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UncategorizedEthiopia’s musical renaissance: A soundscape for a new generation

Ethiopia’s musical renaissance: A soundscape for a new generation

Stepping into the enchanting world of Ethiopian music, melodies are often woven together in a bundle of emotions that transcend time. With a history dating back to the early 1930s, this captivating art form has mesmerized audiences with its orchestral arrangements and diverse vocalists, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape.

In recent years, the Ethiopian music scene has undergone a remarkable transformation, embracing a new format known as the half album or EP. This approach has taken the industry by storm, providing a dynamic platform for both established and emerging artists to showcase their talents in fresh and exciting ways, while forging deeper connections with their audiences.

Since 2024, the music industry has witnessed a resounding resurgence, as if a dormant volcano has erupted, spilling forth a torrent of new albums.

Among the wave of musical revelations, YeMariam Cherenat, known as YEMa, has unveiled her latest opus, “Ye Dega Sew,” a sonic masterpiece that pushes boundaries. Aschalew Fetene, the mastermind behind the acclaimed works “Enatwa Gondar” and “Kasina Gojam,” has released an album bearing his own name, “Aschale.”

But the musical feast doesn’t stop there. Teddy Yo, with his unmistakable reggae flair, has dropped “Yileyal,” a rhythmic explosion leaving listeners yearning for more. Joining this symphony of talent, Kasahun Eshetu and Liuel Sisay have added their own contributions to this renaissance with their recent releases, each embodying a musical journey.
As we look ahead to the coming months, the air is thick with anticipation.

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DJ Rofnan Nuri, an icon in the realm of EDM music, is set to unleash not one, but two albums simultaneously, promising an electrifying.

The return of Abebe Teka, emerging from a prolonged hiatus, carries an air of excitement, as fans eagerly await his newest musical offering. The upcoming releases from Tsagaye Eshetu, Michael Belayneh, Esubalew Yitayew, Addis Legese, Bizuayehu Demse, and Henok Ekubai, are all poised to capture the ears of music enthusiasts with their forthcoming albums.

This tidal wave of musical revelations symbolizes a profound evolution within the Ethiopian music scene, where boundaries are shattered, and artistic expressions take flight.
In the midst of this musical revolution, one figure stands tall, a stalwart with an illustrious 45-year career. Dawit Yifru, recently bestowed with an honorary doctorate in artistic works, serves as the president of the Association of Music Sectors and is the visionary behind the Dahlak and Roha bands.

Reflecting on the evolution of music dissemination, Dawit reminisces about the transition from ancient times to the middle Ages, tracing the journey from live performances to the advent of CDs and, finally, the widespread distribution of music online.

Ethiopia’s musical renaissance: A soundscape for a new generation | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

In a transformative era that swept Ethiopia four decades ago, the country’s music landscape experienced a profound shift. Faced with changing times, influential institutions like Kibur Zebegna, Ye Police Serawit, Hager Fiker, and the National Theater rose to the occasion, crafting songs and poems that struck a chord with the nation, Dawit explained.
On September 11th, or the first day of the Ethiopian New year, these remarkable compositions echoed through radio channels, etching a significant moment in Ethiopian music history, he says. “The power of a song repeatedly broadcasted on the airwaves cannot be underestimated – it becomes a cultural force, shaping the emotions and aspirations of a society.”

During the turbulent Derg era, Grundy, a music company, recognized the pivotal role of radio airplay. They seized the opportunity and recorded these anthems on tapes, ensuring their widespread distribution to restaurants and entertainment venues. “The impact was profound, amplifying the reach and influence of these soul-stirring melodies,” Dawit says.
Amidst the political upheaval, radio and television channels became the battleground for motivational war songs, mirroring the prevailing sentiment of the time. To ensure the fervent messages reached every corner of the nation, tape reproduction and extensive marketing became the norm.

As societal norms evolved, music releases expanded beyond the confines of New Year’s Day to embrace all major holidays, including Christmas and Easter.

