Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tigrinya Sounds



Here's an appropriate followup to our last post of Ethiopian "ethnic" music: 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät ("Three Famous Tigrinya Singers Together"), a compilation of musicians from the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The date on the inlay card is 1985, but that's from the Ethiopian calendar. I'm guessing that would put it around 1992 or 1993, shortly after the fall of the the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and (possibly) before the independence of Eritrea in 1993.

Although they were sundered by those events, Tigrinya-speaking people live on both sides of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, comprsing an estimated 55% of the population in Eritrea and 97% of the Tigray region of Ethiopia. I've written before about Tigrinya music. It's apparent from even a casual listening that it's quite different from the better-known Amharic-language music of the Ethiopian highlands, with a more insistent rhythm and greater use of the krar, a five-or-six-striged lyre. In recent years the krar has even been electrified, as demonstrated to great effect in this cassette.

Two of the artists here, Kiros Alämayahu and Bahta Gebre-Hiwot, were pioneers of Tigrinya music.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Kiros Alämayahu was a prolific singer and composer who was born in Saesi Tsaedaemba woreda (county), Tigray province in 1948. In 1982-83 he joined the Ras Theater in Addis Ababa, recording his first album around the same time. Again according to Wikipedia, he died of "intestinal complications" in 1994, but another, questionable, source attributes his death to poisoning by agents of the ruling EPRDF party. As in everything learned via the internet, caveat emptor.

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot was one of the outstanding composers, singers and stars of the "Golden Age" of Ethiopian music, amply documented in the Éthiopiques series. Born in 1943 in Adigrat, Tigray province, in 1961 he was recruited by the famous Ras Hotel Band in Addis along with Girma Bayene. After a number of recordings in the sixties, working with such luminaries as Mulatu Astatke, in 1972 he abruptly quit the music scene to become an accountant. But here he is twenty years later, bigger and better than ever!


What's notable about these and other recent recordings by Bahta Gebre-Hiwot is their enthusiastic embrace of Tigrayan aesthetics as opposed to his more sedate recordings of the Sixties, which were often in Amharic. In fact, the contrast is so great that I suspected at first that the producers of the cassette had him confused with another Tigrayan star, Hagos Gebrehiwot. But apparently not. This may be a reflection of the political and cultural upheaval brought about by the collapse of the Derg government in 1991. Keep in mind that this revolution was led by groups that had been sidelined under previous regimes, notably but not exclusively the Tigray people of  northern Ethiopia. Now, on paper at least, all nationalities in Ethiopia are equal. It may not be comfortable for all, but the new order has indeed created a situation where previously-marginalized groups feel more free to express themselves. There has been a backlash against "Tigray domination" in Ethiopia, but in spite of this Tigrinya music is quite popular all over the country.

I've been unable to find out anything about the third musician here, Tadesse Abreha, nicknamed "Wadi Koxäb," although he's well represented on YouTube.

Kiros Alämayahu - Tä'agas

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ruba'aday

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Hayat Tawärewaray


Kiros Alämayahu - Hezenzen 

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Shemad Be'eray

Kiros Alämayahu - Nä'anado Lamerä

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Täbärabäre Hezebay

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ayetegeray 'Ened

Kiros Alämayahu - Gado 

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Nefus Shäshame

Unknown - Bonus Instrumental Track


Download 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help with this post.


4 comments:

Matthew Lavoie said...

Thanks for this one John. Really nice. I listened to it this afternoon. I always have a moment of deja vu when listening to Tigrinya music. I get the strange sensation that at times I could be listening to Berber music from the Souss valley of Southern Morocco. There are some many rhtyhmic and melodic similarities.

John B. said...

Yes, Matt, I think so too. Do you think it's because of similar scales/tunings? I don't know enough about musical theory to say myself.

glinka21 said...

Thanks, John! As usual, the accompanying information really helps greatly.

Matthew Lavoie said...

Hi John. I think there are some scalar similarities--they are both roughly pentatonic musics. But beyond that there is something about the feel and the rhythm of both of the musics that I have always found eerily similar. Interestingly, over the last ten years i have started to hear Ethiopian music playing in Francophone West Africa and occasionally in Morocco.