Release date:
April 21, 2023
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D.A. Mekonnen is a saxophone player, and the longtime leader of Debo Band, the acclaimed Ethiopian-American new-music ensemble. He is also an artist who thinks in cosmic terms, and for decades he has been thinking about the long and twisted history of the saxophone, and the noises it makes. BLACK, the first record he has produced as dragonchild, is the monumental result of that exploration: four one-sided albums, designed to be played simultaneously, creating an immersive and disorienting swarm of sound. BLACK was inspired by a trio of Black visionaries: the Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima, the nonconformist American artist Lonnie Holley, and the American activist and author adrienne maree brown. It is dedicated to Alice Coltrane, the American jazz visionary, but perhaps you can also hear in it echoes of Getatchew Mekurya, the Ethiopian jazz visionary. In BLACK, these currents cross and combine, creating a mighty roar, ferocious but also meditative. You can't really listen to BLACK, but you can perform it. First, of course, you will need four turntables, and a space to set them up. (The album includes a diagram showing optimum placement.) You will also need three accomplices, so that all four tonearms can be dropped at once. Debo, the name of Mekonnen's band, is an Amharic word meaning communal labor; to truly experience BLACK, you need a community, too. BLACK comes in an innovative, immersive package, with artwork by the Ethiopian photographer Michael Tsegaye, depicting an active volcano in Eastern Ethiopia. Each vinyl record is translucent, with music on one side and a topographic map of lava fields on the reverse. This is a beautiful and audacious project: an artistic landmark, and an important addition to the long history of African-American cultural exchange.

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