January 23, 2011
If you have ever looked for and found the name Bezunèsh Bèkèlè on your Ethiopiques 13 CD or searched out her Greatest Hits compilation, then you'll likely to drool when you hear this album. For those less familiar with the "First Lady" of Addis Ababa's Golden Era, she started performing as early as the 1950s and was the first female singer in the tumultuous capital city to go modern. She gained great popularity as a singer for the Imperial Body Guard Band, and her success continued well into the 1970s. Most of the great Ethiopian musicians of this time played for institutional bands like the Army or Police orchestras. The Imperial Body Guard attempted to overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie in the early sixties, and failed. As a result, the emperor removed the band's 'imperial' title, and the "Golden Age" of Ethiopian pop was ushered in by smaller bands free to self-organize.
The songs featured on this collection were probably first released in the early 70s, though I can't say for sure. The heavy horns, perhaps the Body Guard Band or Dahlak Band, outmatch James Brown for hard fevered funk and Bezu's liltingly casual style belies the reedy sensuality of her voice. The sleeve pictured above, which is from a Philips-Ethiopia 45, is not the official cover for this collection, which is either a bootleg or perhaps released in a neighboring country. If you have more information about Bezunèsh Bèkèlè or this compilation in particular, you are welcome to write in.