The Very Best of Ethiopiques Various (Union Square Music) Seven years after the rest of the world celebrated the third millennium, Ethiopia put on a grand show last month to mark the arrival of its 21st century. This is also the year the country has shocked the world with its musical distinction, courtesy of a group of hitherto little-known musicians. The Very Best of Ethiopiques, a compilation that takes listeners to the country's jazzy nightclubs of yore, consists of 28 tracks selected from a series that numbers 21 CDs, 14 shy of its intended total. The double disc is the product of a 20-year obsession of Frenchman Francis Falceto, who orchestrated the first foreign release of modern Ethiopian music in 1986 after discovering the mesmerising pipes of veteran Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed. Ahmed, who headlines the Best Of compendium, is among artists from 'Swinging Addis', Ethiopia's golden age from the 1960s to Emperor Haile Selassie's overthrow in the mid-1970s by despot Mengistu Derg. Having identified his life's work, Falceto would have to wait until the dictator's downfall in 1991 to begin his project, which mixes dreamy jazz and pumping funk with muezzin calls and the playful sounds of minstrels. Ten years ago the first two CDs were released. It has taken a combination of unrelated events, however, for world-music lovers to discover the achievements of Falceto: in 2005, Ahmed wowed audiences at Womad and Mulatu Astatqe's hedonistic jazz left an impression even if the movie whose soundtrack it was from (Bill Murray's comedy Broken Flowers) didn't. This year Ahmed won the BBC's Radio 3 African World Music Award, by which time everyone from Elvis Costello to Patti Smith to Brian Eno was praising Ethiopia's old-school musicians. Their appeal is instant. Ethiopiques musicians evoke Duke Ellington, James Brown, Elvis Presley and Bill Evans, among others. But appreciation comes mostly from the unfamiliar and raw. And some of the charm is the result of rudimentary recordings. Falceto said in an interview: 'What's known as world music made us think that we already knew all the music created in Africa. Suddenly, it turns out there is an Ethiopian musical culture that we weren't acquainted with.' As for the poor sound quality, Falceto explains: 'The recordings were made with a minimum of technical equipment: a microphone for the singer and another in the middle for the musicians.' Curfews dictated when dinner bands could perform, which is why, he says, 'These gems are all the more precious for having been crafted in such difficult circumstances.'