For many of the musicians who make up the Bole2Harlem collective, Bole – the name of Ethiopia’s international airport – is the last glimpse they had of their homeland before setting out for New York City. And not just any part of NYC, but Harlem. Now the location of the newly coined Little Africa, Harlem – with its great Afro-American music tradition – has become home to a new generation of immigrants keen to synthesize their own sounds with that of their new environment.
If Bole2Harlem represents a bridge between two cultures, it’s also one that began as an impromptu arrangement. This band – which includes an Amharic rapper, Maki Siraj, vocalist Tigiist Shibaba, an American cellist and a Malian kora player – came together out of Saturday night jam sessions at a downtown French-Moroccan restaurant. What started as a jam was quickly picked up by veteran producer David Schommer. The resulting album – its title suggests there is more to come – jumps with the vivacity of live music. Bole2Harlem has a funk overdrive that’s augmented by wild ululations, slithering strings and breakneck percussion. The acceleration of ‘Hi Lo Ga’ makes for an irresistible dance tune, while the album’s introductory ‘Bole 2 Harlem’ has a wonderful lilt with little flavours of woodwind. Recommended.