Dubtopia: Dub Colossus and A Town Called Addis (Music Review)

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Once an obscure subset of reggae, the music known as dub has mutated into a remarkably broad category, with digital-age DJs applying its looping, backmasking, slice-and-dice aesthetic to all sorts of music, from punk to house to world. On A Town Called Addis, veteran British producer Nick Page–a.k.a. Dub Colossus–taps traditional Ethiopian sounds and state-of-the-art mixology to create a modern dub classic.

From the first bright horn bursts, psychedelic sound effects, pulsing groove, and honeyed vocals of “Azmari Dub,” the album grabs listeners’ attention with its hyper-defined sounds. It’s the exact opposite of a murky mix, tantalizing the ear with a Sgt. Pepper-like landscape of sonic doodads and textures while respecting the Ethiopian music at its core. Page creates spectacular settings for rustic instruments such as the messenqo one-string fiddle, the washint flute, and the kraar harp and unveils surprise talents including the singer Sintayehu Zenebe, whom Page has called “the Edith Piaf of Ethiopia.”

If the music at times resembles jazz, it’s the cosmic, far-out jazz of the Sun Ra Arkestra, and if it occasionally enters the Afrobeat realm, it’s the funky turf of the master, Fela Kuti. But the music owes perhaps its largest debt to dub innovators from Lee “Scratch” Perry to the Clash, who were mashing up music long before Pro Tools came along. Dub is no longer dismissed as the work of stoners who spent too long at the mixing board, but has come into its own as a vital form full of endless possibilities. Dub Colossus exploits them to their fullest.

STREAMING TRACK: “Azmari Dub” by Dub Colossus from A Town Called Addis

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