Ethiopia: Traditional Ethiopian Musical Instruments


The use of traditional musical instruments in Ethiopia goes back to centuries. Ethiopians have been playing their unique and revered traditional musical instruments for ages in various occasions for different purposes.

The instruments have beer used for spiritual purposes, to praise and worship God, during different occasions such as marriage and funeral ceremonies, in cultural and religious festivals as well as to soothe trembling minds and just to spend time or get entertained.

For instance, the three types of drums, such as Negarit (kettledrum), the Kebero (drum), and the Atamo were used for varied purposes. While the Negarit that is played with sticks was used to publicize governmental function and announce proclamations, Kebero played with the hands (it is still used) to various ritualistic events, including in all religious ceremonies observed in the churches and various celebrations.

As it is stated in various historic documents, the rousing rhythms of the Negarit (kettledrum) were used in the old days to accompany important proclamations, and chiefs on the march would be preceded by as many as 30 men, each beating the instrument (Negarit) with sticks carried on donkeys.

The other traditional instruments including the Begena, a huge, multi-stringed lyre often referred to as the Harp of David; the Tsinatseil or Sistrum, which is used in church songs; the Meleket, a long trumpet without finger holes, and the Embilta, a large, simple, one-note flute used on ceremonial occasions.

Similarly, traditional instruments in widespread use include the Massinko, a one-stringed violin played with a bow; the Krar, a six-stringed lyre, played with the fingers or a plectrum; the Washint, a simple flute.

The other traditional instruments; which are not known widely as the other of the same kind, instruments are as follows.


The Atamo (which is smaller in size and tapped with the fingers or palm of the hands) is played most frequently at weddings and festivals, setting the rhythmic beat of folk songs and dances

This musical instrument is popular in Gambella State, in Western Ethiopia on the border of South Sudan and named by different names, Tom, Thom or Toom.

Ethnomusicologists refer to this as the lamellophone, or you may have heard it called the "thumb piano." There are many variations on this instrument in East Africa.


Melakat / Waza / Bol

These terms all refer to a type of trumpet that is especially popular in southern Ethiopia among several different ethnic groups and each area likely has its own variants.

Melakat is the term used in Ethiopia, waza in Sudan, and bol (or bal) is the term used by the Berta people (who live in both in West Ethiopia and Sudan). It is likely that there are still more terms that people use according to their own language.

These instruments are made from organic materials such as calabashes and are cut to different lengths to produce different pitches. The longest ones can be quite large, taller than your average human being. Since each one produces one pitch, they are played in a group using a hocketing technique.


Embilta flutes have no finger holes, and produce only two tones, the fundamental and a fourth or fifth interval.

These may be metal (generally found in the north) or bamboo (in the south). The Konso and other people in the south play fanta, or pan flutes.

Trumba (Horn)

Trumba (Horn)is used in local form of mass communication. Common people, on the other hand, do not use Negarit for mass communication, for the negarit is regarded as a symbol of authority.

Messages transmitted by using Trumba, embelta or trumpet sounds are associated with common people information message until 20th century.

These traditional musical instruments apart from their entertainment values depict the cultural values and identity of Ethiopia's diverse nations, nationalities and people


Negarit is a ceremonial instrument and is usually found in a secular context such as royal functions or the announcement of proclamations, though it has a liturgical function among the Beta Israel. It is played with a curved stick,

As sources indicate, the instrument is played alone with the imperial trumpets or melekete. Negarit and Embelta are government owned message transmitter. On the otherway, trumba and trumpet used for the common people.

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