This September, Damon Albarn is putting together a group of bands, musicians and producers from Africa and the West to tour throughout the U.K. aboard the Africa Express train. The impressive lineup includes: Amadou & Mariam, Amy Sacko, Ba Cissoko, Baba Maal, Bassekou Kouyaté, Diabel Cissokho, Fatoumata Diawara, Femi Kuti, Konono No. 1, Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, Vieux Farka Touré and many more. One of the newer bands gaining a lot of attention is Krar Collective, a London-based Ethiopian trio that builds their sound around the Ethiopian 5 or 6 stringed lyre, the krar. It is believed that the krar is one of the last active descendents of an instrument exported by Semitic nomads to ancient Egypt and beyond over four thousand years ago.
Krar Collective have already impressed audiences with their energetic live performances. They have just released their debut album, Ethiopia Super Krar, on Riverboat Records/World Music Network. Krar Collective features the krar, bass krar, kebero drums, a one stringed masenqo fiddle, and a washint flute to accompany the band’s impressive vocals. Temesgen Taraken takes the krar to a new level, plugging it in and wailing out powerful solos like an electric guitarist. As a student, he studied with one of the biggest names in Ethiopian music, Mulatu Astatke, who mentored and encouraged Taraken’s approach to playing the krar. A fitting tribute to Astatke can be heard on the instrumental “Mr. Astatke.” Taraken also shares the lead vocals with Genet Assefa, whose powerful voice carries the melodies throughout the album. Taraken and Assefa are joined by Robel Taye’s consistent drumming, which gives plenty of space for the music to flow naturally and cohesively.
The album is dedicated to the late, famous Ethiopian actress Asnakech Worku, who pioneered the krar as an accompaniment to her legendary ballads from the 1960s and 70s. Krar Collective covers her song “Endye Eyerusalem” to close out Ethiopia Super Krar. The other tracks (“Ambassel,” “Guragigna,” “Konso,” “Oromigna,” “Wello,” “Welaita”) are related to the names of ethnic groups or geographical regions in Ethiopia. This passionate young band has already played WOMAD and a London Olympics related event River of Song concert series. Now they are embarking on the Africa Express tour and afterwards they will set off on their Making Tracks tour, which aims to bring music from other countries to local venues in Britain. Get a taste for their live performances with their video for “Guragigna” below.