Anbessa Orchestra Offers Up Some Swinging Ethio-jazz on "Gurage" (premiere)

Photo: Attis Clopton

Lead guitarist Nadav Peled's opening licks evoke the grit of early rock and roll, warmed by horns that sound straight out of the golden age of Ethio-jazz.

Just a few seconds into Anbessa Orchestra's latest single "Gurage" (pronounced goo-rah-geh), it becomes clear that this Brooklyn-based Israeli septet is no ordinary band. Lead guitarist Nadav Peled's opening licks evoke the grit of early rock and roll, warmed by horns that sound straight out of the golden age of Ethio-jazz; soulful organ-style synths add fullness and foundation to the mix. However you want to label it, though, one fact is undeniable: "Gurage" swings.

Peled describes the track as the band's "original take on a traditional tribal beat that is always very uplifting. It is an homage to the Gurage people and especially Mahmoud Ahmed, one of Ethiopia's legendary singers, who is a big part of why we play this music." That retro feeling is unquestionably there - the album was recorded completely analog - but Anbessa doesn't rely on sounding dated. Instead, "Gurage" is vibrant, a song with a strong pulse and a melody ready for a dance floor in any decade.

"Gurage" comes out ahead of the band's second studio album, Negestat, set to come out on 30 March. "This record is really a labor of love," says Peled. "The whole analog process is very time-consuming and hard, but it's all worth it when you hear that beautiful warm sound."

Renowned for packed, high-energy live shows, the group also has a string of tour dates that take them down the East Coast and beyond the sea. Peled continues: "We're happy to present this collection of original material that, we feel, while retaining a strong connection to the tradition of this music, still has our own flavor and distinction to it." The group's influences - the Budos Band, Mahmoud Ahmed, Charles Bradley - are clear, but Peled is right: no one does Ethio-jazz quite like Anbessa Orchestra.

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