Decades ago, traditional music was
flourishing in respective localities. Those were the days that music was used as
a means of conveying expressions of praise and glamorizing men and women of high
class in the social strata. Gallant fighters or reputed hunters were also
admired and praised to the skies; sometimes with the intent of persuading others
to go fight and win against an enemy.
Apart from expressing admiration,
these musicians gradually started playing instruments like the Masinko and the
Kirrar to accompany their own voices and that of their partners. The lyrics
contained ideas and remarks meant to convey double-edged messages, sometimes
with the use of bad pun with the potential to trigger provocations.
Such performances were often heard
at local pubs where there were pretty women that tended to laugh and giggle for
no reason other than for pretence and flirtation with potential clients.
Competing customers try to use the singer as a tool to slander and disrepute
others by ordering him to repeat the lyrics dictated by the two opposing
parties, who would often be intoxicated. The motive may often be to intimidate
the competitor and win over the waitresses. Sometimes, these incidents culminate
in swallowing oneís own teeth, as the saying goes.
In due course, musical migration to
urban centers became the drive of the times as cultural singers discovered
something very lucrative in the effort. There was no gainsaying in their name
making and fame in the process.
Over the years however, modern music
usurped their glory and pushed them out of the limelight towards the back bench.
With the opening of modern schools, the introduction of expatriate teachers and
the establishment of musical bands of the army, the police and the Royal Guard,
a new breed of musicians and vocalists emerged along the Hagher Fikir Theatre
traditional music band.
Talented singers such as Assefa
Abate, Firew Hailu, Mezmur G. Wold, Etagegnhu Haile, Negatua Kelkay and Ferede
Golla were only a few of the shining stars of traditional music played at the
Hager Fikir Theatre.
Expatriate music teachers, who also
helped to start the marching bands, acquainted the youth with the basics of
western music and taught them to read notes and play instruments. They used to
also present shows and performances outside of the metropolis.
That was when an Egyptian
schoolmaster discovered a talented student who had extraordinary vocal talent in
singing the flag hoist anthem, Tilahun Gessese.
Tilahun, who had later been crowned
with an Honorary Doctorate degree for his musical excellence, had climbed up the
ladder of fame and affection. His special genre and style of connecting with the
audience, by way of translating the meaning of the lyrics in his facial
expressions, was outstanding.
Looking at Tilahun as a role model
for singers who aspire to be successful and accomplished is manifested in the
hard fact that almost every competing singer tries to emulate him by singing one
of his 470 plus pieces.
Seen from the perspective of
developing Ethiopian music based on the folkloric songs of the pre-war period,
Tilahunís style of singing cannot go unabated. In fact, many critics place the
blame of diversion on the lack of professional music critic. They claim that it
is formidable not being able to identify the origins of the hubris of modern
Their arguments seem to hold water
as some of these songs seem to have tunes of Sudanese or Somali melodies fused
together with local creations. But this is no fault of the singers at all.
Similarly, there is no denying the fact that singers such as Tilahun Gessese,
Almayehu Eshete, and Bizunesh Bekele have made a significant impression in the
musical landscape of Ethiopia.
One cannot easily identify the
origins of the pieces. Take Tizeta for instance; no matter who sings it with
whatever accompanying instrument, it cannot be mistaken for another rhythm. This
is because it has its origins in traditional Ethiopian music.
Even amid the ongoing cultural
diversions, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Musicians
from varying regional states are revitalizing the cultural songs within their
domain. The Wolayta folkloric songs in particular, appear to be stealing the
lime light. Some of the music bands in the Oromya and Amhara regions are also
reinstating their cultural plays and songs. If this is not a step in the right
track of renaissance, I wonder what would be. It seems that the envisioned
cultural renaissance is materializing albeit slowly.