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uKanDanZ - Awo CD (album) cover





3.92 | 12 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars Ethiopia has always been the odd nation out in Africa having been the only land to adopt Christianity without a gun to their heads as well as the only nation to escape colonization save a 17 year period by Italy but even more importantly, Ethiopia is unlike any other nation when it comes to music. While the nations hosts a long list of ethnic groups with their own sounds, the nation as a whole has generated a unique form of jazz mixed with ethnic sounds that has been dubbed Ethio-jazz with artists like Mahmoud Ahmed and Mulatu Astatke dominating the scene. Here's another unique musical sound to add to this nation's resume for weird music. UKANDANZ was formed when a group of French musicians were in Addis Ababa where they met up with lead singer Asnake Gèbrèyès and the group got along so well they decided to form a band together.

This band sometimes with the stylized moniker uKanDanZ was inspired by traditional Ethio-jazz but forced it into a weird commingling of avant-prog, math rock, punk and noise. The result is a fascinating hybrid of cross-culture eclecticism run amok. The band's debut album "Yetchalat" caught the attention of the underground music scene and got these guys invited to perform at the 2015 Rock in Opposition festival in Le Garric, France which catapulted them into a much larger stage. The band went back to the studio and recorded its second album AWO which as far as i can tell means something like "yes man" and when someone asks you in Ethiopia if U KAN DANZ then if U KAN then you say AWO! While this isn't exactly dance music it does have its moments that are close and while the opening "Tchuhetén Betsèmu" sounds more like traditional Ethio-jazz than anything remotely prog, it doesn't take too long for the avant-prog punk and math rock angularities to burst into the scene.

This is truly a wild collection of tracks that work surprisingly well and perhaps the most unusual hybridization of African music with Western skronk ever recorded. While it seems that the saxophone contributions of Lionel Martin keep the Ethio-grooves flowing along with Gèbrèyès' passionate charismatic singing style, the bass, guitar and drums are all over the place when it comes to generating off-kilter time signature frenzies, dissonant math rock complexities along with a punk infused sense of rawness that makes me think of some of the more adventurous moments of NoMeansNo. The tracks manage to maintain the Ehtio-melodic flow despite the barrage of proggy hard hitting cacophonous din that erupts from the French side of the equation. This thunderous storm sustains itself throughout the album with the climactic finale "Ambassel To Brussel" which features some of the most jarring and adventurous finger-breaking instrumental workouts. Somehow Gèbrèyès keeps his composure throughout this bantering attempt to derail the rhythmic flow but mother Africa triumphs as the avant-prog is kept on the leash.

Self-described as "Ethiopian crunch music," UKANDANZ finds some of the most unique ways to force what's generally described as pop melodies into twisted amorphous monsters that conspire to create an unusual clash of cultures but in a very good way! With hypnotic bass grooves and skronk fueled guitar distortion, the music succeeds in maintaining a composure that sometimes sounds like Captain Beefheart is conducting this musical affair but thanks to the vocal / sax combo keeps things humming fairly well. All tracks are fairly unique and sung in Amharic so this has a very exotic musical flare even if you are familiar with the Ehtiopiques ethnic series of albums that cover the gamut of Ethio-jazz superstars. This is truly one not to be missed as this band has captured a style that is utterly unique and best of all it actually works to the point that this is fairly addictive with a single listen. Imagine Mahamoud Ahmad with NoMeansNo, Captain Beefheart and an occasional visit from Ornette Coleman and you may be able to imagine what this sounds like!

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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