Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yemane Barya - The Legend [2cd] [2003] [eritrea]

Yemane Barya - track 1

Yemane Barya: The Eritrean Griot
by Asennai Musye

How do you write about passion, love, revolution, flawless poignancy, inexhaustible hope and painful yearning for freedom? How do you capture the heartbeats of millions and channel it through your soul and into the world? How do you become both timeliness and timelessness itself? As for the answers to these questions, I simply don’t know. The challenge I faced the moment I began writing this article, however, has more to do with this question: how do you write about the person who captured all of these complex elements during his short stay on this earth?

How do you write about Yemane Barya, the prolific Eritrean griot?

Addressing these questions will only create a series of articles I won’t dare venture into at the moment. Neither will I navigate this piece to capture all that is Yemane. I will, instead, bow out of the challenge and resort to writing not about the phenomenon but about some of the elements of the phenomenon we have come to know and love as Yemane Barya.

Love, depth, poignancy, inexhaustible hope, painful yearning for freedom are some of the most common residents of his soul. As gracious of a host he was to these residents, he was never hesitant to put these very residents to work. With the sighs of anguish of millions of Eritreans as his tank of oxygen, Yemane dove into the oceanic depths of his own soul to search for the words and the melodies that would capture it all. When he emerged, he shared his discovery not with a triumphant voice that boasts of his talent but of the strong, beautiful and painful familiarity he accrued from his journey inward. The familiarity about the reality looming outside and around. What one hears when Yemane oozes out of the speakers is the sound of sincere nativity that is birthed when the struggle of the human spirit impregnates a sincere voice.

        During an interview in the early 1990s, when a journalist asked him where he gets his heartfelt lyricism from, Yemane replied, “The source of my lyricism is based on the conversations I have with people. It’s from the depth of these conversations that I get and arrange it all. I could write something complex but if the common man cannot understand what you are saying, then it is almost as if you haven’t written it at all”. His understanding of the human nature, namely, the desire to be felt and spoken to directly, helped shape the heartfelt messages he conveyed through his music.

“Yemane eloquently captures tragedy. He has a voice that reflects the oppression and wrongdoings unleashed on the masses,” once remarked the legendary musician Berekhet Mengisteab who characterized Yemane’s passing as a loss of unimaginable proportions. Yes, Yemane was the people and the people are Yemane.

On January 21st, 1949, the revolution that dared to be broadcasted arrived as a bundle of joy to Mr. Gebremichael Bisirat and Mrs. Azeb Gebrehiwet. Yes, this date marked the birth of the Eritrean griot whose revolutionary and defiant music would force him to flee his beloved Asmara 26 years later. Yemane’s interest in poetry began to bubble into the surface when he was in 7th grade at Camboni School. Soon after, his interests expanded into music and theatre. As time progressed, Yemane found himself gravitating into the world of performing arts; to the dismay and relentless opposition of his parents. Completely overtaken by the passion that gave him the power to defy his parents insistence that he should solely focus on his studies at Kidisti Mariam, Yemane would eventually drop out of school when he was only in the 9th grade. Although Yemane was an excellent student, he simply could not resist his true calling. With his heartfelt approach to his passion for music and his knack for moving lyricism, Yemane soon began to grip the imagination of the youth in Asmera.

Yemane’s passion was growing against the backdrop of hectic political unrest in an Eritrea that was gripped by the feudalist system of Emperor Haile Selassie. Any vocal opposition against the regime’s annexation of Eritrea resulted in dire consequences and any Eritrean voice was closely monitored and heavily censored. It seemed inevitable then that the combination of youthful vigor and strong commitment to the rights of Eritreans would soon bring trouble to Yemane. The very first song Yemane wrote, entitled “Lula” landed him in prison. The song’s content -about a man whose soul mate was snatched by a cruel intruder- was considered to be a veiled political message addressing the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia. Here is a translated verse from the song “Lula”:

Harmoniously and in love/she once lived with me A certain someone has taken her/and trouble has befallen me He forcefully invaded her sending his subjects She was once with me but now he has taken her to his country How dare he snatch her away from me How cruel he is/to poke my eyes out like this

The practice of veiling a political message as a romantic song was and has been a common practice by some Eritrean singers. I believe this practice speaks for both the love many Eritreans have for their country and the level of danger they are willing to take to speak on behalf of the oppressed and the voiceless. Inevitably, fearing the consequences of the revolution they carried out with their musical talents, many singers have left their beloved nation and people for a life in exile.

