Mixing chopped samples of Ethiopian traditional instrumentation with churning synths and skittering electronic beats, the Ethiopiyawi genre grounds itself in the sonic contradiction of old and new. If you haven’t heard of Ethiopiyawi yet, don’t worry; pioneered by Addis Ababa-based producers Endeguena Mulu (Ethiopian Records) and Mikael Seifu, the genre has only taken root over the last two years, attracting the attention of major music publications including Pitchfork and Dazed Magazine. Much like Ethiojazz, which established a precedent of musical hybridization in the Addis music scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s by combining Ethiopian scales with Cuban percussion and American funk, Ethiopiyawi recontextualizes the country’s longstanding musical tradition within an undeniably modern sound that draws inspiration from post-dubstep and house.
Behind the rise of Ethiopiyawi stands 1432 R, a Washington, DC label whose small roster of musicians has played an instrumental role in developing the genre. Dawit Eklund, one of the label’s three founders, has provided a key link between Addis and DC, bringing the sounds of Seifu and Ethiopian Records to the burgeoning label. He has also released his Ouroborous EP on 1432 R in addition to a joint EP with Mikael Seifu. Eklund works alongside fellow Washingtonians Joyce Lim and Sami Yenigun, whose former apartment on 1432 R Street NW in DC inspired the label's name. All three members are highly active in the DC music world, performing DJ sets independently and collaboratively as a label.
This week, Afropop Worldwide connected with the 1432 R trio over email to discuss Ethiopiyawi, favorite summer jams, future projects and more. Be sure to check out 1432 R’s upcoming events below if you’re in the DC area and keep an eye out for 1432 R’s exclusive mix for Afropop later this month!
Simon DeBevoise: Hello! To begin, introduce yourselves. What is the elevator pitch you’d give to introduce your label to a new listener?
All: 1432 R is an independent record label based in Washington, D.C.
What have you all been listening to this summer?
All: It’s been a steady mix of music from our friends. Listening to the upcoming RBCHMBRS release on 1432 R, and also some hip-hop stuff he does with our friend Xen, under the name Trilogy. We're also really looking forward to an upcoming release from our friend Ari Goldman, who is starting a new label called World Building. His first release is a house record from Mark Seven, it's amazing! Our friend Abbay, A.K.A. Haile Supreme, has also been working on a bunch of great new music, and our friends Jackson Ryland and Jus Nowhere have a new label called Rush Plus that we're excited about. Tons of great music happening in D.C. right now.
You’ve championed several artists from the electronic-meets-Ethiopian Ethiopiyawi genre including your own Dawit Eklund. In his interview with Dummy Mag, Mikael Seifu describes the genre as “an umbrella of a subgenre in electronic music that I hope will help guide up-and-coming Ethiopian producers to develop their native sounds." Has the the growing prominence of Ethiopiyawi-influenced Ethiopian producers outside of your label? How do Seifu and Endeguena Mulu (Ethiopian Records) attempt to spread the message behind their sound to Ethiopian musicians?
Dawit: It's difficult to tell what bedroom producers are doing differently in Ethiopia. But Mikael and Endeguena have really begun to focus on more live instrumentation and working closely with local masters of traditional instruments (masenqo, krar, vocalists of the Azmari tradition). When I was last in Addis, Endeguena and I met up with a crew just like this, he gave them headphones and had them listen through some of his works in progress, stuff he wanted them to play over. It was so awesome to see their faces light up when hearing these dark and cutting electronic sounds mixed in with traditional Ethiopian scales and instrumentation. It was the first time they had heard anything like it but they were totally on board and knew exactly what to do with it [in terms of collaborating/adding to the music].
As a DC-based label with roots in Ethiopia, how do you connect with both American and Ethiopian audiences? Has Ethiopiyawi taken root in Addis clubs?
Dawit: Mainstream EDM remains the most popular form of the electronic music genre in Ethiopia. However, there is one club called Absynth where Mikeal and Endeguena play regularly. Word spread quickly and it's become the place to hear and see this new music, and the people attending are a very diverse and receptive crowd. To compare it to the American jazz tradition, Absynth has become somewhat of a Minton's Playhouse in Addis Ababa. They get up there and do their thing, whether DJ or live, and the atmosphere is centered around the music.
Mikael Seifu’s Yarada Lij EP was your first release. How did you first meet Seifu? His most recent release, Zelalem, was released with RVNG; does 1432 R plan to continue collaborating with Seifu in the near future?
Dawit: I first met Seifu in 2004. We went to different schools in Addis but were introduced by a mutual music friend. The beatmaker community was very small at the time so we all chopped it up and shared music. He's working on more stuff for RVNG right now, and we couldn't be more excited for him. We're just so proud to have gotten to work with such a great musician.
Your most recent addition to your roster of artists is Ocobaya. What do Mike Petillo and Aaron Leitko contribute to 1432 R’s sound?
All: Mike and Aaron have both been hugely important in helping us get our footing in this dance music world. They've got a neat little studio that they very generously let us use sometimes. We've been big, big fans of their music for years now. The record they made for us is at times psychedelic, raw and wonky, it's great for deejaying and it connects us to our roots in D.C. and with dance music.
What direction is 1432 R headed in? What should listeners expect from you in the coming months and years?
All: In terms of music going forward, the only real guiding principle is that the music has to move us. We're not sticking with any one dance music subgenre or anything like that. We're just working with people who inspire us. So look for the catalog to expand beyond Ethiopian music; we've got a drum and bass record coming out, some house music, a hip-hop mixtape is in the works. It's all stuff that fits into the loose framework that is the 1432 R sound. We've also been hard at work at trying to expand on working in different mediums and are excited to announce new lifestyle-oriented project this September. It will be based much more on the visual arts, so keep a lookout in the coming weeks for more info.
1432 R Events
HD Sunrise, Nerftoss, Protect-U, 1432 R - Aug. 18 at Union Arts DC
Anywho featuring PLO Man, Max D, 1432 R - Aug. 19 at Flash Bar DC
Petworth Park Summer Jam Featuring Beautiful Swimmers, 1432 R - Aug. 20 at Petworth Park