Invisible System – Punt – Made In Ethiopia (Harper Diabate Records, 2009)
How an aid worker, who spent eight years in Mali and Ethiopia, became the nomadic record producer, composer, musician, sound engineer and all around champion for equality and democracy in the underbelly of the fat, bureaucracy-laden aid organizations in the third world is a mystery only Invisible System’s mastermind Dan Harper can answer. But it’s clear from his liner notes, Dan’s message is pretty clear, “Fascist dictators and insincere people beware…”
Turning that frustration into music, Dan’s found an international stage for some remarkable Ethiopian artists and an electrifying amalgam of sound with his debut recording Punt – Made In Ethiopia.
Dipping into a stew of dub, dance, rock, trance and Ethiopian traditions, Punt plays host to a guest lineup that includes Ethiopiques’s Mamoud Ahmed and Bahta Gerehiwot, Hilaire Shabby, Justin Adams, Joie Hinton, Ed Wynne, Dubulah, Elmer Thudd and Gary Woodhouse among others.
In addition to the recording, mastering, engineering and CD design, Mr. Harper also provides guitar, bass synthesizer, didgeridoo and percussion. Recorded in Addis Ababa and the U.K., Mr. Harper plunges headlong into a mystical world of trance, psychedelia, electronic dance music grounded by fiery Ethiopian vocals. The result is a bit like an exotic mythology flung into outer space.
Relying on the artistic immediacy of improvisation, Mr. Harper opens Punt with an easy groove crafted by Ed Wynne on synthesizer, Juldeh Camara on ritti and some splendid vocals by Desta Fikra on the track “Hode Baba.” Turning toward the dreamy, “Fiten Azorkugn” sparkles with Joie Hinton on synthesizer, former Loop Guru member Elmer Thudd on drums and Tsedenia Gebremarkos’s vocals and Feleke Hailu Woldeilassie and Johnny Akilu Badane on saxophone, while Mamoud Ahmed’s vocals drift eerily from a darkly striking trance background on “Melkam Kehonelish.”
“Sewbekagn” shimmers with Netsanet’s sultry vocals rising out of some deliciously twangy depth, while “Min Atefahu” is saturated with edgy guitar. Other notable tracks include the neatly packed “Yeteleye Fikir” with Gahta Gebre Hiwot’s vocals or the spacy electronica against vocals by Mimi and Teremage Woretaw on “Gondar” and the combustible blend of dance and trance on “Dankira.”
With Punt – Made In Ethiopia, Mr. Harper has found a mixed sound that is both powerful and exotically edgy. While it may delve heavily into the trippy electronica on occasion, Punt lures the listener with an almost mythical world fusion sound while honoring the gracious spirit of the Ethiopian soul through its vocal traditions. What a treat.
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