The Eritrean judge, who was deeply concerned about the possibility that Yemane could face death for his lyrics, prolonged the case to buy time. Fortunately for Yemane and, in retrospect, for the people of Eritrea, his case was dismissed when Haile Selassie’s regime was unseated by Derg. Taking advantage of this chaotic time of transition, Yemane Barya did what he always wanted to do but couldn’t (for fear of endangering the lives of the people who bailed him out when he was jailed); and joined the Eritrean revolution. In 1975, Yemane joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and underwent 3 months of military training. During his time, since there was no electricity in the base, Yemane was performing without a microphone. He later left for Sudan and then to Saudi Arabia; where he continued his revolution through his wonderful deeds and music.

Yemane’s inexhaustible kindness, generosity and love for his people is not something that is merely to be pointed out with simple references to his powerful music. He was a man who walked his talk. While in Sudan, he aided hundreds of Eritrean refugees cross over into Saudi, Europe, the US etc. where they were able to make better lives for themselves. “His generosity knew no boundaries!” says his mother Mrs. Azeb Gebrehiwet, recalling the time when she visited him in Sudan. “He had a sack full of sugar outside his door and a tea kettle with some cups. All who came to his house didn’t have to be asked if they would like some tea, they felt so much at home that they would simply go ahead and make tea as much as they please.” Concerned that her son’s generosity was bordering foolishness during such a difficult time when sugar was as scarce and as expensive of a commodity as everything else was , his mother thoughtfully advised Yemane’s wife to at least put the sugar inside the house. His wife replied matter of factly, “Aye adey! He will simply buy another sack and put it out there again.” Yemane was not a man of wealth, but he shared the little he had with his people. There are several Eritreans who would recount about how Yemane personally helped them get to where they are now. Yemane knew all it took to help his fellow men was nothing more than the will to do so.

Even after independence, Yemane never ceased to be the man who stood for the voiceless and the poor. His sister, Ms. Asefash G/Michael recalls the time when Yemane, disturbed by the economic hardships the poor faced, asked, “When will this people see a better time?”. Curious, she inquired why he asked such a question. He replied, “How great it would be if the poor and the wealthy could exchange places only for one day! Each would see and understand the other’s reality. It breaks my heart when the poor and the wealthy pass away without tasting each other’s poverty and wealth.”

While the Sudanese, recognizing the extent of his love for his people, affectionately called him “The Ambassador”, Abo dikha or “The Father of the poor ones” was the title his fellow countrymen gave him. After the Eritrean independence afforded him the opportunity to finally return to his beloved Eritrea, Yemane continued his philanthropic deeds by engaging in countless shows to fundraise for the Eritrean tegadeltis who lost their limbs during the revolution. Off the stage, he was the father figure for many mentally challenged youth who were treated as outcasts by many members of the society. When this powerful griot and champion of love finally left his earthly existence in 1997, the heavy grief felt by the thousands who came to bid him farewell was further accented by the heart shuttering cries of the poor and forgotten who called Yemane, their father.

On the same day of his death, Yemane Barya was slated to start recording a compilation album with some other notable artists. In addition to planning the remixing of his music in various languages, he was also preparing to tour abroad. It is painful to lose someone as inspirational and talented as Yemane was, but the lives of revolutionaries are hardly lengthy. I suspect there’s a lesson in this fact that just may be as powerful as the lesson in the purpose they serve. When he departed, the man who lent the veins of his heart to Eritrea so that she can strum on them as if they were the strings of kirar was only forty eight years old. Yemane was a half-century old revolution that lives on even today.

I was playing the legend’s tunes as I began to write this piece. Although appreciative of the acoustic clarity affording me the opportunity to appreciate the sounds of the artist who inspires me beyond description, there was something constraining and unholy about putting Yemane’s music in my plastic, artificial and distanced ipod. It almost felt as if I was defiling his timeless and pure voice, and I somehow drifted into the past when I used to listen to Yemane’s purposely unmarked tapes.

