age of Internet Nazis I suppose one has to be careful, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from sharing this soul gem resurrected by none other than Chicago’s Numero Group.
I Don’t Care comes from a soundtrack that The Final Solution recorded for a blaxploitation film called Brotherman that was never actually completed. According to an NY Sun article about the album upon its reissue, writer and producer Carl Wolfolk had the masters stashed away since the film was shelved until Numero brought them back from the dead in 2008. While I couldn’t find much in the way of info for the members of The Final Solution, Carl Wolfolk was a prolific producer of soul music in the 60s and 70s. Probably his most oft-performed song was Can I Change My Mind, which has been covered by Tyrone Davis, Willie Clayton, and Boz Scaggs. If you’re looking for this release on cassette that is sadly out of print, but CD, LP, and digital download are still available. I’m starting a new job soon and once I get paid this release is definitely on my list.
An Luu appeared in films throughout the 1980s, primarily in France, before releasing this track as a single in 1988 for the dance label Carrere. Her only previous release was the single Lolita Hiroshima in 1983, which she recorded shortly after appearing in the the 1981 French thriller Diva. The film centers around an opera singer who is world renown for both her tremendous voice and refusal to appear on any recordings. A thief secretly records a performance and delivers it to an opera-loving mailman, who quickly becomes embroiled in a mob fight. I confess I hadn’t heard of the movie before hearing this song, but since it’s on Amazon streaming for a couple bucks I might have to check it out. This track was produced by the French producer Phillipe Chany, who was active in the French new wave scene throughout the 1980s on his own project, including this low-key gem. This single appears to be pretty cheap on Discogs at least for now. Once it gets that famous Orion’s Bastard bump though you’re bound to see the price go through the roof ;).
After putting out a few cassettes on their own, Houston trio Khruangbin released this track on an EP with the same name on LateNightTales in 2014, where it waited patiently for three years to be discovered by me. The group takes its name from the Thai word for airplane, which originally referenced the shared love of Thai surf and funk that brought Laura Lee (Bass), Mark Speer (Guitar), and D.J. (Drums) together, though it is doubly appropriate now that the band is split between the U.K. and the States. If you’re looking for an entry point in to the kind of Thai music they are influenced by, Sublime Frequencies has put out a number of great compilations of Thai rock from the 60s and 70s. Two good places to start are Thai Pop Spectacular and Shadow Music of Thailand. Khruangbin released their first full-length album in 2015 titled The Universe Smiles Upon You. They also put together a mix tape that highlights some of their other influences which you can find here. According to their website they’re playing a couple of festivals this summer, including Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Outside Lands. Because I’m a curmudgeon I won’t be able to see them live, but discovering this group is almost enough to make me take the plunge. Here are some links to purchase the releases I mentioned here if you are so inclined: