Amharic Ethiopian Music 2024

Amharic Ethiopian Music 2024

Since most singers chose this time of year to release new albums or songs, Ethiopians have long looked forward to celebrating New Year’s. Compared to other times of the year, the festive New Year’s vibe is far more music-friendly. In the past, New Year’s Eve music performances at several of the town’s well-known theatre buildings were eagerly awaited occasions of the year. Subsequently, the quality of these New Year’s celebrations increased, and some of the biggest names in the world began to appear, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, Akon, Sean Paul, and R. Kelly. However, it’s also common for famous Ethiopian musicians living overseas to celebrate the Ethiopian New Year in person. Aster Awoke’s performance last year, Tewodros Tadesse’s homecoming, and the 2014 New Year’s Eve concert are just a few of the musical extravaganzas that have previously illuminated Addis Ababa on New Year’s Eve.

To put it mildly, things are a little different this year. The musical scene for the New Year has not been quite as exciting as it once was. However, neither the artists nor the music promoters did not do their hardest. A number of performances by some of the upcoming stars of Ethiopia’s modern music industry were planned for New Year’s Eve. But the audience’s reaction was as silent as it could be. Simply put, even at one of the most joyous periods of the year, people had little interest in attending concerts. In contrast to the general trend, a significant number of people chose not to purchase concert tickets. Some of them were able to launch a social media campaign against musical events that were in line with the nation’s political climate.

Normally adorned with images of blossoming yellow daisies, the Amharic phrase “adey abeba,” and holiday greetings, Facebook sites at this time of year were suddenly overflowing with photos and albums of musicians. However, the purpose was not to honor the musicians but rather to apply pressure on those who chose to schedule their musical performances at such a trying period. Performers who canceled their engagements received accolades, while those who didn’t receive criticism. This did not just happen in Ethiopia; it also happened in other locations where the Ethiopian population had enclaves. Ethiopians who were planning to record CDs or do performances in Europe, North America, and other places suddenly changed their minds.

This was a direct result of Ethiopia’s ongoing political unrest. Tragically, there have been losses in life and property as a consequence of the protests that erupted in the Oromia and Amhara Regional States. The goal of the social media campaign was to force artists to show consideration for bereaved families. Several singers promptly canceled their booked performances to support this social media initiative. Some even went so far as to post remarks on their Facebook and Twitter profiles to express their support for the cause. However, a tiny number of artists chose a different path and put out politically charged music.

As performers including Betty G., Abdu Kiar, Lij Michael, Madingo Afework, and Helen Berhe’s scheduled performances fell through, singers like Yihune Belay and Natty Man recorded new songs that were widely seen as being in line with the current protest. Yihune Belay is a well-known traditional Amharic singer whose song “Seken Bel,” which translates to “calm down,” became famous among the Ethiopian community on social media. This song is pro-protest, urging both the police and the government to pay attention to what the public is demanding. He begs security officers to cease firing at unarmed protesters because he vehemently condemns the death of demonstrators. The song goes a step further and urges that the government grant the people’s justifiable requests.

Another musician to release a tune called “Ahun Tenekahu” is Natty Man, a modern singer from Ethiopia (now I am irritated). He urges all Ethiopians to come together at this difficult time because he claims that when his people—Ethiopians—are injured, he too feels the agony.

In a similar vein, after a powerful social media effort, performances by international performers including Kevin Lyttle, Marlon Asher, Nyanda, and Ethiopian vocalists living in the United States like Abby Lakew were canceled. Among the short list of singers to record the track “25 Amet” (25 Years) was Fasil Demoz, another Ethiopian singer who is now residing overseas and is well-known for being an outspoken opponent of the governing Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The song calls for change and refers to the 25 years of EPRDF control. He shares, like the other singers, his sadness over the deaths and the way the government is managing the protest.

But throughout Ethiopia’s history, music has often served as a clear window into the political climate of the nation. Ethiopians have always used music as a means of expressing their suffering, their discontent, or their desire for a certain change. In Ethiopia, musicians have long been revolutionary instruments, using their craft to capture the precise mood of the populace and to criticize the government when necessary.

This profound link dates back thousands of years. Another proverb that says somewhat like this is “Samaria min ale? which translates to “What are the modern-day Azamri, solo performers who play the traditional instrument Masanko or sometimes Kirar, singing about?”. This proverb says a lot about how people see the place of music and musicians (Azmaris) in society. One might fairly get some insight into some of the hot-button social topics of the day by just asking the Azmari what they are singing about. The Azmari are renowned for bringing up significant political and economic concerns for the populace. It’s stated that to determine how the public felt about their leadership, government representatives used to inquire about to find out what Azmaris had to say. It seems that not much has changed in this area. Music still has the power to reflect people’s moods.

