Gondar sits in the foothills of the Simien Mountains in Northern Ethiopia. It is a beautiful city that was once the capital where Emperor Fasilides resided in the 15th Century. Today Fasilidies castle looks town upon this bustling but friendly city that is a major stopping point on tours of Ethiopia due to its wealth of attractions and proximity to the Simien mountains.
Musically the town is important. Even today there are countless traditional music bars where all are welcome to listen to improvised music and dance late into the night. Aster Aweke, Ethiopia’s most famous female musician, was born in Gondar in 1959 and aged 13 she started her singing career in the capital, Addis Ababa, performing the numerous nightclubs that were springing up in the 1970’s. She sang in some of the biggest bands of the time such as the Shebele Band and the Ibex Band, named after the now endangered animal of the Simiens.
Aweke moved to America in the early 1980’s, following the death of Haile Selassie and the increased difficulty of performing in such an oppressive environment, and continued to play in Washington D.C. to the large Ethiopian community and subsequently landed a record deal with Sony/Colombia where she came to the world’s attention. She has now released over 20 albums and shows no sign of slowing down.
Today’s selections are from both sides of one of the early singles she recorded. Anteye is really haunting with Aweke’s ghostly vocals and the distintive Ethiopian production, which puts the band right at the back of the mix. The B side, Lomiye, is fast and crazy with falsetto vocals and jumping organ. It could not be further in style from the other side.
This is an incredibly beautiful record and showcases the musical talent that Ethiopia was producing during this golden era.
Aster Aweke – Anteye / Lomiye (1977) – Kaifa Records (AE 43)