Beginning in 1986 with Mahmoud Ahmed’s Erè Mèla Mèla (originally released internationally on Crammed Discs), music fan and historian Francis Falceto founded the Éthiopiques series with an eye on presenting the urban sounds of Addis Ababa to the outside world. He was most drawn to the music that flowered during the late '60s and early '70s—the dying years of the Selassie regime and the beginnings of the derg, or military junta, led by Mengistu. Erè Mèla Mèla was 11 years old by the time Falceto gave it its first non-Ethiopian release, and the response to the big-band sound—with powerful vocals and strange yet familiar 5-note scales over an urgent, addictive 6/8 groove—was very healthy. Through a partnership with Paris-based Buda Musique that began in the early '90s, the Éthiopiques catalog has grown to over 20 albums and counts such luminaries as Robert Plant, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Jamie Cullum, and Gilles Peterson among its fanbase. Enigmatic, elusive and yet familiar and evocative, The Very Best Of Éthiopiques re-opens the door to one of the most fascinating musical worlds of our time.
Available in stores August 13 on Union Square Music/Manteca.