Meet Ethiopian Records, The Addis Ababa-Based Producer Who Wants To Debunk the Idea of "World Music"
Listen to the ultra-dreamy "Running Shoes," a track from his new EP on 1432 R.
Ethiopian Records is the solo moniker of one Endeguena Mulu, an Addis Ababa-based producer whose work combines the instrumentation and scales of traditional Ethiopian music with echoes of the UK Garage and hip-hop he listened to growing up. Per a recent artist statement, published via Google doc, he hails from a loose-knit scene of local artists spearheading the so-called "Ethiopiyawi Electronic" movement, "a genre that uses Electronic Music tools, and Music Technology to make music that is very deeply rooted in the music from all over Ethiopia." Alongside Mikael Seifu, his labelmate from Washington DC's 1432 R, he's also one of a growing number of young Ethiopian beatmakers getting attention from the media overseas—no doubt a welcome development for an emerging artist like himself, but also a fraught one, given the persistence of reductive genre labels like "world music" and "ethnic music."
Mulu wants to challenge his listeners to take full stock in the damage these words can do: "[They're] born from the untrue, unsaid, unexpressed thought that everything that comes from the West is the pinnacle of everything, the top, the one thing that is happening in the world that is worth taking the time to enjoy, the only way forward the only way to the future," Mulu explains in the statement. "If it was only in the West and by Westerners that this view was held, it wouldn't have bothered me much, but thanks to education and entertainment all over the world being heavily Westernized, it's people who are owners of the cultures that are being diminished who also hold these views, looking down on their own 'third world' culture and praising the 'Western civilized developed first and second worlds.'"
Instead, when encountering sounds from his hometown, Mulu wants to encourage everybody—Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike—to start talking less and listening more: "Forget about all your preconceptions when you listen to a piece," he writes. "Forget about all the labels even if you found the music you are listening to through passing by in this or that section in the music store. Just forget about where you found it. Close your eyes and absorb yourself in the moment."
Which is exactly what we'd encourage you to do when listening to "Running Shoes," a just-debuted cut from his new four-track EP, Letu Sinega (The Dawn). Its dubby amalgam of crunchy beats, echoing vocals, and flickering organic sounds will certain take a couple listens to wrap your brain around, even as it lulls you into the sort of meditative dream state that comes from taking an early morning jog. "People running under the rising early morning sun—this track is basically the soundtrack that time in the early morning," Mulu told THUMP via email. "Back in high school, I used to wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning as the sun was coming up to go out for a run before school. Waking up at that time is worth it just for the ambiance. Nowadays, I enjoy that scenery when I come back from a night Djing, and it has the same freeing refreshing feeling." Letu Sinega (The Dawn) is out today via 1432 R.