This breakthrough, according to Dawit, opened the floodgates, allowing a broader audience to connect with the music. The melodies resonated particularly with soldiers and teachers stationed in far-flung provinces, providing an emotional outlet for their experiences and aspirations.

Nurturing this artistic revolution were visionary businessmen who recognized talent when they saw it. These entrepreneurs, he says became patrons, providing financial support to budding singers, enabling them to hone their craft.

“From brainstorming creative ideas to penning poignant lyrics, these partnerships became the catalysts for producing groundbreaking music,” Dawit said. “Businessmen played a pivotal role. Covering all expenses, they facilitated the birth of new melodies that would go on to captivate audiences far and wide.”
Ethiopia’s musical renaissance: A soundscape for a new generation | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today
Singers, in turn, sought collaborations with popular bands, harnessing the collective genius to create captivating compositions that transcended boundaries.

However, the road to success was not without its challenges. While music tapes proved to be a lucrative avenue for dealers, the earnings for musicians themselves often amounted to meager sums, barely covering basic necessities like food and shelter.

The tides of change arrived with the advent of CDs, revolutionizing the music industry. These shiny discs offered superior sound quality and ease of reproduction, ushering in an era of enhanced music production. Printing and duplication required minimal effort, allowing artists to focus on perfecting their craft.

As the appetite for music grew, a network of distributors emerged to meet the demand.
Companies such as Elektra, Ambasel, Ethio Sound, Tango Music House, and Rambe became key players in the music distribution landscape, catering to the diverse tastes of Ethiopian music enthusiasts. Nonetheless, growth came hand in hand with challenges.

The rise of illegal publishers posed a threat to artists’ livelihoods, compelling them to raise their voices against copyright infringement and unauthorized distribution of their work. In response, the introduction of the ‘Copyright’ Act aimed to protect the rights of music professionals. Yet, questions lingered about its effectiveness in curbing piracy and ensuring fair compensation.

The introduction of copyright legislation marked a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle to protect the rights and livelihoods of music creators but a host of challenges continue to impact the livelihoods of musicians and the growth of the sector.

Despite this legal framework, enforcement remained lax for over 14 years, leaving musicians disillusioned and unable to seek justice for infringements on their creative works.
The sale of CDs, once seen as a potential financial boon, has failed to deliver significant benefits to artists. Instead, Dawit believes it has created a precarious financial landscape, where producing poetry, music, or forming a band comes with substantial costs.

“Studios charge by the hour, and various expenses quickly add up, making album production accessible only to those capable of bearing the financial burden,” he said.
The primary objective of album releases has shifted from pursuing fame to recouping the investment made in production, according to him. While vocalists may find opportunities through invitations to platforms, club performances, and concerts, he says songwriters and lyricists often receive one-time payments for their contributions, further straining their financial stability.

Ethiopia’s musical renaissance: A soundscape for a new generation | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Financial hardships plague many individuals in the music industry, with some relying on public support during times of illness or other emergencies. The sale of songs and lyrics often fetches meager prices, with only a select few renowned compositions commanding higher value due to their established reputations.

Despite the presence of music associations such as the Musicians’ Union, the Kayanian (Vocalists and Dancers) Association, the Songwriters’ Association, and the Music Producers’ Association, collaboration among members remains limited.

This lack of cohesion hampers the industry’s potential for collective growth and development, as individualistic pursuits often overshadow collective efforts.
Dawit reflects on the decline in album production, noting a sharp contrast to the prolific output of the 70s and 80s. In an ever-evolving cultural landscape, audiences now demand innovation and novelty, making it increasingly challenging for traditional album releases to gain widespread acceptance.

“The fragmented nature of the music industry poses significant obstacles for aspiring artists and impedes the sector’s overall progress. Overcoming these challenges necessitates greater collaboration and unity among stakeholders, fostering a thriving and sustainable music ecosystem for all,” Dawit emphasized.

