Gigi Gigi

Ejigayehu "GiGi" Shibabaw grew up on her family's coffee plantation in rural Ethiopia. She would sing at family gatherings until she decided (against her parent's wishes) to take the show on the road. She performed for a time in Nairobi and Kenya, with other East African expats, before returning to perform in Ethiopia's capitol, Addis Ababa. Later, after being cast in a French theatre production about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, she toured East and South Africa and eventually France. About three years ago, at the age of 24, she settled in San Francisco, eventually coming to the attention of Palm Pictures founder Chris Blackwell. GiGi doesn't perform traditional Ethiopian folk or pop, this is rather a melange of various East, West and North African, as well as American, flavours. Her songs are further filled out and Westernised by the slick production work and lush trademark sounds of world music whiz Bill Laswell. Laswell brought in an army of ringers, including contemporary jazz musicians like saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill (who also arranged the horns), Herbie Hancock on keys, and David Gilmore on guitar. Other musicians included Ethiopians, West Africans and Europeans, and African and Indian Americans further enriching the tapestry of sounds and textures. The results are commercially exotic and accessible enough to find themselves played in coffee shop chains and car commercials. Shibabaw's vocals soar and dance over lavishly orchestrated Ethio-pop grooves. She, and the back up singers (including her sister Tigist) also rhythmically bounce back and forth with call and response choruses. Catchy and completely contemporary, the lyrical content is equally modern and filled with surprisingly frank references to lovers and powerful sexual desires. For world music fans that are turned off by unaltered field recordings of obscure folk music, GiGi is just alien enough to be compelling and yet familiar enough to be palatable. (Palm Pictures)