Review by Dawoud Kringle
An explosive drum beat, a vocal chorus by famed Ethiopian singer Gigi, a combination punch from the horn section, and a funky backbeat lay the groundwork for Tomas Doncker’s newest effort. The groove stays solid throughout. But now and again, an unmistakable Ethiopian / East African spirit possesses the song, infusing it with a contrast that nonetheless seems not only to work, but was always hiding within the essence of the whole genre.
In addition to his band, (Daniel Sadowrink, percussion, Nick Rolfe, keyboard/ vocals, Josh David, bass/vocals, Kevin Jenkins, vocals, Manu Koch, keyboards, Selam Woldemariam, guitar, Damon Duewhite, rums, Mark Henry, horns, David Barnes, harmonica, and James Dellatocoma, guitars), Doncker brings in guests: Gigi Shibabaw, Bill Laswell, Selam Woldemariam, Betty G, Kofo the Wonderman, Zaia Rolfe, Juggla CHarlie Funk, Nhatty Man, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Joseph Bowie. All bring their unique gifts to Doncker’s table, and create a marvellous musical collage.
Doncker’s newest effort approaches the listener with a strong spiritual/conscious intention. There is a lean toward a strong message of social peace; and not so subtle hints toward a spirituality/religious belief based in Rastafarianism. Yet it’s never preachy or proselytizing; only inviting.
On “Peace (Hold On),” Doncker’s lyrics invoke the sense of unity and universal brotherhood that one had been led to believe (if one accepts the modern vibe in the popular music industry) has died in the 70’s. Yet here it does not sound dated or retro; it sounds like it belongs to the here and now.
There is a strong African feel throughout. The opening track “Brooklyn2Ethiopia” sets the stage for this. On “Habesha Girl,” a beat implying triplets and insinuating a swaying undertow that draws the listener into its rhythm. A reggae break inverts the rhythm, and then restores it, while the story of a beautiful woman.
“Happy” is the most “traditional” song; in the sense of American funk/soul/blues. Here, an integral part of Doncker’s musical roots shows itself. This vibe seems to flow into another side of itself with the final track “Abet Gurage.” A powerful funky groove, infectious melodies, and stellar performances put a nice finish on this EP.
This offering by Doncker and company lays another stone in the legacy of Doncker’s music. It is powerful and joyous, hopeful without being sentimental, connected to its roots without slavishly imitating them. A great EP.