The Krar Collective – Ethiopia Super Krar (Riverboat Records / September 10, 2012)
By Helena Cantone
Ethiopia Super Krar is the debut album by London-based Ethiopian band, The Krar Collective. The group is steadily making waves at festivals and venues in the UK, headed by the trio: Temesegen Zeleke (a former pupil of the Ethio-jazz veteran Mulatu Astatke) on krar, Robel Tesfaye on traditional Ethiopian kebero drums, and singer-dancer Genet Assefa.
Inspired by the rich cultural diversity of Ethiopia, a land steeped in history of 80 different language and ethnic groups, The Krar Collective is, of course, all about the krar – a six-stringed harp-like instrument, tuned to a pentatonic scale that is characteristic of Ethiopian and Eritrean music. The krar is often played by singer-poets called azmari, similar to the west African griot, the Italian cantautore or British bard. The lyre itself is an ancient instrument that originated in the Nile River and spread across north and eastern Africa, Europe and Asia. Today the krar is used both as an acoustic, bass and electric instrument, and paired up to compliment the electric guitar.
Ethiopia Super Krar is rooted in tradition but remains undisputedly fresh. The tracks were recorded to tape on an original 1960s 24-track reel-to-reel machine, which lends a live quality to the recording. Zeleke describes their sound as “Ethiopian traditional music with a rocky edge. Someone called us ‘the White Stripes of Ethiopia’ cos we just have drums and six strings”.
Rhythmically hypnotic, melodic, bluesy and upbeat, the Krar Collective have got us all shaking our shoulders to the ancient sounds of the krar. They will be performing live at the BT River of Music on July 22 and launching their album at Rich Mix in London on September 20, with a UK tour scheduled in the autumn.