with Bill Laswell,
Illuminated Audio
(Palm, 2003)

This CD album produced by Bill Laswell has given rise to quite some controversy and debate among world music lovers. Some reviewers have accused the producer of appropriating the music of Gigi and remixing it beyond recognition. In response, others retorted that this is all part of the "dub tradition" and that it is perfectly legitimate approach when the cooperation or approval of the original musician is secured.

That seems to be the case with Illuminated Audio. In the promotional material the fact is also not hidden that we are dealing with "a complete reconstruction of Gigi's debut as an ambient epic by producer and dub master Bill Laswell. In the same spirit as his noted interpretations of Miles Davis ... and Bob Marley."

Be that as it may, after listening repeatedly to this CD, I tend to side with the opinion that few traces are left of the original input of Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw, a talented female vocalist from northern Ethiopia, who went against the grain of her homeland's established cultural conventions by charting an independent course for her career as a professional musician. So far this artistic odyssey has taken her to Kenya, South Africa, France and the United States. It was there -- in San Francisco -- that she caught the attention of Laswell, which was the beginning of a fruitful musical cooperation.

Although Laswell deserves recognition for his efforts to introduce musicians like Gigi to a western public and his pioneering work in remixing music, Illuminated Audio contains too much Laswell and not enough Gigi. While the atmosphere evoked by Gigi's haunting vocals has been retained to a certain extent, the overriding impression of this album is one of amplified instrumental music interspersed with only very brief snippets of Gigi's voice.

I guess Laswell belongs to the breed of musicians who evoke extreme reactions; he has been called both a visionary and someone who rapes other artists' music. While the latter qualification may be too strong and also unfair -- because it questions the producer's integrity -- the ultimate result is that, on Illuminated Audio, the authenticity of Gigi's music has been sacrificed at the altar of Laswell's cult of musical innovation. This reviewer sincerely hopes that the next project will be a return to style of music on Gigi's self-titled debut album.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 22 November 2003

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