Sounds from the underground
Ethiopian Records (ER) is highly opinionated. His enthusiasm for certain passion issues combined with an inquisitive mind and strong orientation for research means he backs up those opinions with well informed facts. These passion issues traverse a wide range of topics like identity, westernization, neo-colonization and language. Endeguena Mulu also known ER is a 30-year-old electronic musician.
A DJ and a producer many in Ethiopia, or even Addis, are unaware of, he is creating an underground following for electronic music. While electronic music is gaining mainstream audience in recent months, the popularity is largely driven by western EDM saturation of the market.
ER, like many other young Ethiopian artists that grew up in the internet age and placed in a unique position as cultural mediators, stuck ‘between worlds and ideologies’ as he puts it, is highly aware of the significance of his work.
With most of his audience in western countries, ER has managed to garner an underground following due to ‘Wax and Gold’ and ‘Goon Goon’, underground electronic music events in Addis. “I’m not a fan of compromising. I haven’t done that in 10 years and I’m not going to do that now.” “There is a community around my music but we haven’t found a champion. If people had the chance to listen to it, it would be loved.” He describes this community as small and clique-ish. “It is not good for the music. The music needs to be out there.”
Having previously released 3 records under the DC label 1432 R, ER’s newest record is Yefikir Edaye. Released under the label Arcola this June, the EP (extended play record) is a 24 minute long soundscape that takes the listener on a journey. ERs’ distinct sound that perfectly blends Ethiopian traditional sounds with electronic beats creating what he labels Ethiopiawi Electronics is quite mesmerizing. “Music without lyrics can resonate with anyone. It’s universal. Just like facial expression and any other thing that predates spoken word.”
Listening to ER’s music requires openness, a willingness to enter a doorway into the unknown. The highly emotive journey that follows, coupled with the 16-page artist statement that follows offers a peek into the artist’s mind. He describes his music as part electronic, part Ethiopian and part experimental. This psychedelic 3 track record is a euphoric mix of experimental Ethiopian textures finely chopped or infinitely stretched inventing new rhythms. A velocity of sounds that compels the listener to burst into eskista and a heavy darkness that encourages body stasis, Yefikir Edaye creates intense patterns of emotions.
He used to sample kirar, washint, masinko, azmaris, People to People sounds, Ethiopiques CDs and other recordings of Ethiopian sounds. For this EP, he says, he has primarily used sounds he recorded himself. Tracing the origin of dubstep through its Jamaican and European roots, ER says local artists are looking into Ethiopia’s rich musical tradition to propel music forward. “Traditional music is the future of music. It’s an untapped, untouched pool to draw from. There’s nowhere else to go.”
He laments that the music industry is not equally accessible to everyone. Even though Internet and digitalization have created a unique platform for artists, Internet penetration and access to gadgets creates limitations. “Everyone should have access but they have to respect it.” A frequent collaborator with young artists, ER records other musicians in his tracks and Yefikir Edaye includes visual artwork by local artist Dawit Muluneh.
His underground status can also be attributed to the experimental nature of his music. “People are not encouraged to have a long listening range. The more eclectic music you listen to, the more you learn.” He offers that people might find his music ‘aggressive’. But Yefikir Edaye, as explained in the long treatise, is a burden he’s chosen to take on because the alternative is hatred. He urges musicians and music lovers to experiment with sound. “Club owners, DJs, music journalists should be more adventurous. An audience is only as good as the DJ. DJs are not a jukebox, they’re educators.”
Having worked as a DJ and a producer for many years, he talks about the misconception around DJs and their profession. “People think Disk Jockeying is playing music one after another. I’m not downplaying that. That requires ear. It used to mean cutting records together, sampling, and mashing … they were producers. I don’t think people understand that.”
Along with the EP, ER he as released a 94 minute long mix he believes might be easier to listen to. In this mix, he has sampled various Ethiopian artists like Aster Aweqe, Getachew Mekuria, Asnakech Worku and Tsegaye Gebremedhin. This mix is definitely an easy entry into Ethiopiawi Electronic but for those curious to throw themselves into ER’s world, Yefikir Edaye can be quite a trip.
“Everybody wants success now. You’ll be that guy that did something once and then disappeared. It needs longevity; especially, if you’re a producer and a DJ. You need longevity.” The road looks very long indeed and ER is in it for the long haul.