"Because Ethiopia was its peculiar self--an uncolonized absolute monarchy so insensible to indigenous music that its national anthem was composed by an Armenian--the set also does without such world-music boons as love of the past, belief in the future, and lust for conquest. As the soundscape to a locale undiscovered by squarer, older tourists, however, it obviously has its uses, especially for an alt generation that's always mistrusted organic ecstasy. I've never encountered a more neurotic-sounding Third World sensibility. Its m.o. is to mush up Middle East, Africa, and Europe for a small-time power elite you can almost see--anxious young traffickers in court intrigue sitting around smoky, well-appointed clubs where petit-bourgeois artistes strive to give them a thrill. And just often enough, the organic-imbued with melody or hook or vocal commitment or instrumental synergy, only to be tempered and twisted by an endemic uncertainty--peeps through."
My question is - is this actually true? Is Ethiopia a country without any real tradition of popular music, where musicians edgily attempt to please a ruling elite with a hotpotch of alien styles? This analysis doesn't strike me as very convincing - surely all countries have a musical tradition, even if it's unknown to the outside world. (I'd be especially interested in Nitsuh's comments.)
― tracey, Wednesday, 26 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― M Matos, Wednesday, 26 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
(a) There are many different ethnic groups within greater Ethiopia,
each with distinct musical and artistic traditions. (They would
likely not sound incredibly different to a newcomer -- as different,
perhaps, as two songs from the same record -- but they are
nonetheless rigidly identifiable.) And as with the US, the fact of
one ethnic group (Amharas) being politically dominant did not
necessarily translate into a musical dominance. In fact, I think this
may be one instance where one gets closer to the truth by viewing
things as an uninitiated newcomer: if you listened to music in five
different Ethiopian ethnic traditions in a row, you would still
perceive something sort of centrally "Ethiopian" uniting them -- in
fact, you'd perceive this more strongly than the average Ethiopian,
unencumbered as you'd be by culturally differentiating between those
ethnic traditions. This makes it harder to pick any sort of "main
line" of an Ethiopian musical tradition: but it also means there's
more than one, and in sum they amount to rather complex and
(b) It's easy to forget that Addis Ababa, up to the '73 revolution,
was one of those now-lost Great Cosmopolitan Cities, like Havana or
Beirut or Kabul or Rio in their cultural heydays. Christgau seems to
recognize this with his imagery of bourgeoise clubs, but then he
forgets it in his analysis. The music reflected in the Ethiopiques
series was born during the tail end of the cosmopolitan system and
somehow managed to thrive into the first decade of Mengistu
Hailemariam's Marxist regime (despite legal restrictions):
this, obviously, is why it's a cosmopolitan music. This was
the period during which Ethiopians and people throughout the
third world suddenly got their hands on the new toolkits of foreign
musics -- and, even more generally, the period during which
traditional cultures around the world suddenly opened up to
foreign, cosmopolitan, cultural influences. Compare with Brazil
during the same period. What Christgau is doing is the exact
equivalent of listening to Os Mutantes and other Tropicalia-era stuff
and proclaiming that Brazil doesn't have a musical tradition that's
much it's own: one would suspect that anyone making such a claim just
isn't aware of (or in Ethiopia's case doesn't have access to)
the traditional form that the artists in question were suddenly
combining with this sudden profusion of other options, other options
made possible by the new availability of recorded, widely-
distributed, inexpensively-imported music (and clothes, and films,
and books, and ideas in general) from other parts of the world.
(c) The Armenian thing, however, goes something like this: Haile
Selassie went to Israel (in the 20s or 30s, I think), and ran into an
Armenian brass band who had fled the situation in Armenia. He really
really liked them, so he invited them back to Ethiopia to serve as
his royal band. Their influence on the use of horns, which figure
heavily in the Ethiopiques-era stuff, is fairly large. "Traditional"
Ethiopian stuff, though, doesn't use horns.
(d) Funnily enough this comes down to Robert Christgau versus
Mengistu Hailemariam FITE. One particular goal of the Marxist
government was a sort of nationalist education program in traditional
culture, within which students took many courses in music and dance
(from each regional tradition). This created a pretty big cadre of
cultural artisans, and state events and particularly state-run
television during the latter portion of that regime was positively
crammed full of traditional performance. I doubt Christgau has
ever seen any of these.