During the Derg’s era, it was dangerous to get caught with his tape in hand. However, something in his music and his words awoke a certain rebellion spirit, no matter how timid, quiet and tamed. His tapes were dubbed and passed among my friends so many times that the string would often break. I knew that my mother would go crazy if she found out what happened to those tapes, so I used to glue those strings back up using her nail polish. It was quite amusing to witness her become puzzled about how fast the beat went from a single tempo to derb, skipping all of the noticeable substance in between. Anyway, I was lucky enough to appreciate Yemane Barya’s music the way I did and the way I still do. I could hear what he is saying and what he meant because it is sang in the language I know very well. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but ask myself a question I already knew the answer to: why do the young Eritreans in the Diaspora whose Tigrigna vocabulary doesn’t go past the basics, love Yemane Barya’s music? The answer is obvious, he speaks to and with their souls. No translation is needed. His voice tells it all and wordlessly they nod back saying, we get you Yemane.

May our powerful griot rest in peace. May we recognize, nurture and love our future griots; the griots who speak for the voiceless, for the downtrodden, for those deprived of justice and their God given rights!

Legends are destined, not made. Purpose is sought after, not relayed.

Rest in peace Yemane Barya.

   cd  1   

01 - Yemane Barya - Elamana (7:39)
02 - Yemane Barya - Dekesmara (6:20)
03 - Yemane Barya - Meriruna Sidet (7:18)
04 - Yemane Barya - Bukhriie Ayney (6:33)
05 - Yemane Barya - Melekhti Harbegna (13:45)
06 - Yemane Barya - Ketekelyu Emababa (8:16)
07 - Yemane Barya - Men Kewdadera (22:05)

   cd  2   

01 - Yemane Barya - Girma Zasela (5:44)
02 - Yemane Barya - Wegiha (6:50)
03 - Yemane Barya - Hadish Miraf (7:43)
04 - Yemane Barya - Tsnaat (8:03)
05 - Yemane Barya - Ztsenheyu sdet (6:51)
06 - Yemane Barya - Damika werhi (8:14)
07 - Yemane Barya - Ethiopia (6:33)
08 - Yemane Barya - Ekieloye (6:20)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Elias Tebabel - Tidar [1999] - [ethiopia]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

       The legendary Elias Tebabel was born and raised in Gondar, Ethiopia, and currently residing in Washington DC, USA.

01. Elias Tebabel - Tidar (5:59)
02. Elias Tebabel - Tewdage (7:25)
03. Elias Tebabel - Mamaye (6:35)
04. Elias Tebabel - Ye Gondar Lij (4:16)
05. Elias Tebabel - Degenga (6:46)
06. Elias Tebabel - Kanchi Wodiya (6:07)
07. Elias Tebabel - Borena (4:31)
08. Elias Tebabel - Behager Yelem Keld (6:43)
09. Elias Tebabel - Ye Habesha Set (6:15)
10. Elias Tebabel - Ze Neged Konjo (5:53)

Abraham Gebremedhin - self-titled [2013] [ethiopia]

Abraham Gebremedhin - Kokob Semay 

       Abraham Gebremedhin traces back his roots to Tigray, northern region of Ethiopia. His first album brought him so much recognition not only among Ethiopians but also among Tigrigna speaking Eritreans. 

His most popular work include "Megbey" and "Zebib", among others.

01 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Zebib (5:56)
02 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Yibasacho aloku (6:46)
03 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Wezbi (6:35)
04 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Tedebesi (5:14)
05 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Mesanytey (6:17)
06 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Megbey (5:20)
07 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Lebewa (5:06)
08 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Kokeb Maedo (5:17)
09 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Kms bel (5:37)
10 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Hanqewta (5:29)
11 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Habeney (5:41)
12 - Abraham Gebremedhin - Gual Hagerey (5:21)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Girma Yifrashewa - Love & Peace [2014] [ethiopia]

The best Ethiopian pianist Girma Yifrashewa

Girma Yifrashewa extended biography and additional info > find here !

