Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: Real World Records
Genre(s): Jazz, International
I looked into Samuel Yirga online earlier this year after he appeared on the Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia, and when I had watched the video for his version of the 1971 Rotary Connection track, “I Am the Black Gold of the Sun” with the fuzz guitar removed and more jazz inserted and British-Nigerian Nicolette licking into a birdy vocal flutter, I thought, “I’ll volunteer for the album if it ever comes up for review,” and so it did and so I did. Yirga, twentysomething, studied at the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa, afterwards playing with several local bands and also with Dub Colossus, the London-based Ethiopian dub collective managed by the producer Nick Page, formerly keyboardist Count Dubalah of Transglobal Underground. Page was the one who suggested “Black Gold of the Sun” to Yirga when the idea of an album was mooted and he’s quoted in the album literature: a supportive presence.
Back in the glory days of the 1960s, Addis Ababa was one of the great music centres of Africa, famed for its blend of traditional styles with Western pop and jazz. There's much of the same invention and energy in this first solo outing by the young Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga, who is still in his 20s and best-known for his work with fusion exponents Dub Colossus. Yirga is a versatile player, and the tracks here range from gently drifting, atmospheric solo pieces such as Drop Me There and the rhythmic, slinky Dance With the Legend, through to sections where he plays with a band featuring brass and traditional fiddle, or accompanies singers including The Creole Choir of Cuba.
An impressive debut album that attests to the originality of its author. David Katz 2012 Some albums take a while to get to know properly, as the listener adjusts to unfamiliar terrain. Guzo, the debut set by Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga, is such a set. Much of the album unfolds slowly, opening up spaces for quiet contemplation, making use of a variety of styles, each of which conjures its own mood.
I feel conflicted about the debut album from Ethiopia's Samuel Yirga. On one hand this is obviously a talented young musician at the start of his career, looking to build upon his cameo role within the world fusion group Dub Colossus by stretching out his piano and compositional skills here on Guzo. On the other hand it all feels too convoluted, as if someone has heard this guy play piano, recongised that he's as adept at both Ethiopian melodies and Western jazz noodling, and realised this could be the point where Ethiopian music can truly cross over into the world music crowd.