Lalibela, a small town in northern Ethiopia, home to 11 spectacular churches that were carved both inside and out from
a single rock some 900 years ago.
Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a 'New Jerusalem', after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages, even today it is believed that Lalibela pilgrims share the same blessings as pilgrims to Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem theme is important. The rock churches, although connected to one another by maze-like tunnels, are physically separated by a small river which the Ethiopians named the Jordan.
1. blessings 15:12
2. offerings 04:23
film _ vimeo.com/55371955
recorded by Jacob Kirkegaard in Taitu Hotel Addis Ababa, Ethiopia june 2012 produced by Vincent Moon & Jacob Kirkegaard
Melaku Belay is an Ethiopian traditional dancer born in Addis Abeba in 1980. He showed interest in learning the different kind of dances that punctuates the everyday life of Ethiopian people early in life.
Melaku is above all a free spirit who has refused to restrain himself in an imposed and academic “traditional” style. As a self-taught dancer, he has taken his inspiration inside the Ethiopian society itself, and among the bearers of the tradition. Throughout his career, he has tried to create and develop his own style according to his own experiences and research through his country, with a touch of improvisation and fantasy.
Melaku is not only a dancer, he is also "a cultural entrepreneur" trying to support and develop the cultural and musical wealth of his country.
Since 2008, he is managing one of the most famous Azmari place in Addis Abeba, the Fendika by introducing an innovative idea to his traditional setting. Indeed, during the special events which regularly occur in Fendika, he has invited many guests, from both Ethiopian and foreign spheres, creating a place which offers a symbiosis between tradition and modernity.
Melaku Belay - Sora Sora
Fendika, a troupe of the most accomplished azmari musicians and dancers from Addis Ababa, draws deeply from the well of Ethiopia’s bardic tradition while adding creative movements and sounds that revitalize their ancient artistic forms. Passionately committed to the preservation and development of traditional culture, group leader and dancer Melaku Belay has established two traditional performing groups – the smaller elite group Fendika and the 12-member Ethiocolor. Fendika features seven performers – two dancers, two singers, and instruments including kebero drums, masenko (a one-stringed bowed fiddle), and krar (a five- or six-stringed lyre). Founded in 2009 by Melaku Belay, Ethiopia’s leading dancer and a respected cultural ambassador, the ensemble is based at Melaku’s renowned music club Fendika Azmari Bet in the Kazanchis neighborhood of Addis Ababa. In Ethiopian culture, an azmari bet is a traditional house of music where people come to be entertained, informed, and sometimes playfully insulted by the azmari who serve as current events commentators while they dance, sing, and play for tips.
Melaku is a virtuoso interpreter of eskista, a traditional Ethiopian trance dance of athletic shoulder movements that presage hip hop movements of breaking and popping. Now a highly respected cultural ambassador, Melaku grew up as a street kid, learning many regional dances of Ethiopia through participation in religious festivals such as Timqat, folk ceremonies, and everyday activities in Addis Ababa and the countryside where music and dance are a vital part of cultural and spiritual expression. Melaku has traveled throughout Ethiopia to learn the dance traditions of the country’s 80 tribal groups. The musicians and dancers of Fendika present a cultural journey starting in the highlands of Tigray, Wollo, Gonder, and Gojam, also including dances from the Somali and Afar regions and southern Ethiopian dance forms from the Gurage, Wolaita, and Konso traditions.
In 2011 Melaku won the Alliance Ethio-Francaise (Addis Ababa) award for dance excellence. On May 5 2015 he was named as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , in recognition of his exceptional artistic career, by the French Ministry of Culture and Communications - an extremely prestigious honor.
Melaku and Fendika also extend their base of tradition to new areas of musical exploration, developing strong performance partnerships with Ethiopian jazz bands Addis Acoustic Project and the US-based Debo Band, as well as international groups such as Le Baroque Nomade, Ukandanz, Akalé Wubé, Arat Kilo, and especially European punk band The Ex. The group has performed with legendary Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed and begena player Alemu Aga, while Melaku has collaborated with Éthiopiques founder Francis Falceto, Italian singer Saba Anglana, and Italian saxophonist Enzo Favata, among many others. Fendika has appeared in Scandinavia, France, Spain, Mali, Zanzibar, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic; they rocked the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in July 2014, earning a rave review. Members of the group toured the US in 2011, 2012, and 2013 with stops at the Lowell and Richmond Folk Festivals, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and Kennedy Center as well as Lincoln Center where their performance received great acclaim from the New York Times . Ethiocolor performed as a showcase band at the prestigious Womex Festival in October 2014 and toured Europe twice during 2015 with The Ex, returning to Germany and Scandinavia in August 2015. Melaku traveled to Italy to perform at a fundraising concert for a school in Addis. Fendika/Ethiocolor performed in Israel for the Jerusalem Sacred Music festival in September 2015. The group was a highlight at globalFEST, the premier world music showcase in New York, on January 17, 2016.