01 - Girma Yifrashewa - The Shepherd with the Flute (6:48)
02 - Girma Yifrashewa - Chewata (8:44)
03 - Girma Yifrashewa - Elilta (6:47)
04 - Girma Yifrashewa - Sememen (9:21)
05 - Girma Yifrashewa - Ambassel (8:55)

"a rare and fascinating example of aesthetic adaptation and convergence" - The New York Times

"Gorgeous solo piano studies from Ethiopia... along with a meditative take on jazz that recalls George Winston" - Uncut Magazine

"On his first US release, Love & Peace (Unseen Worlds), Yifrashewa comes off as a fluid hybrid of Erik Satie, Vince Guaraldi, and Matthew Shipp at his most restrained. The performances are tonally rich and subdued, with Yifrashewa's folksy melodies given alternating emphasis—grandiloquent and hushed." - Chicago Reader

"The newest release on Unseen Worlds is a breathtaking collection of solo piano pieces by Ethiopian composer Girma Yifrashewa, who crafts a unique blend of hauntingly melodic works that recall Erik Satie, Keith Jarrett, and Debussy, but filtered through the Ethiopian pentatonic scale, tipping its hat toward the worlds of both jazz and classical music simultaneously. Easily one of the year's most engrossing classical/ambient works, this is vital music by an incredibly gifted composer and musician. Absolute highest recommendation." - Other Music

"A thoroughly engaging set of five solo piano settings ... Adding to the recording's appeal, each of the pieces conveys a satisfying sense of completeness, and to his credit, Yifrashewa consistently opts for emotional directness" - Textura

Friday, January 23, 2015

v.a. - Music of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church [2007]

New Ethiopian orthodox mezmur

       Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia. Headquarters are in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital.

       Ethiopia was Christianized in the 4th century ce by two brothers from Tyre—St. Frumentius, later consecrated the first Ethiopian bishop, and Aedesius. They won the confidence of King Ezana at Aksum (a powerful kingdom in northern Ethiopia) and were allowed to evangelize. Toward the end of the 5th century, nine monks from Syria are said to have brought monasticism to Ethiopia and encouraged the translation of the Scriptures into the Geʿez language.

       The Ethiopian church followed the Coptic (Egyptian) church (now called the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria) in rejecting the Christological decision issued by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 ce that the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ were equally present in one person without commingling. Opposed to this dyophysitism, or two-nature doctrine, the Coptic and Ethiopian churches held that the human and divine natures were equally present through the mystery of the Incarnation within a single nature. This position—called miaphysitism, or single-nature doctrine—was interpreted by the Roman and Greek churches as a heresy called monophysitism, the belief that Christ had only one nature, which was divine. The Ethiopian church included into its name the word tewahedo, a Geʿez word meaning unity and expressing the churchs miaphysite belief. Like other so-called non-Chalcedonian (also referred to as Oriental Orthodox) churches, it was cut off from dialogue with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches until the mid-20th century, when many of the Christological disputes that arose from Chalcedon were resolved through ecumenical dialogue.

              In the 7th century the conquests of the Muslim Arabs cut off the Ethiopian church from contact with most of its Christian neighbours. The church absorbed various syncretic beliefs in the following centuries, but contact with the outside Christian world was maintained through the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

       Beginning in the 12th century, the patriarch of Alexandria appointed the Ethiopian archbishop, known as the abuna (Arabic: “our father”), who was always an Egyptian Coptic monk; this created a rivalry with the native itshage (abbot general) of the strong Ethiopian monastic community. Attempts to shake Egyptian Coptic control were made from time to time, but it was not until 1929 that a compromise was effected: an Egyptian monk was again appointed abuna, but four Ethiopian bishops were also consecrated as his auxiliaries. A native Ethiopian abuna, Basil, was finally appointed in 1950, and in 1959 an autonomous Ethiopian patriarchate was established, although the church continued to recognize the honorary primacy of the Coptic patriarch. When neighbouring Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, it appealed to Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic church, for autocephaly. This was granted in 1994; the Ethiopian church assented in 1998 to the independence of the new Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

       The Amhara and Tigray peoples of the northern and central highlands have historically been the principal adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, and the church’s religious forms and beliefs have been the dominant element in Amhara culture. Under the Amhara-dominated Ethiopian monarchy, the Ethiopian Orthodox church was declared to be the state church of the country, and it was a bulwark of the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Upon the abolition of the monarchy and the institution of socialism in the country beginning in 1974, the church was disestablished. Its patriarch was executed, and the church was divested of its extensive landholdings. The church was placed on a footing of equality with Islam and other religions in the country, but it nevertheless remained Ethiopia’s most influential religious body.

