There used to be a time when for me a song was all about what I could glean from the lyrics. The actual music was secondary. What I searched for and am still searching for is a feeling – the goose bumps that run down my skin when a song is able to reach down into the murky barrel, swirl and identify what I wasn’t capable of expressing on my own.
Zeritu sings in Amharic making any identification with the lyrics impossible for me with my ever developing grasp of the language. But the feeling is there. There is a play and range in her voice that adds rhythm to each song which is otherwise lacking with the tinny artificial drum beat. But then, that’s pop music for you. Zeritu’s debut album is the definition of a (hopefully) new era of accessible Ethiopian pop music. It’s catchy and it’s heard every where you go. It’s being played by random shops in the streets of Addis and it escapes from battered speakers in the taxis.
The album opens with an escalating beat that never quite reaches its climax. It’s almost as if she sticking to a formula and you wish she’d just let loose and play more with the song. I know it’s there because I can hear it in the background vocals and it appears on the second track. This track delivers and sounds as if she’s pleading with a lost love. The next song is much slower with a beat that only kids at a primary school dance can awkwardly step-step to. It’s saved only by her voice and that slight roughness that borders on sexy. Track four epitomizes pop music with the bouncing beat and the odd tinkle of a piano (keyboard?) barely heard in the background. For a non-Amharic speaker, the universal ‘ah ha a-hahaha’ works for me.
The goose bumps come with skipping the first four songs and getting straight to number five. It’s got the speed of a sprightly cowboy and is driven by the acoustic guitar. Near the end, there is a tease between her voice and the guitar that gets me from head to toe every time.
The rest of the album continues in much the same format with catchy call and answer songs sprinkled with slower ballad-esque tunes. The album ends appropriately with a song that makes you want to turn out the lights, break out a lighter and sway.
Zeritu is dynamic although the album cover would have you believe differently. In the still shot, she looks pensive but after listening to the album it’s clear that she is also capable of being playful, sexy, and evocative. She is unique and this lets the prescribed drum beats become tolerable and more part of the background. I like a good teasing once in a while but the fun with teasing is the release at the end. With this debut, you never quite get the release you’re looking for but it’s enough to look forward to the next album. Sometimes goose bumps just aren’t enough.