Not only music but art in general, may be seen as a reflecting mirror of the political climate of the nation under various governments. In Ethiopian music, politics has always been a major subject. Throughout Ethiopia’s lengthy history, music has been instrumental in igniting several revolutions and bringing people together to protest for or against various causes. People were inspired to join resistance activities and the battlefield by music to oppose foreign powers. Ethiopians were encouraged to take up weapons by the traditional war humours Kererto, Fukera, and Shilela in response to the fascist Italian invasion. Acknowledging their part, the Italians went after Azmaris out of concern that they might inspire the populace to rebel against them.

Lyricists and songwriters have also been largely responsible for numerous songs that cry out against injustice in recent years. Most musicians use their musical creations to teach harmony and peace. But it would be incorrect to assume that none of them had any repercussions. Although artists are sometimes praised for their political contributions, there have also been instances when their activity has resulted in their imprisonment, forced immigration, or even their death.

Tesfaye Abebe, often known as Father, is a lyricist and theatrical director. He attests to the fact that Ethiopian artists experienced discrimination because of the political themes in their creative works. Politics and music, he predicts, “will always be at odds.” He claims that Ethiopians have responded to politically charged music throughout its history using the same script. Songs that the public exalts but which governments see as a danger to the political system are always subject to attempts at suppression.

Songs that glorified Emperor Haile-Selassie I were the only ones that were permitted under his rule. Tesfaye recalls that songs critical of the dictatorship were unable to pass the strict censorship system. Songs meant to pique public interest were discouraged, whether they were performed by the Imperial Body Guard Band, the Ground Forces Band, or the Police Band. Even when utilizing wax and gold expressions—a kind of poetry that uses coded and subliminal language—artists had little hope of fooling the supervisors since they had a thorough comprehension of literature, he says.

Even with comparatively improved control during the military Derg rule, artists were still being watched. Patriotic songs and those supporting the socialist regime were encouraged. Regarding the EPRDF period, he claims that although if censorship is illegal, it nonetheless occurs and negatively impacts artists. “Although every person is guaranteed the right to free expression by the constitution, musicians are often subject to censorship on the grounds of artistic evaluation. However, Tesfaye believes that certain performers can see beyond the filters and dare to question the system.

In his view, the government would be better served by taking some significant ideas from artists who criticize the system rather than threatening them. One may readily discern people’s emotions from music since it is undoubtedly the art form that most closely reflects the hearts of the listeners. Tesfaye is especially proud of his works because they capture the suffering of the people, even though he has been detained several times because of the songs and plays he has written.

He remembers one particular episode from the 1960s. He composed a song against the poor pay of public employees, but higher-ups told him to alter the words. After that, he decided to revise the lyrics and offer them to Alemayehu Eshete, a musician well-known for his politically charged music. Tesfaye was scheduled to emcee the event, while Alemayehu was scheduled to sing the song for the police force. While he and Alemayehu had planned to sing the original song and lyrics, he began the song with the altered lyrics. The whole audience of the nation’s police force was astonished by the song’s content once Alemayehu took the stage and began singing the song’s forbidden version. But the government representatives in attendance were enraged. Tesfaye served three months in prison after being arrested right away. We used art to challenge the system, and this is how it ought to be. Music must triumph over government, he says.

Timkehet Teffera (Ph.D.), a musicologist, observed that the music of that era was primarily anti-feudal and anti-imperialist, criticizing the country’s mass oppression, corruption, inhumanity, and ethnic segregation. Teffera’s research focused on the role of political songs between 1974 and 1991. Music played a key role in the class struggle and nationalistic promotion throughout the Derg era.

Then anti-Derg revolutionary songs started to appear, and things started to shift. Timkehet tells us that the government intended to utilize music for its own goal and its purpose solely. “Artists began speaking out against the dictatorship. She says, “Musicians risked death, torture, and incarceration. Singers like Tilahun Gessesse, Bizunesh Bekele, Alemayehu Eshete, Tamirat Molla, and Mahmud Ahmed were commanded to visit the battlefront and inspire the soldiers during the Ethiopian-Somalian conflict.

Insurgencies also included music, which contributed to the growth of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). According to Timkehet, a major factor in the revolutionary zeal was the many resistance songs sung by rebel musicians. Artistically opposing the dictatorship were singers like Gebretsadik Woldeyohannes and Kiros Alemayehu. These songs were sung in Oromiffa and Tigrigna, among other languages.

Even when the EPRDF took control, resistance music persisted—albeit in different forms. Early EPRDF members included notable Oromiffa singers like Ilfenesh Qanno, Umar Usmayo, and Ali Birra. These days, it’s also common knowledge that young vocalists like Challa Butume and Hawi Tezera strongly oppose the ruling party. However, several singers who support the government have put out songs endorsing massive government undertakings like the Grand Renaissance Dam.

