After five long years, Gigi’s follow up to her eponymous debut takes that winning formula and beefs it up still further under the eye of uber-producer Bill Laswell
You wouldn’t need me to tell you that of course if you were listening to the album as within seconds the heavy bass and dark production that is Laswell’s trademark are evident. And he is not the only visitor on this album. Bernie Worrell, Ustad Sultan Khan, Nils Petter Molvaer and Karsh Kale join a varied cast of African musicians to create an album of unabashed fusion.
While other African artists have often been poorly served by these kinds of collaborations, for Ejigayehu ‘Gigi’ Shibabaw this is absolutely her world and she performs with absolute ease over a complex arrangement of shifting textures, beats and melodies. Her dusky vocals combine to create the kind of soundscape that would be just at home in a bar on a distant planet where alien scrap merchants blow their earnings on having a good time as a radioactive dust storm rages outside.
On ‘Jerusalem’ she creates a wistful anthem after the upbeat drum ‘n’ bass antics of ‘Antem’. The strange thing about Gigi’s work is that whatever she sings, you feel compelled to sing along — not withstanding the fact that you may not understand a single word she is saying.
With that in mind, there is one English-speaking track ‘Utopia’ — possibly the most treacherous trick to pull off on an album otherwise in a foreign language. If the subject matter of Utopia, children of the world and God sounds warning bells, you can relax, well at least you can after a few listens. This otherwise unpromising combination somehow gets under your skin, stripping you of your cynicism. Art is like that, invariably naïve but absolutely essential in a world of such appalling self-interest, which sees nations sacrificed to short term strategic interests or naked profiteering.
If you liked her debut, you will almost certainly love this one still more. If you like your Ethiopian sounds to be a bit more traditional, this is probably not for you but then again you might just find that nearly all the greats of Ethiopian music have been fusionists going back to the early years of Haile Selassie.