Ethiopia in the popular mind is associated with the Amhara people, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the distinctive Ge'ez, or Ethiopic, script. In reality, the Oromo are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, though not a majority, and the Amhara come in second, with a multitude of other ethnic groups making up the remainder. While Orthodoxy is the largest religion, though not a majority, Muslims make up a third of the population and there are other versions of Christianity represented as well as traditional religions. In recent years the Oromo and other groups have begun to adopt the Latin alphabet.
Under Haile Selassie the non-Amhara ethnic groups were generally marginalized and excluded from any real power, and this practice continued, with some adjustments, under the "Marxist-Leninist" Derg regime, which took power in 1974 after Selassie's overthrow. The Derg itself was toppled in 1991 by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front, an alliance of four ethnically-based political parties. Notable among these was the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front from the northern, non-Amhara province of Tigray. At the same time the northern province of Eritrea acheived independence after a decades-long struggle. Ethiopia is now a federal republic, with no ostensible dominant nationality and each one technically having the right to self-determination, as outlined in the map at the top of this post.
Ironically, many Amhara are now complaining about marginalization. As well, in recent years there have been protests among the Oromo people against the proposed expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, which was established in the middle of Oromia but is separately administered. These and other "national" struggles have combined with demands for democratic rights and fair elections to create a rather unstable situation that the government has managed, so far, to keep under control.
Mahmoud Ahmed, for instance, is of Gurage ancestry, while Ali Mohammed Birra is a well-known Oromo singer who first recorded under Haile Selassie. Musicians from Eritrea like Tewelde Redda and Bereket Mengesteab have also been popular over the years.
Which brings us to today's musical offering, the cassette 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!! - "12 Different Songs of Ethnic Groups from Ambassäl!!," "Ambassäl" being the company that issued the cassette. This is a collection of "ethnic" (mainly non-Amharic) songs by various artists. It was released in the early '90s, just after the fall of the Derg, when things were beginning to loosen up in Ethiopia. Unfortunately the inlay card for the cassette is not very informative. The songs are not credited (although the artists are listed) and languages are not indicated.
Very little information is available (in the English language at least) about these musicians, but they're hardly obscure in Ethiopia - many have videos online, and I've linked to these when possible.
As usual concerning things Ethiopian I consulted Likembe's good friend Andreas Wetter, and he was able to sort things out - not only matching artists to songs but listing the languages (and specific dialects!) and transliterating the Ge'ez script into Latin orthography. Thanks, Andreas!
Habtimichael Demisse's two contributions here are the only ones in the Amharic language. Unfortunately he passed away on October 9 of last year following a car accident in Addis Ababa. In his long career he was responsible for many popular tunes like "Jano Megen."
Habtemichael Demisse - Wəb Aläm (Amharic)
The Gurage people hail from the southwestern corner of Ethiopia, although many now reside in Addis Ababa and other cities. Mohammed Awwel is one of the better-known Gurage musicians, and is not to be confused with another musician named Mohammed Awel Hamza, who specializes in Amharic-language Islamic chants called Manzuma. Here's a video by Mohammed Awwel highlighting the distinctive Gurage rhythm and dancing.
Mohammed Awwel - Yaret Mot Närä (Gurage)
Tigrinya-speaking people live in both the Ethiopian province of Tigray and in the now-independent nation of Eritrea. Tareke Tesfahiwot is a leading Eritrean musician and has been called "the Stevie Wonder of Eritrea," apparently because he is blind. There are many videos by him on YouTube, including this one.
Tareke Tesfahiwot - Anä Məsaxi Wäläləle (Tigrinya)
The Oromo people are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, constituting up to 40% of the population. They have historically chafed under the rule of the central government in Addis Ababa, this sentiment taking the form of protests in recent years. I've been unable to find out anything about Tsägaye Dändana on the internet, but he has many videos there, including this one.
Tsägaye Dändana - Yadäme Tole (Western Oromo)
"Achara" is in Dorze, which is spoken by a rather small ethnic group who live in the southwestern corner of Ethiopia:
Taddese Kebbede - Achara (Dorze)
"Aman Täsh" is in the Harari language, which according to Andreas, "... is the original language of the inhabitants of the old, walled city of Harar, the old Muslim city in the eastern highlands. Today, most Harari speakers live in Addis Ababa and the diaspora (California, I guess), i.e. they are a minority in Harar now...As far as I know, Bitew Worku seems to be from Eastern Ethiopia. Maybe he is Oromo, though the name is a little bit unusual because Oromo from Eastern Ethiopia are generally Muslims. But he always sings Oromo songs from Eastern Ethiopia, and Harari, which is a Semitic language, is also spoken in that area which supports the idea that he represents the eastern part and culture...." Here's a nice video by Bitew Worku.
Bitew Worku - Aman Täsh (Harari)
Habtemichael Demisse - Firmanna Wäräqät (Amhara)
Another Oromo tune by Tsägaye Dändana here, which is featured on YouTube under the title "Yaa Abaabbiyyo."
Tsägaye Dändana - Dibabe Kiyya (Shewa Oromo)
Another song by Tadesse Kebede, this one in the Sidamo language, which is spoken in southwestern Ethiopia:
Taddese Kebbede - Saro (Sidamo)
Tareke Tesfahiwot - Ǝlaloy (Tigrinya)
Mohammed Awwel - Yäshurbi Qänezhəyä (Gurage)
Bitew Worku - Mägale Tiyya (Eastern Oromo)
Download 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!! as a zipped file here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help.