Mikael Seifu - Zelalem

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2016-03-04
Electronic producer Mikael Seifu travelled from Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, to the United States a few years ago with the intention of pursuing a career in the American music industry. In pursuance of that goal, he attended college to study music and production but quickly became disillusioned with the corporatisation of the industry, in particular how the musician as an individual is subservient to the industry machine. He still, however, retained from his youth a fascination with American hip-hop and other beat-influenced music. 
 
Returning to Addis-Ababa, he reconnected with Ethiopian musical tradition and determined to appropriate its voice as his inspiration. The gilded 'ethio-jazz age of Ethiopian music was in the 1960s and 1970s;  artists such as Mulatu Astatke blending traditional folk rhythms and band jazz. On the other side of the world at that time, jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Archie Shepp were re-appropriating music from their spiritual homelands, so the liberalisation of American culture in the 1960s operated for black Americans in a converse way. 
 
Seifu is not a jazz musician, and is closer in musical kinship to artists such as Burial and Flying Lotus. His hybridisation of traditional folk instrumentation with western-influenced beats is a fusion more at home in European bars than a world music festival. Seifu himself has been quoted as saying he isn’t interested in the ‘club context’, and preserves the traditional Ethiopian sound by not overlapping the synths and beats in an obtrusive manner. 
 
Zelalem then is a fascinating insight into the regional folk music of Ethiopia, and its scales,  rhythms and variable time signatures. The electronic doctoring is complimentary, and gives the compositions an impetus more in line with modern EDM. 
 
The beauty of Zelalem is that there is nothing really like it for comparison purposes, except perhaps intricate percussive works such as Truant / Rough Sleeper by Burial.
 
Zelalem is a revolutionary piece of electronic music which propels the genre forward, and there can be no greater compliment than that. 

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