Politically charged songs are often presented in a wax and gold style, but according to Dawit Yifru, president of the Ethiopian Musicians Association, music arranger, and pianist, they transcend time. He says that music written for one particular period often works well for other eras as well. But he thinks that since artists are increasingly focused on getting money, these kinds of songs are becoming less popular. When commercial songs become more popular than others, music’s influence on politics begins to wane. He bemoans the lack of music representing people’s opinions these days. He accuses modern music of lacking substance when compared to music from bygone eras.

He believes that the few singers who speak out against contemporary social, political, and economic concerns are stigmatized as party loyalists. However, Dawit feels that this shouldn’t be the case and that artists should be allowed to freely express their opinions. He contends that artists ought to be given an unconstrained forum free from public or governmental judgment.

Regarding limitations, Oslo University professor Kristin Skare Orgeret (PhD) said in her piece titled “When Will the Daybreak Come? Teddy Afro’s Ja Yasteserial (He/Jah Forgives) was included in “Popular Music and Political Processes in Ethiopia,” after the contentious 2005 elections. She said that even if the song was not outright prohibited, the government nonetheless prevented it from airing on state-run media. Kristin observed that despite changes in government, the music at the time seemed to capture the discontent of the populace about the lack of significant change in Ethiopia. According to her, resistance songs are repressed everywhere under the pretense of posing a “threat to national security.”

“Such songs clearly show the public’s appetite for music that voices alternative stories,” the speaker claims, arguing that the limitation alone fosters the public’s interest in the songs. This emphasizes that, despite impediments, ideas may find new forums and routes and not necessarily be killed by oppressive political forms.

Numerous artists have left Ethiopia after having disagreements with various governments. Following the government transition, some people have returned, while others have chosen to stay elsewhere. Artists who leave Ethiopia are more likely to release politically inflammatory music. Among the numerous such vocalists are Teshome Wolde, Shambel Belayneh, and Fasil Demoz. It is reasonable to state that among the things that bring the Ethiopian community abroad together is music.

The presenter of the Mahlet Radio Show, Mahteme Haile, is well-known for his musical analysis and claims that self-censorship is now the largest obstacle confronting the music business. “Because they self-censor, our artists are not involved in representing the feelings of the people. Too many people are scared to cross the queue. He says, “This may be the outcome of earlier instances in which artists were penalized for their ideological leanings.

He noted that a lot of singers these days would rather avoid talking politics. When someone does discuss politics, it’s not because of the content of their song; rather, it’s because of their actual or perceived political membership. Additionally, he contends that artists worry about offending someone while bringing up a certain topic. “Music needs to be freely available. The government and the music industry are both components of society. Therefore, Mahteme argues, artists must represent society’s viewpoints.

The Yared Music School thesis of Simeneh Betreyohannes examines Ethiopian music of the 20th century in light of greater historical, social, and political developments. He explains how the music reflects the political climate of various eras. Ethiopian musical traditions have always been closely associated with politics, making them a valuable resource for comprehending the dynamics between the state and society. He says, “The intricate acoustic, lyrical, and psychological aspects of music may be used to explain its power.

The thesis contrasts the revolutionary goals of musicians with the state’s desire to use music as a tool. Even as artists operating under various regimes attempted to expose injustice and poor governance, governments have been attempting to regulate the music industry. Regardless of the state’s divergent interests, music continued to rouse society, according to Simeneh.

Songs like Telela Kebede’s groundbreaking hit from the 1970s, “Lomi Tera Tera,” are still valued today. Melodies such as “Tew Simagn Hagere” (O listen my country) evoke memories of the 1960s student movement. Love song lyrics have often been utilized by lyricists to express political unrest. Tilahun Gessesee’s well-known song “Almazin Ayche” (Looking at Almaz) is a great illustration of this.

Politically charged songs have long been popular in theatres like the Ethiopian National Theatre, Ras Theatre, and Hager Fikir Theatre. Using their creative works, the Kinet, a youth musical group that gained popularity during the Derg period, also fulfilled a similar function. Another way to look at it is that the music industry has benefited and suffered from changes in the political structure.

Ethiopia is not an exception when it comes to utilizing art to voice dissatisfaction with injustice, corruption, cruel treatment of people, and wrongdoing by the government. In a similar vein, music was employed by several African nations to resist colonization. One might mention South Africa’s experience fighting Apartheid. Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and several others used music as a tool for resistance.

In the 1950s and 1960s, music played a crucial role in the African American Civil Rights Movement. Black voices were crushed by songs against racial injustice and segregation, such as Sam Cook’s “Change Gonna Come” and Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” Bob Marley became a global icon due to his musical struggles. His children and grandkids, who are also musicians, have carried on his liberal philosophy of freedom for everyone.

However, there is a cost associated with all of this. Like artists in other nations, Ethiopian musicians have illuminated the political landscape of their own country. However, they took a significant personal risk by doing so.

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