Friday, 26 January 2018

Gili Yalo - Gili Yalo

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 135, March 2018.

Gili Yalo
Gili Yalo
Dead Sea Recordings (41 mins)

Gili Yalo’s love of singing was learnt through hardship. As a five-year-old, he escaped the Ethiopian famine on foot. Music made the journey more bearable. Eventually settling in Tel Aviv, Yalo surrounded himself with funk, soul and dub. On this debut album, all those sounds come together with a large helping of Ethiopian groove.

The cover art says it all: this is one cool album. The whole thing has a strut to its step. With Yalo singing in both Amharic and English, his band cook up a whole range of retro flavours, from golden-age Ethiopian horns and old-school synths to that classic R’n’B rhythm section sound.

It doesn’t turn into a heard-it-all-before fusion, either. At some points the Ethiojazz vibe is strong (the instrumental ‘Tadese’ would be at home on a Mulatu Astatke album); elsewhere it feels like straight-up Afrobeat. When all the elements coalesce, it becomes really special. Look no further than the track ‘Coffee’ – Yalo’s blues-bar-in-Addis vocals run the show, while krar lyre duels with Ali Farka Touré-style guitar over piping-hot soul funk, all to an eskista rhythm.

What a fantastic album. Play it loud and you’ll feel like the coolest person alive – after Gili Yalo, of course.