Showing posts with label Tigrinya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tigrinya. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Twelve "Ethnic" Songs from Ethiopia

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.

Over the years various non-Amhara musicians have acheived fame in Ethiopia. The famous singer 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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scooped Again!

As you may know, I've periodically been posting classic and hard-to-find music from Ethiopia here. For some time, I've wanted to make available Lebäy (Toteel Music), a 1984 cassette by Eritrean musical legend Bereket Mengisteab (and yes, Eritrea is now an independent country, but in 1984 it was part of Ethiopia, so technically it qualifies). This is the only recording by Bereket that I possess, and I've long wondered about this enigmatic singer.

Once again, I've been scooped by one of my fellow bloggers, as Matthew Lavoie of Voice of America's African Music Treasures devotes his latest post
to this iconic musician. With his usual meticulous attention to detail, Matthew supplies a wealth of background information on his subject, having interviewed the great maestro personally in the VOA studios. There's nothing more I can add, but here's a small taste:.

. . .Bereket Mengisteab was born in 1938 in the small village of Hazega, located about eighteen miles north of the Eritrean capital of Asmara, and this is where he spent the first two decades of his life farming. During these years in Hazega, Bereket taught himself the Krar (a five stringed lyre) and honed his musical skills, participating in all of the musical rituals that punctuate rural life. Then, after spending a few years in Asmara (which was part of Ethiopia at the time), Bereket moved to Addis Abeba in 1961. And it was in Addis that Bereket made his stage debut, as a member of the Haile Selassie Theater Orchestra; during the previous year he spent in Asmara he never performed outside of his circle of friends. Bereket stayed with the Haile Selassie Theater Orchestra for a little over a decade, performing with the group throughout Ethiopia, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal (at the 1966 Festival mondial des Arts Nègres), and in Mexico (at the 1968 Summer Olympics). During these years he also made his first recordings, nine singles for the Philips label (I don't know the exact dates and have not been able to find any of these singles). . .

Francis Falceto writes, in the liner notes of his excellent compilation Ethiopiques 5: Tigrigna music Tigray/Eritrea 1970-1975 (Buda Musique 82965-2):

. . . Tigrigna music, dominent in Tigray [province] and Eritrea, is quite distinct, both rhythmically and melodically, from "Ethiopian" music, although both share the so-called "pentatonic" (or five-note) scale. The instruments and the traditional musical practices are similar, while their names may vary. The massenqo (single-corded fiddle played with a bow) and especially the krar (a six-corded lyre) remain the most prevalent instruments. In Tigrigna country, the massenqo is more commonly termed tchèrewata and the same wandering minstrel that Ethiopians of the central highlands call azmari is better known here as a wata. Ethiopians call the lepers and beggars who sing at dawn lalibèla: here they are termed hamien or arho. Sometimes the krar is even called massenqo. In a notable development over the last few decades, many Eritrean musicians have encouraged the spread of the electric krar, used here widely (far more than in Ethiopia), and many excel at the instrument. . .
Of course, you need to read Matthew's post and enjoy the musical samples he provides. For those who want more, here's Lebäy, in all of its wild, wailing wah-wahed-out glory:

"Lebäy" means "my heart." It can alternately mean "my emotions":

Bereket Mengisteab - Lebäy

"Wind of the Desert":

Bereket Mengisteab - Nefas nay Bäräkha

"Wäzzamu" = "handsome":

Bereket Mengisteab - Wäzzamu

The title of this song means "wicked flute." He is scolding the flute, probably because her sound evokes bad memories:

Bereket Mengisteab - Täkkalit Shanbeqo

A comb made of ebony, worn as adornment:

Bereket Mengisteab - Zebbä Mästära

Part of a proverb, the title of this song means "restless hyena":

Bereket Mengisteab - Hewwekh Zeb’i

"His Horse":

Bereket Mengisteab - Färäsu

"Utter Darkness":

Bereket Mengisteab - Deqdeq S’elmat

Many many thanks to Andreas Wetter for transliterating and translating the song titles. Andreas has recently started his own weblog,
Kezira, devoted to music from the Horn of Africa. Of course, it's highly recommended.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Ethiopian Songstress

If you're a fan of Aster Aweke or Kuku Sebsebe, you'll no doubt enjoy this cassette by Ethiopian vocalist Martha Ashagari.

