The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

8 March 2014

Ethiopia: The Tale of the Nile

If you follow the Nile River what kind of culture would you come across? How would the music of the Nile basin countries sound?

Questions like these and more were answered at the concert by the Nile Project held on February 28th at Mega Amphitheatre. As the name Nile Project implies, it was a concert by the 11 Nile basin countries namely and the musicians were comprised of people who came from Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda.

On a chilly night at Mega Amphitheatre, the outdoor was filled with spectators from different sides of the world. Looking at the lined up musicians it was very difficult to know what to expect. All the musicians and instrumentalists from the Nile basin countries came to one stage and you started to hear a melodious sound. The audience started clapping after being awed by the synchronized, harmonious music.

The vocals, all in different languages and the lyrics being so different did not clash but instead, like the water, it flowed lightly exploring what they share. Some of the songs were improvised on stage and all in all it was truly music that transcended labeling, genres and language and connected people through music. The musicians who participated in this concert were Alsarah (vocals, lyrics from Sudan,) Dafaalla Elhagali (oud, percussion banimbo from Sudan,) Dawit Seyoum (bass krar, krar from Ethiopia,) Dina el Wedidi (vocals, lyrics from Egypt,) Jorga Mesfin (saxophone from Ethiopia,) Kasiva Mutua (percussion, lyrics from Kenya,) Lawrence Okello (percussion, adungu, endingidi from Uganda,) Michael Bazibu (Endongo, Adungu, percussion from Uganda), Nader El Shaer (kwala, ney from Egypt), Selamnesh Zemene (vocals from Ethiopia), Steven Sogo (ikembe, guitar, bass, vocals from Burundi.)

Rwandese musician Sophie's unique story telling, Selamnesh's Gondarigna songs and the Ugandan drums gave the concert a great vibe and a sense of togetherness.

The plucked harp (lyre) and spike fiddle have formed the heart and the soul of the Nile's musical identity for millennia and both instruments are found in every country along the Nile basin. The former is represented in the Sudan by masenkop, in Uganda by adungu and in Egypt by simsimiya and tamboura, while the latter manifests as the Ethiopian masenko and Ugandan endingidi.

On the surface, Nile is water and this is a concert of water intersecting music. For many thousands of years the ancestors have survived but now it has become a reason for conflict and tension.

Even though they share the same water, tension has been going on for a while, especially with the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. The Egyptian officials have not taken this news lightly and have even been caught saying in sabotaging it and have been heard saying " we will defend each drop of the Nile with our blood" This Nile project offers an idea on how to address the challenges through cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation.

The River Nile, reaching the lives of 300 million people, many use it for different purposes including fishing, farming and drinking and somehow many millions of lives depend on the water and as the water connects the people, the music should be a platform to tell different stories. The project was aimed at connecting these countries through music. This project was founded in 2011 by Ethio-American singer Meklit Hadero and Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Giorgis. The initiative uses music to share stories towards creating a Nile identity that transcends the boundaries just as the water does.

On January 18th, musicians were invited from all 11 Nile basin countries to do free concerts in Aswan and Cairo. Their first album was produced during the first concert, which got critical acclaim. Again, the musicians from Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda gathered to tell the story of the water. The musicians connected and started picking up from one another and the similarity of the music through conversation. They also brought university students to have a discussion and inspire people regarding the Nile basin culture.

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