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Mikael Seifu’s Zelalem is an ode to – and a fearless break from – the storied lineage of Ethiopian music. The literal Amharic translation of Zelalem is “eternity,” and through Seifu’s conceptual frame it becomes a “vector of light.” Seifu shines this light on the music of his home country while guiding us through an uncharted “Ethiopiyawi Electronic” – a coinage Seifu uses to describe the music he and his peers are producing in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis-Ababa. Illuminating the rich sounds of Addis-Ababa’s azmaris, Seifu’s music becomes a “dream brew” in which these traditional musicians collaborate and contribute vocals and lead voicings from folk instruments such as the Masenko and the Krar. Seifu was educated at the Lycée Guebre-Mariam in Addis-Ababa. The French academy’s international group of students was Seifu’s first exposure to a world outside Ethiopia; his second was at Ramapo College in suburban New Jersey. Here Seifu met a mentor in Ben Neill, the composer and music technologist who trained with La Monte Young. Seifu was inspired by Neil to take serious his calling in music. A calling of a different, spiritual nature brought Mikael back to Ethiopia. As a repatriated young man in Addis-Ababa, Seifu felt a renewed sense of allegiance to his home country and allowed its ubiquitous music to guide his creations. Seifu’s early work was shared across a string of EPs for stalwart Washington D.C. imprint 1432 R, demonstrating an interplay of regional folk music and international electronic music.
Mikael’s music does not westernize or electronicize extant Ethiopian music. Instead, Seifu uses Ethio-Jazz’s spirit of brewing estranged styles for his own musical tincturing. Seifu’s passion above all else is to create something befitting of its time, yet “eternally Ethiopian.” The latter phrase was the mantra guiding Seifu through the creation of Zelalem, and a source of inspiration for the cover artwork. Zelalem spotlights the music of Ethiopia’s past as well its future. Mikael Seifu illustrates the potential for reinterpreting sacred and proud sources through energized palettes. His latest effort heralds the future of this new music and signals the genesis of Ethiopian Electronic, where the known and unknown commune. Accompanying the release of Zelalem will be a fifty-minute cassette mix by Seifu compiling native Ethiopian and African folk music, available January 20, 2016 only through RVNG Intl. Zelalem will be available on March 4 on vinyl and digital formats.