Ärä Bakeh (Ambassel Music Shop) was released in 1993 shortly after the fall of the Derg, but Ashagari has been singing professionally since 1988 with the Abyssinia and Roha Bands, and during the '90s had her own nightclub in Addis Ababa. In 1996 she recorded the CD Child's Love/Ye-Lij Fiker, which is available online from AIT Records (I included a tune from it on my compilation African Divas Vol. 2).

Ashagari is notable for her unique vocal tone, somewhere between a sob and a wail. Side 1 of
Ärä Bakəh typifies the '80s-'90s Ethiopian style, but Martha really hits her stride with side 2 of the cassette, especially the emotional ballads "Zoma" and "Ende Näh" and the Tigrinya song "Sälam Bäluläy."

Martha Ashagari -
Ärä Bakeh

Martha Ashagari -
Feqer Näw

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -
Bämen Yedanyal

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -

Martha Ashagari -
Zoma (Yäbati lej)

Martha Ashagari -
Endäzzihəm Allä

Martha Ashagari - E
nde Näh

Martha Ashagari -
Sälam Bäluläy (Tigrinya)

Ärä Bakeh as a zipped file here. As usual, I'm including a scan of the original cassette inlay card if someone would care to correct my transliteration of the Ge'ez text (click to enlarge):

Update: Thanks to Andreas Wetter for his correction of my transliteration.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Mystery Tape

Note: This post was updated and revised on July 29, 2008 and on September 19, 2009.

I wrote this on June 15, 2008:

Here's another "mystery cassette" that I was given many years ago by a friend. All I know about it is that is supposedly by the great Ethiopian singer Alèmayèhu Eshèté and the title is Amronyali or something similar. I was told that Track 2 was "Amronyali," and I was able to identify Track 5 as "Che Belew," an old standard about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. As there was no inlay card for the cassette or even a label I can't tell you anything about the songs, when they were recorded, or even confirm that the artist is Alèmayèhu Eshèté. The sparse arrangements (synthesizer & drum machine, usually the bane of my existence) are more than compensated for by the quality of the vocals. The title track in particular is just spine-chilling!

Alèmayèhu Eshèté has been called "Ethiopia's Elvis" or "The James Brown of Ethiopia" for his musical style and manner of dress. He's been on the scene since the mid-1950s, when he revealed a talent for imitating the singers Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. In 1956 he joined the Police Orchestra in Addis Abeba, and from 1961 onward has formed numerous bands and recorded uncounted songs that have become popular standards.

During the "Derg Years"
Eshèté seemed to drop out of sight. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that he had become a "born-again Christian" and was living in exile in Washington, DC. However, with political changes in Ethiopia he reemerged and recorded a new CD, Addis Ababa (Shanachie Records 64045, 1992). In 1998 AIT Records released The Best of Alèmayèhu Eshèté (AIT 013), featuring re-recorded versions of his hits. Most excitingly, his original classic recordings are now becoming available again through the Ethiopiques series.

If anyone can tell us more about this recording, or what the song titles are, please comment, and I will update this post accordingly.
Thanks to reader/listener "Ethio Jazz" I can report that this recording is not by Alèmayèhu Eshèté, but by Wubeshet Fisseha (picture at top of post). Ethio also writes: ". . . he is on Keyboard as well. This was probably recorded in the mid to latter '8o's in Washington, DC. Sadly, Wubeshet passed away in 1997." I can confirm that this tape was made in 1985 or earlier, as it was given to me in summer of that year. I've been unable to find any information about Wubeshet Fisseha, but I will keep trying.

I have changed the track titles to reflect the new information Ethio Jazz has given us. Tracks 3 and 4 are in Orimiffa and Tigrinya respectively. The other tracks are in Amharinya. A warning about the song "Shemunmunaye": At several points (4:55, 9:36, 15:30 and 16:10) the sound drops out. The defect is on the original cassette, not in your internet connection!

Wubeshet Fisseha - Abesha Nat

Wubeshet Fisseha - Shemunmunaye

Wubeshet Fisseha - Hali Meru Meru

Wubeshet Fisseha - Kab Semay Fiqri

Wubeshet Fisseha - Che Belew

Wubeshet Fisseha - Belashew