Following an upsurge of interest in nightclub culture, Electronic Dance Music (EDM) acquired mainstream popularity in Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then to the United States. However, ERM, which is considered to be an umbrella term for multiple genres, including house, techno, trance, drum and bass and dubstep, did not gain universal acceptance right after its introduction. Now, things have changed and Ethiopian DJs are also becoming part of the mix, writes Meheret-Selassie Mokonnen.
#AXEIBIZA and #FindYourMagic have been trending on social media platforms throughout the previous weeks. Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea, was the source for these electronic dance music-centered conversations that went viral.
Ibiza, known for its lively nightlife, where major European nightclubs have summer outposts, hosted Axe 2017. Axe – a male fragrance products brand, which is owned by the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever – organized AXEIBIZA, hoping to bring together electronic dace musicians of this day and age.
South African DJ and Producer, Black Coffee, who won Best Deep House DJ Award at the 2016 International DJ Awards in Ibiza, was in charge of selecting talented electronic musicians from the continent.
The most prominent electronic music producer in Africa and graduate of the Red Bull Music Academy, Black Coffee is also one of the biggest stars on the global electronic music scene. He selected a DJ from his home town and three other DJs from Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia.
Ethiopian DJ/Producer Rophnan Nuri a.k.a. Rophy, 27, submitted samples of his music and won a spot at the international stage. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, he was one of those kids whom students would hang around for musical entertainment. He has always been inclined to Electronic Dance Music (EDM), which he considers to be “voice of this generation”.
Over the years, he was researching Ethiopian traditional music so as to blend it with electronic sounds. He experimented on melodies from Gamo, Oromo traditional music and many more Ethiopian authentic sounds.
He refers to the electronic music genera as “music that expresses my emotion” and intermingling traditional Ethiopian music with electronic music and that eventually led him to AXEIBIZA.
For a rising musician like Rophnan, cruising on the Mediterranean and performing and listening to world class electronic musicians is something that is too good to be true. “It was a great experience. I got the chance to deliver authentic Ethiopian music, which is unique in terms of the instruments we use and the tone as well,” he told The Reporter.
He says that being able to perform alongside celebrated electronic musicians, including Black Coffee, was a great opportunity. He also got to meet with potential business owners. After the back to back events, he met numerous nightclub owners, which he believes will come in handy to popularize his music in the future.
He was overjoyed when the Axe team surprised him by hanging the Ethiopian flag during the event. “I have witnessed tat music and art in general is valued on that side of the world,” he says. The small island of Ibiza, maintained being a hub for artists from different musical backgrounds. He believes Ethiopia too can be a musical tourist destination if the sector is well-endorsed.
Rophnan is working on his debut album “Netsebrak”, which is scheduled to be released after two months. The album is a compilation of songs that are a combination of traditional music with electronic music and pure house tracks.
According to the musician, it took him over five years to research authentic Ethiopian music and mix it with EDM. He has looked for young musicians with similar views as him from cultural nightclubs, music schools and the country side.
The genera have a growing global influence and he is part of the wave. “I believe it’s all about adding your own flavor through the form that has already been construed,” he states.
He has a keen interest in creating the kind of music that reflects Ethiopian roots while at the same time fits into the electronic beat. In the 1960s and 70s, Ethiopian musicians were producing music that was influenced by jazz. Nowadays, the era has shifted to electronic music and a self-proclaimed Ethiopiawi (Ethiopian) EDM movement seems to be surging.
Even so, he does not believe it can be an applauded movement until it has a structured format, clearly portrays Ethiopian color and has an international acceptance. EDM, relatively more popular in the western world, still remains an underground movement. Consequently, it might take time to embrace the genera in countries like Ethiopia – a country that recently joined the club.
“I blend Ethiopian original element to the kind of music I do which is a reflection of how I perceive the world,” he explains and references father of Ethio-Jazz Mulatu Astatke, a musician he admires, for doing the same thing in his own version.
Birabiro, is an EDM even that will take place in Ghion Hotel this coming October 21 and international EDM sensations such as Tom Swoon and Quintino will perform alongside Rophnan. EDM, being a robust musical movement, has attracted many followers from around the world. The fact that the music gives some sort of space for any experiment and since it is close to the digital world fast-tracked the acceptance. American EDM producer, DJ, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sonny John Moore a.k.a. Skrillex, can be mentioned in terms of experimental music.
For the musician, EDM is limitless- providing musicians the freedom to work with any sound, in any speed and frequency. With the help of digital media, Rophnan hopes the blend of Ethiopian and electronic music will cultivate a wider audience.With the rising number of young musicians, who are fascinated with EDM, it won’t be long before the country witnesses astonishing electronic musicians.
He says the music should exceed beyond Ethiopian borders stating, “When people from different backgrounds respond similarly to the music, it hints the power and quality of the music.” If and when opportunities similar to AXEIBIZA present themselves, musicians should focus on broadening their network and collaborating with renowned musicians.
Making music in Ethiopia has its obstacles, such as the difficulty of finding sponsors to release an album and operating without a manager. Additionally, the musicians do not have enough platforms to interconnect. “Famous musicians should work in conjunction with novices so as to have broader listenership,” he suggests.
In EDM, DJs and producers are given the utmost credit, which Rophnan is happy about since in the Ethiopian music scene, experts behind singers are not usually acknowledged.
“Sharing a stage with Black Coffee is a big deal and hopefully it will open up a lot of doors,” Rophnan says, affirming that he will use the experience to intensify the music he produces. He also hopes, original Ethiopian music will soon cut through to the international music arena, once acclaimed musicians start to be inquisitive about Ethiopian music.