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Steppin' into the Screen | Éthiopiques Suite Magnétique

Have you ever been to an after party where you're sitting down in a circle, maybe passing something around, and one of your mates whips out this mad, unheard-of track from the depths of the Madagascan rainforest (or something like that) and everyone is completely vibing and wondering why the hell this isn’t top of the charts? - Well, that's what Francis Falceto did for the entire world when he decided very humbly, to compile an extensive archive of Ethiopian music.

Éthiopiques Suite Magnétique creates a beautiful depiction of the serious yet warm life and career of Francis Falceto. This documentary will be screened on Wednesday, June 12th, 7pm, Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets here!

One of the first scenes depicts three children that Falceto met on the road singing, we hear the voice of Falceto talk about how beautiful and groovy the song is, the children listen to themselves back, this was the first time they had ever heard themselves on recording. The joy in the children's faces, whispering through a wide smile ‘it's me!’ We see one of the children adamantly trying to take the headphones away from the other to be able to listen to the recording, the other is reluctant to pass on the soundwaves. Eventually, the boy gets the headphones but instead of listening to it himself, he hands it to the third child.

‘I want you to listen to it’ we hear Francis Falceto say as a narrator. 

still from the documentary

This scene perfectly encapsulates the entire tale of the film showing in a split second the joy that comes from archiving and sharing. 

From recordings in the fascist occupation in the 1930’s, to the Amha Ashete music school in 66-68, through the DERG dictatorship to the liberation in 1991, and then the creation of Ethiopiques in '96. Falceto has done it all, and this documentary shows it all. 

In an extremely nonchalant, matter-of-fact attitude, we are taken through Falceto’s career as a programmer and archivist of music. It is undeniable the incredible role Falceto has played in the Ethiopian music scene, and this revolutionary act is shown not just as a hobby, but almost as a second skin. He states in the documentary about his role as an active listener. At this time if there was nothing on the radio that you liked you had to find it, there was this intense activity of all music lovers, talking about what they had found to look elsewhere than the mainstream. It was just what you had to do. 

No one has done more for modern Ethiopian music than Francis Falceto has done.

This sharing of music grew in France, with a group of cultural activists that started the association L'Oreille est Hardie (OH) in Poitiers, creating events with no criteria that matched unlikely music and venues and 'sold some pretty unsellable concerts'.

OH membership card

This association was just the start of his journey as a pioneer in the French underground music scene, programming his club Le Confort Moderne he decided to keep his mantra of showing unlikely things making this place somewhere not to just let loose - but to learn and build a community, offering music from all ends of the sphere. 

OH has got something on tonight - it will be interesting!

The documentary coins the bar as the place to discover new music. Confort Moderne was created during a political shift when Mitterrand came to power, this shift to the left created much for freedom and ease with funding. In 1984 he discovered a Mahmoud Ahmed LP record, via Bernard Gallodé. And in 1985, this instigated a trip to Ethiopia. This trip served as a catalyst for Falceto's vision, however, the progression of this vision into reality was stunted by DERG censorship. 

The incompatible, confused relationship between politics and culture is epitomized beautifully in this narration: 

‘You were preparing for your first re-release, well before the Ethiopiques of Era Mela Mela by Mahmoud Ahmed produced by Ali Tango, which would be released on the Belgian label Crammed Discs. The pres went wild. You're gonna get Mohamad Ahmed  to appear at the Saint-Denis festival at the Avignon festival in Poitiers. But these concerts were never to take place. The DERG locked everything down. The artists were not allowed to leave Ethiopia.’

Francis Falceto and Amha Eshèté

In 1991 DERG was destroyed and almost instantaneously you feel this sense of relief and freedom from the country. Depicted in the film with footage of the singer Tutuye (meaning breasts) singing erotically in a room full of people laughing along. Parallel to what happened in France in 81’ (who says history doesn't repeat itself) this political shift allowed more freedom in obtaining Ethiopian records for Falceto, and in 1996 he decided to create the Éthiopiques series with publisher Buda Musique to reissue Ethiopian music of the period 1950–1975 - most of them produced by Amha Eshèté and Ali Abdella Kaifa. 

The documentary uses archive footage of live concerts, and home videos, mixed with interviews and photos. Creating an incredibly intimate portrayal of a self-proclaimed. ‘hardcore archivist’.

It’s a love letter to the archive and teaches the viewer a valuable lesson in the necessity of sharing.


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James Brown
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