After going down the “Ethio crunch” route (mix between Ethio-jazz and rock) in their first two albums the duo, hailing from Lyon and Ethiopia enter a cosmic dimension on Yeketelale, released by Buda music.
After Damien Cluzel left for Ethiopia in the early 2000s, the guitarist from Lyon discovered many local musicians, including a decisive encounter with Francis Falcetto – a man responsible for a mythical collection of Ethiopian records on the Buda label. Perhaps inevitably, this specialist became a guide and teacher to Cluzel who, upon returning to Lyon in 2006, banded together with saxophonist Liomel Martin, drummer Guilhem Meier and Keyboard player Fred Escoffier to embark on a new musical adventure: uKanDanZ. On vocals, he called upon an artist he had recorded with on his trip to Addis Ababa: Asnake Gebreyes. Having developed under the tutelage of Tlaloun Guesessé (known as the Ethiopian James Brown), Gebreyes’s voice corresponded perfectly to the idea the four French musicians had formulated.
Together, they recorded their 2012 debut album Yetchalal (which means: it’s possible), followed by several international tours. In February 2016, they released Awo (meaning Yes), in a style that was more assertively rock. In 2018, uKanDanZ signalled their return with Yeketalake. This was recorded with two musicians from the group Mazalda: bass keyboardist Adrien Spirliand and drummer Yan lemeunier. On this, their third album, the saturations were replaced by more bewitching melodies and the explosive riffs were softened to allow for a hypnotic energy come to the fore, one that is better suited for dance.
The group reign in the intensity of their compositions in order to take full advantage of Asnake Gebreyes’ voice in their explorations of Ethiopian grooves. As part of a shift in direction alongside their new rythmique section, uKanDanZ transpose, for example, the dances of the Oromo ethnic group into analog synth-bass and the electronic drums on “Guesse.” On the mysterious “Festoum Deng Ledgj Nesh,” the vocals are sublimated by electronic layers and throbbing guitar.
It is an Ethio-cosmic adventure that pulls us up and onto the dancefloor. Yeketelale ushers us into a futuristic Ethiopia while drawing on the power of its vintage sounds with nods and tributes: for example the famous “Enken Yelelebesh,” which relaunched the career of the Walias Band by Girma Beyene and “Ajiré,” the title track from Ahadu, Asnaké’s first album (re-edited by the Buda Music label in 2018), which is reinterpreted by the group on the unique “Weyene Ajire.” Here, they seek to bridge the large gaps directly by donning B-Boy costumes and stepping out to play funky, muted strums that would make Nigerian singer Harry Mosco proud.
Photo @Eric Legret