(e) What I've never figured out is how much people are actually
missing Ethiopian-invented material in the Ethiopiques-era stuff, due
to forgetting that Ethiopia was, throughout the colonial period, an
uncolonized cultural power, and a lot of what they think of as coming
from elsewhere is actually Ethiopian in nature. (Jamaica and
Rastafarianism are very very key to this.)
(f) It's damned if you do, damned if you don't: why, in the first
place, the focus on Ethiopia having a traditionalism musical
heritage? It seems like he sees an African nation as by nature a
source for "indigenous" music, as opposed to self-conscious artisan
music. He may even think noting that Ethiopia bucked that trend is
some kind of compliment, but really I think the whole issue is a bad
way to go about approaching "foreign" music.
(g) Sorry for the essay. If we lived in the future I would somehow
post an hour of instantly-loading state-TV performance video on this
page and that would be enough to convince you that Christgau, while
he's vaguely right about the cosmopolitan nature of the stuff he's
talking about, really should have like looked for anything
else from the country before deciding that nothing else exists.
What's doubly baffling is that if you look at "traditional" stuff
side by side with "cosmopolitan" stuff, they're really not that
different in the least. (Similarly, listening to Bollywood musical
numbers and traditional Indian music side by side reveals them to be
obviously part of the same tradition, only with new approaches
filtered in.) So where did Christgau think all of the non-
cosmopolitan elements of the Ethiopiques stuff was coming from? I
think he thinks it's from "the Middle East," as he says: he seems to
think it's a newly-minted hodgepodge when in fact it's in many senses
a traditional hodgepodge, one whose elements were sorted out
well before America's foreign-influence "hodgepodge" coalesced
into a music we nonetheless think of as uniquely American.
― nabisco%%, Wednesday, 26 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 26 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― nickn, Wednesday, 26 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― M Matos, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― J Blount, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― o. nate, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
― Yancey, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
Oh, and also: H in Addis Ababa should really be
commenting on this thread -- he's spent infinitely more time there
than I have, and his job, if I remember correctly, is with a
sound/music production team. Your estimation of my rightness in the
above rambling would probably plummet dramatically if he went through
and corrected the factual inaccuracies or misrepresentations that I'm
quite sure are in there.
― nabisco%%, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
Central example of traditionalism: here is an Eritrean
guy holding a kraar. The kraar in various forms appears in most
greater-Ethiopian traditions (as this guy's being Eritrean sort of
demonstrates). (Although his is sort of a fancy-modern kraar: I can't
find a picture online of the proper sort.)
― B-Rad, Thursday, 27 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link
Re the mish-mash he talks about, Ethiopia had a long history of trade across the Red Sea and you will find many linguistic, musical & cultural links with – a lot of what to him sounds MidEastern is the (or a) traditional ‘Ethiopian’ sound insofar as it evolved there over the centuries. The Armenian connection does add some interesting links – the jazz scene in Syria for example was dominated by Aremenian so you will find similarities in the horn arrangements. I would differ with Nabisco on that there is a common Ethiopian thread; most Ethiopian music draws from the Amhara, Tigre and to a lesser degree Gurage traditions. Music from the Gambela region or that of the Konso ppl for example does sound vastly different.
There’s a wonderful book Abyssine Swing (think it is available on Amazon) by Francis Falceto, the editor of the Ethiopiques series that follows the development of music here through the 20th century. Great photos and provides a useful overview.
Nabisco, where did that Aster=Shania characterization come from??
Nickn – if you’re still around, I think Gigi’s album is great. Easiest thing might be to link to an article I wrote about her a couple years back http://www.afribeat.com/cont_gigi.html
Finally, since I found this thread after promising to recommend stuff to RS, the best place to start is the Ethiopiques series. Since it is now up to 14 volumes I’ll try to pick some highlights as a starting point.
3 – Compilation of different singers so you get a sense of the different singers out there. Muluken Mellesee is one of my favorite singers from that period and he has an amazing song ‘Hedech Alu’ on that one.
6 & 7 – Mahmoud Ahmed, one of the greatest Ethiopian singers. #7 'Ere Mela Mela' is generally considered the classic but #6 ‘Almaz’ edges it out for me
14 – Getachew Mekuria – the (still) reigning King of Ethiopian saxophone, pioneered this sort of honking proto-freejazz style called shellela based on 1) the maskinko, a one string viol used by azmaris (minstrels) and 2) ‘fukkera’ improvised chants that were used to build up courage before battle – swaggering blustering threats to the enemy.