Fendika has compiled two CDs of their music: Addis Tradition (2013)andEthiocolor, the 2014 disc produced by Selam Sounds. The video Ethiocolor 360◦ was selected as one of the top 15 of 2015 by OkayAfrica.
Fendika performances run from 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on the venue requirements. Their show builds in sonic and dance intensity, often culminating in an exciting interaction as Fendika members join the audience to invite dance participation. Fendika workshops (usually one hour) engage students of all ages in learning and experiencing Ethiopian rhythms and movements.
Fendika is deeply committed to engagement and interaction between audience and performer. They love to offer workshops for all ages before or after performances, to teach their dance steps, musical notes, rhythms, and the history and background of Ethiopian traditional music and dance. Fendika has experience from the folk festivals of the US and in educational programs in France in participating in “World Sounds” or “World Dance” workshops on stage, featuring musicians from several cultures who demonstrate their art and then exchange and collaborate resulting in a group performance on stage. They are also very skilled at participating in panel discussions on topics such as the role of tradition in contemporary culture, also inviting questions and observations from the audience.
"The rhythmic virtuosity of Melaku was often astounding. He can turn either the upper or lower body into an electrifying vehicle of rapid pulsation...Simply to see him sway his body to the music was a marvel: the angle of his out-held elbows, the pliancy of his spine, the rhythmic point of those shoulders all made their sensuous contributions. A happily superlative artist."
Music Of Ethiopia - A 01 - Dinbush Gellan [a Love Song] (2:23) Music Of Ethiopia - A 02 - Harrari Festival (1:58) Music Of Ethiopia - A 03 - Yefikir Kaitema [an Amhara Symphony] (3:42) Music Of Ethiopia - A 04 - Hiliawsho (1:52) Music Of Ethiopia - A 05 - Ahay Lominai [a Love Song from Eritrea] (2:03) Music Of Ethiopia - A 06 - Denai Belew Belew (2:54) Music Of Ethiopia - A 07 - Bare Konda [a Concert] (1:19)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 01 - Demamai [a Gojam Love Song] (1:23)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 02 - Addis Ababa Yejanhoy (1:10)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 03 - Tinitina [Tigre Song-Dance] (2:11)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 04 - Gamai (1:19)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 05 - Yambulo [Song-Dance of the Wollamos] (1:15)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 06 - Wollamo Shilela [a Song of Patriotism] (1:09)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 07 - Hileliawsho (1:00)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 08 - Lembo (1:11)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 09 - Imimha [a Chant for Eskista] (0:41)
Music Of Ethiopia - B 09 - Aderegna [a Solo in Falsetto] (1:38)
Charles Sutton is a master of the Ethiopian masinko [one-string fiddle]. Sutton learned to play the instrument when he was a teacher in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia in the 1960s. He was perforing in Addis Ababa with his fellow traditional musicians under the Orchestra Ethiopia band.
Four former members of the group; including Tesfaye Lemma, Getamessay Abebe, Melaku Gelaw and Sutton teamed up to produce a CD, "Zoro Getem" [reunion] and decided to contribute the proceeds from the sales of the CD to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at the Addis Ababa University.
The group so far has contributed 100, 000 birr. Sutton was born in New York City in 1942 and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He attended Harvard University as a freshman but took a two-year-leave of absence to study music in Washington D.C. and at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston. In 1964, he returned to Harvard and finished his education with a degree in English. He talks about his music and experience in Ethiopia with the VOA Amharic program’s Alula Kebede.
This old Amharic melodic tune, Sheggitu, Assefa Abate’s classic was sung by an American Charles Sutton at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) last Friday, May 2. It is one of the eleven songs included in a new CD, Zoro Gettem (Reunion), recorded in Washington, DC in September 2006 and premiered here on that night.
