As a general rule, having the willingness to make changes is an admirable and useful quality when the opposite is obstinate, self-imposed stagnation. For an artist, such flexibility can be the difference between creative vitality and being tucked neatly away in a single, stale genre for a whole career.
On new release Daa Dee, singer Minyeshu Kifle Tedla – known as Minyeshu in her creative life – is ready to make changes. She takes her music back to basics – “daa dee” essentially refers to “baby steps” – and moves into bold new spaces, away from some of the less substantial pop sensibilities of previous works and toward a more sophisticated set of sounds. Minyeshu sings about love, peace, war, motherhood, and Lucy, the landmark Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, among other topics that she feels strongly about. On the whole, there is much here that is easily among the best music she has made thus far in her career.
The album gets off to an uncertain start. “Aynocheh” never fully gels, and it’s hard to say exactly why. It might be the synths, a little too obvious for comfort, or it might be how closely the instrumentation follows her voice at times – though there are certainly bright spots, too. Any missteps here are easily forgiven as the album goes on; Minyeshu approaches most other tracks with a deep regard for fine composition, nothing overwrought. She pulls in Afropop vibes, reggae beats, Ethiojazz complexities, and stripped-down folk tunes, using all her tools in moderation and with measured intent.
In theory, it sounds like a lot. In practice, this is Minyeshu expressing herself and her passions without bowing to genre boundaries, and though she may claim to be taking baby steps, she tends to land solidly no matter how many different directions she takes. While the swing from soothing to spinning on “Hailo Gaja” is a little disorienting, it leads into the sharp violins of melancholy “Yetal”, a heartfelt piece from start to finish. “Yeselam Ayer” is an upbeat call for peace marked by high notes on the single wailing string of the masenqo. “Yikerta” has a rootsy twang and truly soulful sax to close off the piece; title track “Daa Dee” is all piano, voice, and love.
“Azawntua” and “Wolaytana” are fast, brassy, and bright, with hints of Afrobeat in the guitar ostinati. Midtempo “Enchet Lekema” moves forward with sustainable momentum, while barebones percussion leads into weightless exaltation on “Temesgen”. Minyeshu fills “Geletuma”, an ode to her home of Dire Dawa, with urban sound: synths, trumpets, and a walking bassline. Sorrow and introspection color “Yachi Elet”, leading into a final reggae-tinged tune: “Anteneh”, a song of hope realized with hefty groove.
All of this just scratches the surface of what Minyeshu does on Daa Dee. There’s never been any doubt that Minyeshu has skill, but her range is what Daa Dee shows better than any of her previous works. She shows careful thought with each choice, and whether or not each one works perfectly, the final product is original, wholly new and wholly Minyeshu.