        The clergy is composed of priests, who conduct the religious services and perform exorcisms; deacons, who assist in the services; and debtera, who, though not ordained, perform the music and dance associated with church services and also function as astrologers, fortune-tellers, and healers. Ethiopian Christianity blends Christian conceptions of saints and angels with pre-Christian beliefs in benevolent and malevolent spirits and imps. Considerable emphasis is placed on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Further, the church recognizes a wider canon of scripture that includes such texts as the apocalyptic First Book of Enoch. Circumcision is almost universally practiced; the Saturday Sabbath (in addition to Sunday) is observed by some devout believers; the ark is an essential item in every church; and rigorous fasting is still practiced.

        The priesthood of the Ethiopian church, on the whole, is not learned, though there are theological seminaries in Addis Ababa and Harer. Monasticism is widespread, and individual monasteries often teach special subjects in theology or church music. Each community also has its own church school, which until 1900 was the sole source of Ethiopian education. The liturgy and scriptures are typically in Geʿez, though both have been translated into Amharic, the principal modern language of Ethiopia. In the early 21st century the church claimed more than 30 million adherents in Ethiopia.


            According to tradition, the central body of hymns used in the Ethiopian liturgy was composed by the sixth-century musician Yared, who is venerated as one of the greatest saints of the Ethiopian Church. Hagiography records that Yared was inspired to compose his hymns after being led up to heaven and hearing the songs of angels. St. Yared is also credited with having invented a notational system, though scholars usually date the introduction of musical notation in Ethiopia to the sixteenth century.

            Ethiopian chant consists of melodies alone, unembellished by harmonies. These melodies follow one of three modes, known as Geez, Ezel, and Ararai; the modes correspond respectively to  “plain chant for ordinary days,” “a more measured beat for funerals,” and “a lighter, free mood for great festivals” (Giday). 

          A skilled chanter will improvise on set melodies within these modes. In processions and in special hymns sung after the liturgy proper, drums and sistrums (a kind of rattle) are used for rhythmic accompaniment. Ethiopian church music is also remarkable for its incorporation of sacred dance, ranging from a rhythmic swaying of the choir with hands upturned in prayer to more elaborate dances performed with two choirs holding staffs and sistrums. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Muluken Melesse - The Great Unknown Muluken Melesse [ethiopia]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

       Muluken Melesse was born in 1954 in northern Ethiopia's province of Gojjam. After wandering extensively with his uncle, at the age of six they settled in Addis Ababa. The phenomenally precocious Muluken Melesse was just 12 when he began his singing career in 1966 at the Patric Lumuba night club. Like many vocalists of the period, he started off with the different police bands, and went on to sing with the first non-institutional groups of those founded by nightclub owners (Blue Nile Band, Zula Band, Venus Band, Equators Band...)

       Hedech Alu was the first song he recorded on vinyl at the beginning of 1972.

       In a very short period of time his popularity soared sky-high. Backed by the Dahlak, Roha (as Ibex), and Ethio-Stars bands, Muluken has recorded from 1972 till 1976 a series of successful casettes and records and in 1976 what was to be his last hit, Ney Ney Wodaje.

      Muluken abandoned his career during the 80's to devote himself and his voice to the Pentacostal church and continued singing gospels occasionally. The magic was gone. Wishful thinking among his fans regularly gives rise to rumors of a comeback, but none has materialized ...

    When Muluken Melesse came to the scene, he brought the Balager Sound, the "Ethiopian Roots Music" of the rural villages in Ethiopia to cosmopolitan Addis Ababa , reversing the trend of simply aping the West.

   Muluken captured that essence and the entire feel of the "Real Ethiopia". In Ethiopia's poetic tradition there are the sam-ennawarq (wax and gold) versessongs that are apparently about love, but subliminally they level serious criticism at the rulers and political or social conditions.

Sam-ennawarq is open to so much interpretation that listeners enjoy arguing all day for their exact meaning.