The CD that Charles described as ‘a flowering of musical partnership’ was done with his three Ethiopian colleagues Tesfaye Lemma, Getamesay Abebe and Melaku Gelaw of the former Orchestra Ethiopia.
The Orchestra was a prominent performing group from the 1960’ and 70’, financed by the then Haile-Selassie University, later renamed Addis Ababa University. It was based at the Creative Arts Center in the campus. They performed in theaters, hotels like Wabe Shebelle and Hilton, and embassies of Addis Ababa, at parties and weddings, on television, on excursions into the provinces, eventually on tour in the United States.
So how could an American come to be member of the Orchestra?
It all started in 1966 when a fresh-faced young man, straight out of Harvard came to Ethiopia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Most Americans knew little about the country and this young man wasn’t any different. ”The only thing I knew was that Ethiopia was found in Africa and its leader was the famous Emperor Haile Selassie,” Charles says in an Amharic note that he wrote and included in the CD.
Here he started teaching freshman English to science and engineering students at the Arat Kilo campus.
“That is where I saw a poster announcing a concert by Orchestra Ethiopia. I was an amateur musician. At that time, I played the guitar, piano.” he recalls. Ethiopian music instruments started to enthrall him. Tesfaye Lemma, Director of the Orchestra, introduced him to some the musicians. He soon started learning the Mesenko for his own amusement. “I was taking lessons in Amharic form Lemma Taddese, a quick-witted and personable eleventh-grader at Menelik School. Getamesay already a famous master of the instrument was teaching me the mesnko,’’ he recalls.
Learned he did, with a courage and great gusto.
Before he knew it, he was on the bill to sing and play with Orchestra Ethiopia in a program of traditional music at the Creative Art Center. An adventure that continued for four years. A proud shemma wearer Fernji singing in Amahric boosted the band’s appeal, Getamesay Abbebe recalled on that night.
Long after the band disbanded and the members gone their separate ways, an incident in the summer of 2006 in the US brought them together. Charles concluded five years of Peace Corpse service in 1971 and settled in Connecticut, where he has worked a s a jazz pianist ever since. Tesfaye who was granted asylum in the US in 1987 was living in Washington, after retiring from the Center for Ethiopian Arts and Culture that he founded because of ill health.
Getamesay, after completing an illustrious thirty-six-year career at the Hager Fikir Theater in Addis and overcoming a life-threatening illness, traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2006 to participate in his son’s weeding. Melaku Gelaw, a faculty member of the Yared Music School for nearly thirty years, immigrated with his family in 1997 and took up residence in Virginia.
Reuniting was a joy but it also sparked an idea to make a new CD with a number of old and new songs. The result was a very beautifully done and packed CD, Zoro Gettem (Reunion). The pieces are a soothing mixture of mesenko, washint, krar, ranging in mood upbeat and playful to somber and teary. The orchestral arrangements are alternately forceful and creepy, moody and tender.
And more importantly they have come here to honor the place where they have met.
Charles on that night sang two songs from the CD, Sheggitu and Yazare Sammint. His mastery of the Amharic language is unexpected delight. He has warm and deep sound that communicated tenderness, sorrow and admiration throughout the hall. The crowd filled to capacity was in constant motion and sway. The occasion must have brought the audience lots of nostalgia and reminiscence to those good old and innocent days. It was like the group had never gone away. The 70’s were brought back in a new and improved ways. The old songs were rehabilitated and restored to grandeur. And they sounded better than ever.
Plus, the sale from the CD is all going be given to the IES to support its activities and the library it going to build. Charles said they have already sold 9,000 dollars worth in different places in Dallas, Washington and it is being distributed all over the United States wherever the Ethiopian community is found.
This is a must have album for anyone interested in Ethiopian music and a great introduction for those who wish to learn and support a cause. Their reward was not money or fame; it was integrity, purity, friendship and honoring their pledge.
The big complaint listeners will have with CD is that it is so short but a note in the CD made it clear a compilation of the music of the Orchestra Ethiopia, complete with extensive historical documentation and dozens of handsome photographs, is available on compact disc as Number 23 of the Ethiopiques series published by Buda Musique.
