Contemporary And Traditional Ethiopian Music -By Eduardo Moreno

Traditional Ethiopian music is a diverse world of musical compilations from the different tribes in the area. Each tribe has its own distinct sound, and varies greatly from neighboring tribes. Most of the tribal music performances are often accompanied by a sort of dance routine. Each tribe is known for their distinct dance patterns. What unites most of the tribes is the common use of the same traditional musical instruments from that geographical region. As seen earlier, these set of instruments include the masingo (a one stringed chordophone), the krar (chordophone), the washint (aero phone), the negarit, kebero, and atamo (all membranophones), as well as the sistrum (idiophone), meleket (aero phone), begena (chordophone), and embilta (aero phone).

While most traditional Ethiopian music is accompanied by a dance performance, there are several other types as well. For instance, Azmari is another style of music found in this culture. Azmari performances typically include a professional masenko player, as well as an accompanying female singer. A large portion of the song is often times improvised lyrically, and is meant to challenge the listener into finding the “deeper” meaning of the words being sung. Usually Azmari performances take place at eating houses or local bars called “Bunna Bet” or “Azmari Bet”.


The Azmari style of music brought Ethiopian music culture into many parts of the world. This form was found popular amongst many regions such as North America and Europe. Major cities such as London, Los Angeles, and Washington DC were found to be hosts to Azmari like establishments. While these new establishments may not be just like their Ethiopian counterparts, they do bring a lot of traditional Ethiopian music culture to the modern world.

For example, these modern groups similar to the Azmari, carry on the use of the Masenko in their music process. While traditional music has been kept alive, it has well evolved into Ethiopia’s contemporary music scene. The contemporary music scene has brought new instruments into Ethiopia’s musical arsenal. Now many songs include the guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, and various other instruments including percussion and many more. Modern Ethiopian music includes influences many other genres as well, such as Jazz and pop.

The contemporary music scene offers several different genres, such as Bolel; Very similar to Blues music, it includes azmari influence. Modern Ethiopian music can attribute its popularity in other places, like the United States, to primarily the Ethiopian singer Gigi. Gigi popularized modern Ethiopian music by combining her styles with western Jazz bands and legendary Jazz artist like Bill Laswell and Herbie Hancock.

Ethiopian music has gone through drastic changes overtime. The traditional music by this culture was very ritualistic and differed according to the varying tribes. The Contemporary scene keeps the traditional sounds alive by combining some of the traditional instruments, such as the masenko, with modern instruments, such as the guitar or saxophone. Ethiopian contemporary music took more of a Jazz and blues route than other styles, due to Gigis’ use of Jazz artists in her music. While both the traditional and contemporary music may differ, they are both just as important to the culture. Popular music in Ethiopia includes both the traditional music (often played by modern artists) and the contemporary music.

Works Cited

"Traditional Ethiopian Music and Ethiopian Culture." Free Articles Directory | Submit Articles - N.p., 15 June 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

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