An example from Muluken's lyrics:

   Tenesh Kelbe Lay   

Please, leave my heart alone. 
Why don't you leave my heart alone? 
I want to be free like other human beings. 
Something which I don't understand. 
What did I see that stung me so?
I have seen beyond beauties, 
but I have been stung still by your love. 
Your love disarms me. 
Everything looks so nice on her.
Her beauty is misleading. 
I love the way you dance seksta,
shaking your lovely neck and shoulders. 
Saddle my horse, 
so that I can ride to her 
and drink deep of the feast of her love.

01. Muluken Mellesse - Tenesh Kelibe Laye (4:24)
02. Muluken Mellesse - Ere Indet Nesh Gedawo (4:12)
03. Muluken Mellesse - Embwa Belew (3:55)
04. Muluken Mellesse - Wetete Mare (3:32)
05. Muluken Mellesse - Yeminjar Shega (2:31)
06. Muluken Mellesse - Hedech Alu (5:13)
08. Muluken Mellesse - Gelayewa Neyney (8:21)
09. Muluken Mellesse - Meche Amakerechign (4:34)
10. Muluken Mellesse - Djemeregne (7:29)

Henok Mehari - Ewnetegna Fikir [2004] [ethiopia]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

Henok Mehari - Tezalegn Yetintu

       Henock Mehari was born 1978, into a very musical family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and this influence led to his decision to become involved in music himself at an early age. In his youth, Henock participated in his church choir and later entered the renowned Yared Music School, where he studied music performance, piano, and the masinko, a traditional Ethiopian musical instrument. 

     He graduated with high distinction in 2000. After graduation, he continued to serve his church as a keyboard player, as well as performing in the choir. Henock pursued a professional career with various musical groups, including Afro Sound, Express, Zions and the Nile Voice bands. With these bands, he performed at most of the nightclubs in Addis Ababa, notably the Sheraton’s Gas Light, Safari, and The Lion’s Club. Henock operates his own digital studio, where he arranged and recorded his album, as well as those of other up and coming performers such as Tsedenia GebreMarkos.

       Henock has high admiration and respect for fellow artists Tesfaye Gebre and Aster Aweke and cites their accomplishments as inspiration for his own.

01. Henock Mehari - Wub Nesh (5:14)
02. Henock Mehari - Ethiopia (6:24)
03. Henock Mehari - Arada (4:35)
04. Henock Mehari - Ewnetegna Fikir (5:46)
05. Henock Mehari - Endewotah Sitiker (5:43)
06. Henock Mehari - Balekinew (5:29)
07. Henock Mehari - Amlak Esuan Adiluatal (5:25)
08. Henock Mehari - Africa (5:01)
09. Henock Mehari - Hule Anesashalew (5:15)
10. Henock Mehari - Chewataw dera (4:28)
11. Henock Mehari - Geremegne (5:16)
12. Henock Mehari - Honuatal (4:48)

Mulatu Astatke - Mochilla presents timeless Mulatu Astatke [2010] [ethiopia]

   R   E   U   P   L   O   A   D   

Mulatu Astatke - Timeless (Live)

       Ethiopian composer/arranger/vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke reached a lot of Western ears in the ‘90s when the fourth installment of the Ethiopiques series featured his work. That album presented innovative recordings from the ‘60s and ‘70s that fused jazz and Ethiopian sounds. Astatke got more exposure when some of his pieces were used in the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. 


       In 2009, Astatke and a fine group of American musicians performed at California State University, Los Angeles, and Timeless captures the concert. Featured players include woodwinds wizard Benny Maupin, former McCoy Tyner sideman Azar Lawrence on tenor sax, and trombonist and Tribe veteran Phil Ranelin. A number of younger players also make contributions, including keyboardist Brandon Coleman, violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and trumpeter Todd Simon, who displays a nice feel for Ethiopian scales. 

     Astatke’s vibraphone solos are always welcome, and if you had to pick a standout track it would be “Mulatu,” where the band finds a deep groove.

