“Tequila” by EARTHGANG (and Ethiopians)

Some undeniably Habesha underpinnings on a great track

When I volunteered at Afropunk this past August, one set that stood out from the rest was EARTHGANG. They had a whole different energy going on. The music was great, but they were exceptional performers, in the way they engaged with the crowd. Their transitions were seamless, going between songs but also going between emotions and styles of music. They went from the introspective and pained “Swivel” to the then unreleased track “Top Down”, which Johnny Venus self-described as “got-damn country ratchet shit”.

So I was late to EARTHGANG — I hadn’t listened to much of their music before Afropunk, but I was an enthusiastic fan immediately after their set. I had the good fortune of being backstage helping to photograph Tierra Whack when they were around and complimented Doctur Dot on their performance.

As soon as I got home from Afropunk I followed EARTHGANG’s socials and vowed to listen to Mirrorland as soon as it came out.

On September 6th, I listened to the whole album when I got home from work. One track reached right into my chest and pulled my heart out with its first few seconds, and made me stop what I was doing and pay close attention — “Tequila” featuring T-Pain.

The constant guitar melody, the drums, the saxophone on the back-beat — they sounded undeniably Ethiopian.

Being Ethiopian myself there was just no question about it. No one else, not in Africa, not in the world, has that almost eerie, minor-key, scale-climbing melody. It sounded just like the Ethiojazz music of my childhood.

Did they sample something? Were they explicitly inspired by Ethiopian music? Did they collaborate with an Ethiopian artist? Or was it just random — in which case I’d argue it still had to do with Ethiopia’s influence on jazz back in the ’70s. And if it was random, do they know how Ethiopian it sounds? I had to know. After looking around for songs with a similar vibe, I landed on the style of Mulatu Astatke; that particular style of bass line, percussion, and saxophone is prominent in his music. For “Tequila” it was modernized and molded to the rap/hip-hop genre a little — a bit sharper and faster, but still, it was undeniably there. So much that actually, I was more convinced when I went back and listened to a bunch of Mulatu’s tracks and compared “Tequila” side by side.

Seriously listen to Mulatu’s “Yekatit” and then “Tequila” back and forth. The opening of “Tequila” could fit right into one of Mulatu’s albums.

A couple others that aren’t quite as close as “Yekatit” but a similar style are “Tsome Diguwa” and “The Way to Nice”.

I looked everywhere on the internet for answers and found none. Tragic…but hopefully it’s not just me that sees these similarities. Listen and see what I mean for yourself!

UPDATE 11/19/2019:

A couple people reached out to me across the internet to tell me the sample actually comes from “Origin of Man” by The Budos Band — while not Ethiopian themselves, they seem to draw inspiration from Ethiopian music, within which Mulatu is a huge figure. It was a cool thing to discover — also cool to know that in a way, I was right (lol)

So, to make it clear, Earthgang sampled a song by a self-described “Afro Soul” band, which itself drew inspiration from Ethiopian music, within which Mulatu Astatke is a dominant figure. Funny how sometimes the arts (and especially music) is really just one huge circle, where we keep rediscovering the same patterns and melodies~

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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