Abyssinia Infinite | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Abyssinia Infinite

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The 19-volume Ethiopiques series has worked wonders to boost Ethiopian music in the West, but most of the titles focus on the music's golden age--the late 60s and early 70s--and contemporary pop from the East African nation is still all but invisible in the States. Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw is a prominent exception; born in Ethiopia and now living in New York, she made a splash here with her third album, Gigi (2001). Producer and bassist Bill Laswell, now her husband, favored a world-in-a-blender instrumental pastiche for that record; though it probably made her more accessible, it smothered her sublime singing and didn't sound particularly Ethiopian. Laswell takes a much lighter hand with Zion Roots (Network, 2003), billed to Abyssinia Infinite, and Shibabaw's powerfully melismatic singing takes center stage. Some annoying synthesizer washes crop up, and saxophonist Moges Habte occasionally sounds like he's swiping his tone from Najee, but the album more accurately reflects Ethiopian music, particularly Melaku Gelaw's twangy playing on the krar, a type of lute, and the irresistible syncopated grooves. For this tour Shibabaw and Laswell are joined by percussionist Aiyb Dieng, keyboardist Abegasu Shiota, accordion player Tony Cedras, and local drummer Hamid Drake. Tabla Beat Science, Laswell's Indian dub project, headlines; DJs Warp and Radiohiro open. Sun 4/3, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $27.50 in advance, $29 at the door, 18+.

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