― H (Heruy), Saturday, 19 April 2003 16:46 (seventeen years ago) link
― Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 19 April 2003 17:35 (seventeen years ago) link
― H (Heruy), Saturday, 19 April 2003 18:55 (seventeen years ago) link
BTW, how separate do you think the different musical traditions are, at this point? My view on this is probably slanted, because most of my experience of it is from the Mengistu national-music era, where everything was always roped off: like, here's an Amhara song; now here comes the Gurage part; etc. Obviously they're not that different in the grand scale of things, but it always seemed like there were efforts being made to maintain them as distinct "traditional" styles. (I usually like the Gurage stuff best, actually.)
My favorite Ethiopian 70s track remains "Good Aderegegnye," but I think I'm spelling that wrong and consequently can't google to remind myself who it was by.
― nabisco (nabisco), Saturday, 19 April 2003 19:38 (seventeen years ago) link
― nabisco (nabisco), Saturday, 19 April 2003 19:42 (seventeen years ago) link
guragegna is like the soul music of ethiopia, much funkier, more upbeat. I think everyone I know loves it.
re seperation of muisc - well, it is still pretty roped off, ppl work in one tradition but as part of their set will always have at least, e.g one gurage song.
I think the song must be "Gud aderegegn' can't remember who did it but will post when i remember.
re your Dad hangin' with Mahmoud, remember Addis is a small town so everyone knew/knows each other. My folks knew him and were not part of 'swingin' artists' scene.
― H (Heruy), Saturday, 19 April 2003 20:12 (seventeen years ago) link
― nabisco (nabisco), Saturday, 19 April 2003 20:24 (seventeen years ago) link
i mean addis anywhere between 4 and 5 million and it still fels like a village where everyone knows our business and you bump into the same ppl 10 times a day
― H (Heruy), Saturday, 19 April 2003 20:27 (seventeen years ago) link
― H (Heruy), Sunday, 20 April 2003 09:31 (seventeen years ago) link
Q. One thing you see a lot with Ethiopian bands that never winds up on recordings is this live-performance comedy thing: the band plays a figure and then stops, and the singer interjects amusing lines -- bum bum dum DUM (quick sentence) bum bum dum DUM (quick sentence) bum bum dum DUM (quick sentence) / Amharic-speaking portion of audience bursts into riotous laughter / non-Amharic portion asks what's so funny / Amharic-speaking portion offers confusing translation often involving a hyena metaphor. Are there any recordings that include this sort of thing? Not that it'd be much use to me, but I just wonder.
― nabisco (nabisco), Sunday, 20 April 2003 18:52 (seventeen years ago) link
― Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Sunday, 20 April 2003 19:00 (seventeen years ago) link
Nabisco, I was saying that I've never seen that in the band context, only in the azmari bets. (losse translation, azmari bet = minstrel home) where the azmaris will riff on the crowd, use 'semmena worq'(wax & gold) to, through punning and layered meanings, coment on daily life, politics etc. I don't think any of this has ever been recorded (the experience is such a part of it that wouldn't really translate to recordings)
Vol. 2 of Ethiopiques is devoted to modern azmaris and has some interesting pieces on there, Tigist Assefa's "Toutouye" is the most explicitly sexual song ever done in Ethiopia. I would not advice playing that for your folks unles syou want to be slapped upside the head. Danny Teka's "Bob Marley" is hilarious as he tells the story of how his brother left him to find success as Bob, while Danny stayed home with the sheep.
― H (Heruy), Sunday, 20 April 2003 19:07 (seventeen years ago) link
― Ahmed Noman, Thursday, 15 April 2004 09:03 (sixteen years ago) link
― Rockist Scientist, Tuesday, 27 April 2004 21:12 (sixteen years ago) link
― Rockist Scientist, Tuesday, 27 April 2004 21:14 (sixteen years ago) link
Saturday September 18th
For the first time in New York CityLegendary World Music Award WinnerMAHMOUD AHMEDEthiopian Music Legend Icon
― curmudgeon, Wednesday, 15 September 2010 04:00 (ten years ago) link
Yeah figures it'd happen after I move across the country. Dammit.
