16 May 2017

Ethiopia: Politics Through Entertainment


Music is entertainment on the main. However, it is also a powerful medium through which different messages can be conveyed. In the Ethiopian tradition, we also have musical works (songs) with double-edged puns accompanied by Masinko, a traditional Ethiopian single-stringed bowed lute.

Masinko is skillfully operated by five fingers in a measured length alternating while the other hand keeps on moving the little bow back and forth, straight or at a slanted angle, to adjust the sound to fit the singer's (male) melody or the chorus repeated by a lady who dances to the tune accordingly.

Yes, music entertains, and it is food for the soul. Soloists the likes of Alemayehu Fanta, Getamesay Abebe, and their counterparts were well-known entertainers. They had been playing to cheer up the nobility including the heads of state and the Royal family.

Songs and musical puns, particularly those nationalistic ones, can inspire and mobilise people to defend their nation from foreign aggressors, which was often evident in our history. Such songs are also promoters of and means for instilling a love of nation in the hearts of citizens.

Songs also serve to tell stories of the past. Teddy Afro's recent album - Ethiopia - can be an example here. It is just a brief resume of a history book in the form of a beautiful song. Though I cannot talk about what he studied in particular and his educational background in general, I sensed from his musical works that he has his perspective on the political history of Ethiopia, which we do not find in others.

Teddy Afro (I always wonder why he is called Afro) must have gotten his talent and ability to see things in perspective from his parents. It is said that his father Kassahun Germamo was the editor of Polis ena Ermja - loosely translated, "Police and Progress" - a newspaper which had published much-appreciated crime stories edited by him. His mother too, rumour has it, was a member of the Police Orchestra musical band.

I do not dare to review his songs. Musicians, the likes of Abraham Wolde, Sertse Fresbhat or Argahegne Worash could talk about the colour, pitch, scale or whatever jargon they use. But I can tell you what I have felt about the music. I have listened to 'Ethiopia', Teddy's new album. I just cannot get enough of it!

Teddy remembers Emperor Tewodros and the history of Gondar surrounding his time. Teddy also has an album titled "Tikur Sew" - Black Lion, where he praised Emperor Minilik and the nobility around him down the line of hierarchy and the roles they had played in defending their country.

The iconic singer is not only singing or entertaining us. He is also sharing with us his life perspective, history, and probably his ideology in the nation building process. What is there between the lines to dissect? Teddy may fear that the country could disintegrate because of seemingly ever widening ethnic differences and may see himself as a unifying force. Of course, I know there are people who happen to believe his role is to the contrary.

Whatever they may say, I guess, he could influence positively. In fact, there are also relative signs of revival of nationalism this year. The state media and officials celebrated the 75th year of the Victory of Adwa over Italy better than the previous years. They also announced and managed to lay a foundation stone to build the Pan-African University in Adwa town, which will receive and teach students from all over Africa.


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