Related story from Sites
Orchestra Ethiopia Endegena-Amharic Reporter
Charles Sutton - 01 - Minew Teleyesghign (4:55)
Charles Sutton - 02 - Shemonmwana (4:16)
Charles Sutton - 03 - Messenko (4:11)
Charles Sutton - 04 - Mikir Filega (3:25)
Charles Sutton - 05 - Ambassel & Eyew Demamu (3:21)
Orchestra Ethiopia was an Ethiopian performing group formed in 1963 by the Egyptian-born American composer and ethnomusicologist Halim El-Dabh (born 1921). The group, which was founded in Addis Ababa, comprised up to 30 traditional instrumentalists, vocalists, and dancers from many different Ethiopian regions and ethnic groups (including Amhara, Tigray-Tigrinia, Oromo, Welayta, and Gimira). It was the first ensemble of its type, as these diverse instruments and ethnic groups previously had never played together. For a time, due to El-Dabh's efforts, the Orchestra was in residence at the Creative Arts Centre of Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University).
Orchestra Ethiopia – The Blue Nile Group [full album]
Its main instruments included krar (medium lyre), masenqo (one-string fiddle), begena (large lyre), washint (end-blown flute with finger holes), embilta (end-blown flute without finger holes), malakat (straight trumpet), kabaro (drum), and other percussion instruments. On occasion, it also used the tom, an mbira-like instrument.
Many of Orchestra Ethiopia's performances were theatrical in nature, such as the drama The Potter, which was arranged by El-Dabh.
Following El-Dabh's departure from Ethiopia in 1964, subsequent directors included John G. Coe, an American Peace Corps volunteer (1964-1966); and Tesfaye Lemma (1966-1975), both of whom composed and arranged for the group. During Lemma's tenure as director, in 1968, another American Peace Corps volunteer, the Harvard-educated Charles Sutton, Jr., was assigned by the Peace Corps to assist the Orchestra as Administrator, a position in which he continued until 1970. Sutton had arrived in Ethiopia in 1966 and, immediately attracted to Ethiopia's traditional music, actually mastered the masenqo, studying with Orchestra member Getamesay Abebe. He began performing with the Orchestra in March 1967 (playing masenqo and singing in Amharic), at Lemma's invitation. The group performed frequently in hotels and at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, and appeared on national radio (including Radio Voice of the Gospel) and television. The group also had an audience with Emperor Haile Selassie I.
In the spring of 1969, due to the efforts of Sutton and the Peace Corps, Orchestra Ethiopia toured the Midwest and East Coast of the United States, under the name "The Blue Nile Group". The group performed in twenty cities, including Manhattans Town Hall and The Ed Sullivan Show (in early March).
The group released two LP recordings, both entitled Orchestra Ethiopia. The first, subtitled "The Blue Nile Group", was released on Tempo Records c. 1969; and the second was released on Blue Nile Records, in 1973 or 1974. The Orchestra was also featured in a National Geographic documentary film entitled Ethiopia: The Hidden Empire (1970). By 1975, due to the upheavals caused by the Derg revolution, the group finally disbanded, although many of its musicians continued to perform with other groups, and as soloists. The group's washint player, Melaku Gelaw, lives and continues to perform and record in Washington, D.C.; Tesfaye Lemma, now retired, lives in Washington, D.C. Masenqo player Getamesay Abebe and drummer, vocalist, and star dancer Zerihun Bekkele, both retired, continue to live in Ethiopia. Washint player Yohannes Afework, who had replaced Gelaw, lives in Addis Ababa and is retired from the Mazegajabet (Municipality) Orchestra. Coe, the former Executive Director of the Wyoming Arts Council, is now retired and living in Wyoming; and Sutton performs today as a jazz pianist in Connecticut (and continues to play masenqo for special occasions). Several other of the Orchestra's members have died in Ethiopia.
A selection of the Orchestra's archival recordings transferred from reel to reel audiotape to audio CDs by the Ethiopian-American engineer Andrew Laurence was released in Europe in late 2007, and was released in the United States in February 2008, as the 23rd volume in Buda Musique's Ethiopiques CD series, with the liner notes having been prepared by Sutton and Lemma.
In 2007, a recording entitled Zoro Gettem (Reunion) was released on the Nahom Records label; the CD, recorded in Washington, D.C. in September 2006, features four of the Orchestra's former members (Charles Sutton, Getamesay Abbebe, Melaku Gelaw, and Tesfaye Lemma) performing repertoire they had performed together in the late 1960s.