― Metal Lifestyle, Evil, Hatred, Headbanging (GOTT PUNCH II HAWKWINDZ), Thursday, 16 September 2010 09:48 (ten years ago) link
He has done DC shows over the years, but they're usually only publicized in flyers left at Ethiopian restaurants and in D.C.'s Ethiopian newspaper.
L.A. has Ethiopian restaurants and an Ethiopian community, I wonder if he's doing a gig there also?
― curmudgeon, Thursday, 16 September 2010 17:55 (ten years ago) link
And apparently he has played NYC before-- and he was just at the Chicago jazz fest
― curmudgeon, Friday, 17 September 2010 03:54 (ten years ago) link
So a weekend for ethiop music in NYCFriday night got Debo Band and Fendika at Joe's Pub, Debo is a Boston based big band put together by Danny Mekonnen, the repertoire is ethiopian music tho the band is a mixture of americans and ethiopians, presented them at my festival a cpl years back, Fendika is an azmari bet in Addis Ababa and got singers and dancers from here performing with Debo. If anyone saw the Getachew/Ex tour the owner of Fendika, Melaku who is performing with Debo was the dancer on the tour Fri Sep 17 - Joe's Pub - NYCSat Sep 18- Balliceaux - Richmond, VASun Sep 19 - Crossroads Music - PhiladelphiaThu Sep 23 - Burnside Park Music Series - Providence, RISat Sep 25 - Global Union - MilwaukeeSat Sep 25 - Martyr's - Chicago World Music FestivalSun Sep 26 - Navy Pier -Chicago World Music Festivalv
Mahmoud is a phenomenal live performer and one of my all time favorite voices, he played DC a cpl weeks ago, not sure if he has another show there. His west coast shows were cancelled due to travel issues may be recheduled(and yeah he played NYC 2 years ago as part Lincoln Center Outdoors, as I organized that show was a lil peeved when I saw the flyer)
― H in Addis, Friday, 17 September 2010 09:42 (ten years ago) link
Oooh by coincidence I'm going to be in NYC from 18th! You there, H, or are you literally "in Addis"?
― Daniel Giraffe, Friday, 17 September 2010 12:29 (ten years ago) link
literally in Addis
― H in Addis, Friday, 17 September 2010 13:07 (ten years ago) link
I'm actually arriving on Saturday evening, so there's every chance I'll be fast asleep by the time the concert starts. We'll see...
― Daniel Giraffe, Friday, 17 September 2010 13:48 (ten years ago) link
Awww man, I wish I knew about that M. Ahmed show in DC. DC has a huge Ethiopian population but, as I noted above, the shows only seem to be advertised via postcards in Ethiopian restaurants, an Ethiopian language newspaper available only at Ethiopian shops and restaurants, and there might be a one time a week AM radio show in Ahmaric. I love Ethiopian food, but if I don't go have it for a few weeks, I seem to miss out on events. H,' do you have any DC contacts who could keep me in the loop? When I found a postcard in January for a Teddy Afro show that month at the 6,000 seat DC Armory, and blogged about it for the City Paper it got linked to by several websites and got tons of comments from Ethiopians.
― curmudgeon, Friday, 17 September 2010 13:54 (ten years ago) link
hmm, there are a cpl mailing lists, will get back to you on best way to be up to date
speaking of Teddy, I am quite surprised by the few tracks that have heard from his upcoming album, was never a huge fan and thought the majority of his stuff was just watered down pop reggae but this is a much more rootsy approach, lots of traditional instruments, much more instruments period and less reliance on synths. actually really looking forward to hearing the whole thing
― H in Addis, Friday, 17 September 2010 15:23 (ten years ago) link
Thanks. Someday I need to familiarize myself with the DC Ethiopian musician community that perform at various Washington DC area restaurants and write about them in the paper/website.
― curmudgeon, Friday, 17 September 2010 15:28 (ten years ago) link
RIP Getatchew Mekurya
― wizzz! (amateurist), Monday, 4 April 2016 20:26 (four years ago) link
Some mentions of him here on this thread:
― curmudgeon, Monday, 4 April 2016 21:01 (four years ago) link
In 1984 , 4 Young Ethiopians in DC recorded an album that rearranged golden era sounds with their DC & elsewhere influences - highlife, disco, Brazilian Jazz, reggae. They added 80s synths and drum machines too
The album is now reissued
― curmudgeon, Friday, 11 September 2020 14:33 (one week ago) link
Oh, that’s my interview/ Article on them