uKanDanZ - Awo

6 songs
41:57 minutes
***** ****


Raised on rock’n’roll, I never really got around to listening to ethnic music. At times bands have tried to add a Western perspective on these foreign genres, but usually it ended up sounding quite patronising. Therefore I am quite astonished at how great uKanDanZ works. The band consists of Asnake Guebreyes, a charismatic singer from the Ethiopian capital city Addis Abeba, and four French musicians on guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. Their sound is labelled as Ethiopian crunch music, which didn’t ring a bell with me, but closer inspection showed that the quintet is cooking up a mesmerising stew of rock, jazz, noise and East African music.

Their debut album Yetchalal came out in 2012 and showed already a really tight playing band, but this year’s follow-up Awo shows an even more incredible band. The album consists of six rather long songs that make it to nearly three-quarters of an hour. It’s clear from the onset that uKanDanz don’t care about commercial structures, although there are always lots of melodies woven into the sound. Take for instance the opener Sèwotch Men Yelalu, a six and a half minute behemoth that sounds like a stripped down King Crimson session from 1969. One minute into the song, the vocalist joins in and you know that this is definitely something else. Asnake’s vocals are high, wild and conjuring, riding up and down the strangest tonal scales, and yet in the middle ground you can always encounter a recurring theme. Tchuhetén Betsèmu is another wild ride of Eastern African jazz, and it feels really great that no one is trying to soften things up for a mainstream audience. The drums are laying down a brutal beat, the bass guitar is stomping up a fierce rhythm, the guitar and saxophone are often duelling each other, and on top of this are the captivating vocals. Lantchi Biyé is a somewhat more sedate track, which we probably need after the furious two preceding pieces.

And then it’s back to jazz rock mayhem with Endé Iyérusalem that combines the band’s harsh sound with the vocals at their trippiest. Gela Gela comes at a more moderate pace, before the quarter hour long Ambassel To Brussel ends the album on its most progressive note. This monster track shows that uKanDanz are at their best when time is of no matter.

I don’t know if you can dance to uKanDanZ’s music... well probably not in the usual meaning of the word, but I am convinced that a lot of people can lose themselves in this EuroAfrican / AfroEuropean ethno jazz noise rock crossover. If your typical ethno rock sounds too trite or stereotypical for you, I dare you to check out Awo, a one-of-a-kind album that marries in an equitable way African music with Western jazz rock in a most unadulterated way that leaves nothing to be desired.

Back to Reviews