RA Podcast: RA.754 Ethiopian Records

A rousing and humbling anti-war mix from Ethiopia’s electronic music hero.

Endeguena Mulu subtitled his RA Podcast “war is a racket.” Just days before he was due to send his submission in, he scrapped and remade the mix in the wake of what looks like a burgeoning civil war in his home country of Ethiopia, after the government sent troops to the semi-autonomous region of Tigray and then announced a six-month state of emergency and declared its legislature null and void. The region has been cut off from telecommunications as people have started to flee across the border—the latest flare-up in a history of ethnic tensions in the East African country.

So Mulu’s new mix comes with a theme and a purpose. It’s defiant, mournful and filled with hope all at once: alongside the Ethiopiyawi electronic that Mulu has helped pioneer, there’s Digital Mystikz’ classic dubstep anthem “Anti-War Dub,” UK funky fusion from KG and rousing speeches from figures and leaders around Africa. It was made in Ableton on-the-fly like one of his live sets, incorporating samples along the way into a set that feels more emotional than functional, leading you from one heavy—and sometimes uplifting—feeling to the next.

The specific circumstances of this mix shouldn’t take away from Mulu’s long and impressive record. He’s the originator of Ethiopiyawi electronic music, a hybridized strain of electronic music that doesn’t have a particular sound so much as it has a mission: to create new music from the incredibly rich and varied traditions of Ethiopia, from instruments whose histories go back thousands of years to the heritage of 20th-century Ethiopian jazz. It doesn’t even have to be electronic, necessarily, and Mulu’s output as Ethiopian Records—for labels like 1432 R and Warp’s Arcola offshoot—have been restless and inspiring. He’s not just the driving force for electronic music in Ethiopia, but an important and unique artist in a wider global, context too.

Back home, amidst political strife and the coronavirus pandemic, Mulu is trying to start a new creative space for artists in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, called Godja, as an offshoot his WAG Entertainment Agency—a label and creative agency that was in the works just before the pandemic hit. He’s raising funds with a double-EP called WEL that’s due out soon. He calls WEL a “a call for joyful, loving, global revolution,” a sentiment his stirring and often melancholy RA Podcast mirrors.

What have you been up to lately?

I have been preparing my upcoming double EP release project WEL, both producing music and organizing—looking for funds for the project. That is the main thing I have been busy with the past few months.

How and where was the mix recorded?

I recorded the mix while doing a live set on Ableton using other tools like Traktor to sample, and Ableton itself to perform the keys, drums, live remixing, I recorded this Monday, but I have prepared the elements during the weekend.

Can you tell us the idea behind the mix?

The mix is a mix that both reflects the music that I am listening to and liking right now and my sentiment of what my country and region of the world are going through. Has been going through for a while, but right at this moment things have been worse than usual. My country is almost at war, people are and have been killed all over the country, for the past few months and years, because my country is going through change and this mix is my sentiment on all of that and the need for a pan African and class-based analysis of politics on my continent.

I want to point out with this mix the need for inclusion of all voices both voices we agree and don’t agree with within our daily diet of information and discourse to understand fully the picture of where we are as a country, as a continent and as a species, and in order not to constantly demonize people we do not agree with. I also want to say to people not just on my continent but all over the world the need to have the majority of people to be more involved and hands-on in their local politics, both in informing themselves and actively participating, we need to stop being apathetic 3/4 of the year and being partially involved only 1/4 (mostly with our outrage) in politics, which then has us offering incomplete analysis about the situation, which leads to things like demonizing people we don’t agree with, things like punching down onto people more vulnerable than ourselves and things like war, among other things. This is the sentiment this mix was made in.

Your most recent release is also a fundraiser to help start and run a label and agency that would open a new creative space in Addis Ababa. Can you tell us about this project, how it’s going, and how the pandemic has affected it?

We had not reached the goal we had set up for the crowdfunding for that project so right now I am working on the EP and on getting more funds to get a space. The pandemic has been very challenging, as for most creatives out there, our main sources of income events have been shut down, and the pandemic had me halt and roll back plans for opening a representation booking agency, label, and creative space in Addis.

Me and my coworkers have been put in an even more vulnerable situation financially than we already were before, but it has also been a learning experience on the need for an artist to take ownership of their work, their trajectory, and the infrastructure around music because just like people should be more involved in their local politics and workers should have more rights in their workplace, artists should educate and push themselves to take ownership of half of what drives their music forward, (and the industry around it). No one can understand an artist’s need more than the artist.

I am working on a Patreon for people who want to help and get regular content from me.

You are one of the most prominent electronic artists operating in Ethiopia. Is there a strong scene there? How are artists being affected by the pandemic and burgeoning political strife/civil war?

Electronic music-wise, it depends on what kind of electronic music, there is a scene for EDM even that isn’t really nurtured but more leftfield electronic music doesn’t really have space here yet. That’s not from a lack of trying but to create a genuine, non gentrified, indigenous, diverse scene (and not just electronic music-wise) in Addis or anywhere requires certain support from entities with power and money basically, which we don’t have. Almost no one has money and power unless you are a mainstream artist but even then it’s really limited, or fortunate enough to have family support or you win the lottery lol.

And it is a shame because there is so much potential, so many young people that need investing in, encouragement, support, that need their talents nurtured, so many talented, creatives that are being overlooked. The entire creative industry on my continent except for a very select few places is an area that’s completely ignored, if not discouraged, and that is partly gentrified. I don’t want to pretend to talk on behalf of all musicians and creatives here but that’s my sentiment from having been an experimental musician for over 15 years in Addis. Personally, the struggle of being a musician in an environment where that is a bit harsh towards creatives has shaped my sound. When the pandemic hit it was hard for everyone but creatives really saw how bad of a situation they are in. I am also amazed at how creatives still survive through this all and keep doing what they love, I am inspired by how despite the lack of support artists are doing amazing work, young people are pushing and trying their best to grow, and they do grow!

The political strife and burgeoning war for me, again I don’t want to pretend to speak on behalf of all creatives here but for me, it has taught me how I should as an artist step up and try to create spaces and narratives that encourage discourse, dialogue, that encourage self-criticism and the taking of criticism from others. Spaces that include not just intellectuals and elites and representatives but the majority.

It has taught about how artists should encourage people to educate themselves and get involved more in politics in a world that has a long history (worldwide) of pushing people towards apathy which paints politics as elitist or demonizes it. This is what in my opinion leads people to be unequipped to analyze the political situation they are in. I have never believed in delegating people for my future and this year like every year has shown me why I shouldn’t delegate but educate myself and get involved, because when people don’t get involved it leaves a space for polarized views.

What are you up to next?

Next, I am going to continue building the representation company, record label and creative space and put out and push more work not just from me but also from other artists through it.

Tracklist /
Tsegaye Gebremedhin – WEL (Ethiopian Records Remix)

Dawit Cherenet – Ye Abay Lij (Live Edit)

Digital Mystikz – Anti War Dub (James Blake Remix)

Digital Mystikz – Anti War Dub

Eyorr (featuring Micki Mac) – Hagerun Geleba

Asge Dendasho – Moro (Ethiopian Records Remix)

KG – Kele

Yohannes Yilma – Pulsy

Ethiopian Records – Kwame Nkurmah African Unity (Live)

Eshi the Free – Same Same (Live Edit)

Nerliv – WezWez

Hachalu Hundessa – Maalan Jira (Live Edit)

Ethiopian Records – Embi

Jamaica Mnanda – Masikini Naye Mtu (The Poor are Also People)

b!polAr – BIPOLAR

Photo credit: Tsion Hailesealisse

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