1. Mulatu Astatke - Yèkèrmo Sèw (7:32)
2. Mulatu Astatke - The Radcliffe (8:29)
3. Mulatu Astatke - I Faram Gami (7:45)
4. Mulatu Astatke - Yèkatit (7:15)
5. Mulatu Astatke - Kasaléfkut Hulu (8:05)
6. Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu (7:10)
7. Mulatu Astatke - Munayé (7:47)
8. Mulatu Astatke - Yègellé Tezeta (5:24)
9. Mulatu Astatke - Ebo Lala (6:31)

Bass Clarinet, Flute, Soprano Saxophone – Bennie Maupin
Drums – Tony Austin
Drums [Hand], Percussion – Munyungo Jackson
Electric Bass, Acoustic Bass – Trevor Ware
Electric Guitar – Dan Ubick
Electric Piano, Piano, Organ – Brandon Coleman
Percussion – Alan Lightner
Tenor Saxophone – Azar Lawrence
Trombone – Joel Yennior, Phil Ranelin
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Todd Simon
Viola – Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

Vibraphone, Percussion – Mulatu Astatke

Thursday, January 15, 2015

v.a. - Ethio podcast - Begena [2006] [ethiopia]

Alemu Aga - "Besmeab - Abatachin Hoy"
playing the Begenna, the Harp of David from Ethiopia

       The begena (or bèguèna, as in French) is an Eritrean and Ethiopian string instrument with ten strings belonging to the family of the lyre. According to oral tradition, Menelik I brought the instrument to the region from Israel, where David played on it to soothe King Saul's nerves and heal him of insomnia. Its actual origin remains in doubt, though local manuscripts depict the instrument at the beginning of the 15th century (Kimberlin 1978: 13).

      Known as the instrument of noblemen, monks and the upper class and performed by both men and women, the begena was used primarily as an accompaniment during meditation and prayer. Though commonly played in the home, it is sometimes played in the framework of festive occasions. During Lent, the instrument is often heard on the radio and around churches. 

   Begena is accompanied by singing voice only. The singer may compose his or her own texts or they may be taken from the Bible, from the Book of Proverbs, or from the Book of Qine, an anthology of proverbs and love poems. Subject matter includes the futility of life, the inevitability of death, saints, mores, morality, prayer, and praises to God. The song's duration varies according to the text, the audience, and the persistence of the player. Though many texts are of a religious nature, the instrument is not used in the Ethiopian Orthodox church services, even if it is seen occasionally in religious processions outside the church.

     Because of the instrument's relatively intimate and sacred role in society, the begena is not very common to find. Meditation and prayer are very private, personal endeavors, and hearsay suggests that the instrument is played by very few and is a dying art. However, in 1972, the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa began formal instruction in the begena. Since 2004, evening courses are organized and the begena is still played.

    The begena has ten strings. However, different musicians use varying numbers of strings to play the begena. For example, begena teacher Memhr Sisay Demissae uses all ten strings to play the begena, while other players may use five or six of the strings. The left hand is used to pluck the strings.

 When all ten strings are plucked, one method of tuning the begena is to tune each pair of strings to one of the pitches in a pentatonic scale. When using five of the stings, only the first, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth strings are tuned and plucked to give sound. Finally, while playing the begena using six strings, the left hand plucks strings one, three, four, six, eight, and ten (starting from the left side when facing the instrument). The pointing finger plucks strings three and four while the other fingers are in charge of controlling one string each. The remaining strings are used for the finger rests or stops after the strings have been plucked, allowing the plucked string to vibrate.

          The begena may also be played using a system called girf, wherein a plectrum made of horn or wood is used to pluck the ten strings of the begena. Megabe Sebhat Alemu Aga plays begena both by using his fingertips and girf.


The begena is characterized by a very specific buzzing sound, due to U-shaped leather pieces placed between each string and the bridge. The thong for each string is adjusted up or down along the bridge so that the string, when plucked, repeatedly vibrates against the edge of the bridge.

01 - unknown - Begena 9 (5:17)
02 - Zerfu Demisie - Tewoledelin (5:23)
03 - Merigeta Fikru Sahelu - Simih Yemesgen (7:34)
04 - Akalu - Bene Tsidk Aydelem (7:11)
05 - Yilma Hailu - Silasie Kesemay (4:14)
06 - Tadiwos Girma - Temesgen (6:05)
07 - Yilam Hailu - Eninesalen (3:55)
08 - Mirtnesh Tilahun - Rehoboth (5:11)
09 - Engidawork Bekele - Alefkugne Dingil (6:00)
10 - Fekadu Amare - Egziabher Hayal New (5:20)