Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ROW: Alemu Aga - Ethiopiques 11: The Harp of King David (Buda Musique)

One of the more esoteric titles in the grand Ethiopiques omnibus, at least in terms of relative Western influence, this volume is also one of the most memorable. The “Harp of King David”, also known as the beguena, is a 10-string lyre similar to the Indian tampura in fundamental design, but possessed of its own engrossing sound. In the hands of a master such as Alemu Aga it takes on a soothing sentience, producing a series of sympathetic drones that circle and accentuate spoken word scripture and poetry. Though arguably the oldest of Ethiopian instruments, its history is a checkered one, having fallen out favor during the country’s Stalinist years because of its religious connotations and only recouping marginally in the aftermath. Aga is one of its few contemporary practitioners and his performances on the disc illustrate the immediate importance of keeping the traditions alive. Song titles point to his preoccupations among them, “About the Creation” and “The Second Coming of the Lord”. The booklet, typical of the series attention to detail, contains complete transcriptions of the topical lyrics. Even in the absence of such an aid, Aga’s voice has an effect comparable to his vibrato-radiating strings in eradicating anxiety and instilling a sense of contemplative calm.

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