Ethiopia's music climate blossoms

May 2009 -

Will Ethiopia be taking over Mali's lead in terms of sparkling new talented musicians? That is unlikely for the time being, but the enormous revival of the country's music industry is striking. More and more Western initiatives are exploring the new wealth of Ethiopian music. A town called Addis by Dub Colussus, AKA Nick Page, drew considerable attention with its mix of dance beats and 'Ethio jazz'. Terrie, guitarist of the still-active Dutch punk group The Ex, recently presented contemporary dance music from Addis with the Ilitha release. One of the godfathers of Ethio jazz, Mulatu Astatke, recorded a CD with British jazz-funk band The Heliocentrics, followed by a tour.


Getachew Mekuria on tour with The Ex in 2008.

Music blossomed in Ethiopia in the 1970s, with jazz determining the musical idiom. This is clearly evident in the extensive and moving CD series Ethiopiques. Traces of both Duke Ellington and James Brown can clearly be heard in the music from that period. Most musicians left the region, however, during dictator Menghistu's reign of terror from 1974 to 1991. Music made a come-back in the 1990s, albeit primarily with cheap keyboards yielding a plastic sound. For a few years now, however, more and more contemporary musicians have been combining the tradition with a modern sound that flirts with dance or rap. The compilation Bole 2 Harlem released in 2007 also contains a highly pleasurable mix of traditional Ethiopian melodies, funk and hip-hop.

Not only New York, Great Britain and the Netherlands but Sweden is also active with Ethiopian music. The first edition of the Selam Music Festival will be organised by the Swedish-East African music network that is part of Selam early in May 2009. Initiator of the festival is the Ethiopian Teshome Wondimu, who established Selam in Stockholm in 1997 in order to promote African music. The festival emphatically devotes more attention to musicians than to concert fans. Numerous workshops are scheduled with topics varying from the newest studio and production techniques and the role played by media to themes that include management, marketing and international exchange.

The Selam Music Festival is supported by, among others, SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).