Music of Ethiopia
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The music of Ethiopia is extremely diverse, with each of Ethiopia's ethnic groups being associated with unique sounds. Some forms of traditional music are strongly influenced by folk music from elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia. However, Ethiopian religious music also has an ancient Christian element, traced to Yared, who lived during the reign of Gabra Masqal. In northeastern Ethiopia, in Wollo, a Muslim musical form called manzuma developed. Sung in Amharic, manzuma has spread to Harar and Jimma, where it is now sung in the Oromo language. In the Ethiopian Highlands, traditional secular music is played by itinerant musicians called azmaris, who are regarded with both suspicion and respect in Ethiopian society.
Ethiopia is a musically traditional country. Of course, popular music is played, recorded and listened to, but most musicians also sing traditional songs, and most audiences choose to listen to both popular and traditional styles. A long-standing popular musical tradition in Ethiopia was that of brass bands, imported from Jerusalem in the form of forty Armenian orphans (Arba Lijoch) during the reign of Haile Selassie. This band, which arrived in Addis Ababa on September 6 1924, became the first official orchestra of Ethiopia. By the end of World War II, large orchestras accompanied singers; the most prominent orchestras were the Army Band, Police Band, and Imperial Bodyguard Band. Most of these bands were trained by Europeans or Armenians.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Ethiopian popular musicians included Bezunesh Bekele, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Bekele, Ali Birra, Ayalew Mesfin, Kiros Alemayehu, Muluken Melesse and Tilahun Gessesse, while popular folk musicians included Alemu Aga, Kassa Tessema, Ketema Makonnen, Asnaketch Worku, and Mary Armede. Perhaps the most influential musician of the period, however, was Ethio-jazz innovator Mulatu Astatke. Amha Records, Kaifa Records, and Philips-Ethiopia were prominent Ethiopian record labels during this era. Since 1997, Buda Musique's Ethiopiques series has compiled many of these singles and albums on compact disc.
During the 1980s, the Derg controlled Ethiopia, and emigration became almost impossible. Musicians during this period included Ethio Stars, Wallias Band and Roha Band, though the singer Neway Debebe was most popular. He helped to popularize the use of seminna-werq (wax and gold, a poetic form of double entendre) in music (previously only used in qiné, or poetry) that often enabled singers to criticize the government without upsetting the censors.
More recently, music from Tigray and Eritrea has become popular in Ethiopia and among exiles, especially in Italy. One of the biggest new trends, however, has been the rise of bolel, a sort of blues-like music, played by sarcastic azmari playing in parts of Addis Ababa, especially Yohannès Sefer and Kazentchis. Bolel musicians include Tigist Assefa, Tedje and Admassou Abate.
Currently the most prominent Ethiopian singer internationally is Gigi. Through her performing with top jazz musicians like Bill Laswell (who is also her husband) and Herbie Hancock, Gigi has brought Ethiopian music to popular attention, especially in the United States, where she now lives.
Other popular performers include Tewodros Tadesse,Teddy Afro, Neway Debebe, Tadesse Alemu, Hamelmal Abate, Martha Ashagari, Yohannes Berhanu, Kuku Sebsebe, Aster Aweke, and Manalemosh Dibo. Neway was very popular among the youth of the 1980s and early 1990s with such songs as "Yetekemt Abeba", "Metekatun Ateye", "Safsaf" and "Gedam", amongst others. Abatte Barihun has exemplified all four main modes of the qenet (Anchi Hoye, Bati, Tezeta & Ambassel) in his 2005 album Ras Deshen.
Ethiopiques producer Francis Falceto criticizes contemporary Ethiopian music for eschewing traditional instruments and ensemble playing in favor of one-man bands using synthesizers. Harvard University professor Kay Kaufman Shelemay, on the other hand, maintains that there is genuine creativity in the contemporary music scene. She further points out that Ethiopian music is not alone in shifting to electronically produced music, a point that Falceto acknowledges.