Renowned figure Sewmehon Yismawe (Somic), known for his contributions to film and advertising, sheds light on the arduous process of producing music albums. Time constraints, sourcing materials, and assembling professional instrumentalists all add to the complexity. According to Sewmehon, project timelines often extend far beyond initial projections, causing frustration and delays. He says he has encountered delays by up to two-years and seven months on a project slated to be finished in six month.

Achieving the desired quality in music production requires meticulous refinement. Sewmehon conducted an extensive search for a drum crafted from Benshangul Gumuz, a quest that demanded considerable time and effort.

Reflecting on prevailing trends in Ethiopian music albums, Sewmehon challenges the conventional approach of bundling different themes under a single title. He advocates for a more focused and cohesive album concept, incorporating diverse musical elements like drums and flutes to create unique and differentiated offerings.

Sewmehon emphasizes the importance of authenticity in music creation, urging singers to deeply connect with the lyrics they perform. He believes that leveraging one’s cultural background can enhance the emotional resonance of the music, and encourages artists to embrace their heritage as a source of artistic inspiration.

As Ethiopia’s music industry navigates through these complexities, it is essential to address copyright enforcement, financial struggles, and the pursuit of artistic authenticity. “By fostering greater collaboration, supporting artists financially, and protecting their creative rights, the industry can overcome these challenges, paving the way for a thriving and sustainable music scene that enriches the cultural fabric of the nation,” Sewmehon said.
For him, music is not just a commercial endeavor – it is a long-term investment that embodies artistic integrity and cultural significance. By prioritizing authenticity and innovation, Sewmehon envisions a future where Ethiopian music albums captivate audiences not only for their melodies but also for their profound cultural narratives.
One such testament to this vision is the album “YeDega Sew” by YeMariam Chernet, affectionately known as Yema. The creation of this album was a labor of love, spanning two years of meticulous dedication and collaboration.

Euel Mengistu, a music teacher at Yared Music School, played a pivotal role as the composer, music arranger, recording engineer, sound integrator, and producer.
Yema’s passion for music, particularly her love for English songs from the 1990s and early 2000s, served as a wellspring of inspiration. The album reflects her lifelong journey, blending her personal musical influences with the vibrant tapestry of Ethiopian culture.
However, the creation of “YeDega Sew” was not without its sacrifices. Euel, driven by his unwavering belief in Yema’s talent, sold his car to finance the project, going above and beyond to bring their artistic visions to life, regardless of the personal cost.
To capture the essence of Ethiopia’s diverse musical traditions, Euel embarked on a research journey, aptly named “Yesnike,” exploring the musical treasures hidden within different Ethiopian communities. His travels to regions like Gamo, Sonke, and Bale Robe unearthed a wealth of inspiration, infusing the album with an authentic and vibrant cultural tapestry.

The journey to complete the album took two years, an endeavor that left Yemariam exhausted yet fulfilled. The result is a collection of songs that not only showcase her talent but also pay homage to the rich musical heritage of Ethiopia.
Collaboration played a central role in the creation of “YeDega Sew,” with seasoned musicians such as Yilma Gebreab, Aynalem Azo, and Gola Goh lending their talents. The album became a melting pot of musical expertise, blending traditional Ethiopian sounds with modern influences, resulting in a harmonious fusion that captivates the senses.
The success of “YeDega Sew” has sparked anticipation for forthcoming releases in the Ethiopian music scene. Abebe Teka’s full album and Kirubel Tesfaye’s upcoming music compositions are eagerly awaited, promising to further enrich the nation’s musical landscape.

Kirubel, reflecting on the meticulous process of music production, emphasizes the importance of attention to detail and the significant time investment required to perfect each element. He says It is this commitment to excellence that ensures that the final product resonates deeply with listeners, transcending mere compositions to become a testament to Ethiopia’s rich cultural heritage.

In the midst of this musical resurgence, Esubalew Yitayew, another talented artist, is also preparing for his album release. While the exact date is yet to be confirmed, the pre-production stage is underway, promising an exciting addition to the ever-evolving Ethiopian music scene.

As the Ethiopian music industry embraces authenticity and collaboration, a new era of artistic expression dawns.

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