Gogol Bordello's Tommy T Releases Solo Debut
Tommy explains, "The Prester John Sessions will give people an idea about the musical diversity of Ethiopia, which includes influences and ideas borrowed from the sounds of the 70's with the added bonus of up-to-date production values...In the 70s, funk, wah-wah pedals, and jazz had a huge impact on Ethiopian music."
As part of the writing process, Tommy started digging through Ethiopian folk music, choosing melodies he could improvise on. He also wrote his own compositions based on traditional modes. "A lot of popular Ethiopian music is based on a 6/8 beat called chikchika, but there are also many other rhythms in Ethiopia that have their own unique characteristics," Tommy states.
Tommy wouldn't settle for less than taking a hands-on approach with every aspect of this album. He wrote, arranged, played bass among other instruments and offered his vocals for the first time on an album. Most of the album was written at Tommy's home studio, cut live in studios around Washington, DC, and overdubs were laid down in real time with a final mix by Victor Van Vugt (Nick Cave, Gogol Bordello) giving it the feel of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters jamming with Ethiopian godfathers The Imperial Bodyguard Orchestra. The music blends Ethiopian modes with dub reggae, funk, and jazz, for a sound that's at once familiar and mysterious.
Tommy discovered the story of Prester John in Graham Hancock's book The Sign and the Seal. "Hancock was looking for the Biblical Ark of the Covenant," Tommy says. "His quest led him around the world, from the Middle East to Europe and back to Ethiopia." In the 12th and 13th centuries, Prester John was an unknown Christian king with massive troops that got the attention of European kings. Prester John is the character I use to symbolize the man who will bring Ethiopian culture to the rest of the world."
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