For this section, I will discuss the effect Ethiopian Music has had while crossing international borders and making its way to Israel. The Ethiopians are known for being located in small groups sporadically throughout the world; including a significant amount of people living in Israel. The people of this Ethiopian Diaspora community are known as the Beta Israel, or what was formerly the Falasha of Ethiopia. Beta Israel is comprised of numerous Jewish communities that had been originally held under control by the Ethiopian Empire. This helps us to understand the massive amount of Ethiopian people living in the area, a number estimated at 100,000 people. However, many of the Ethiopian people consider Israel to be their homeland and therefore some musical historians find it hard to consider these people a Diaspora of Ethiopia culture. The migration to Israel began right before the Ethiopian revolution when the people were considered children of the Judaism being labeled as descendants of Dan in 1973. This got the ball rolling on people dispersing from Ethiopia to other countries until the revolution ultimately halted the movement.
After the revolution was finished the majority of the Ethiopian Jews settled back in Israel and began taking part in everyday life there, including entertainment. The first major combination of Israeli and Ethiopian people working together to create music was when famous Israeli Schlomo Gronich started the Sheba Choir, consisting of young Ethiopian children. Schlomo explains he had no real knowledge of the background of the children or their music and “so, I supplied them with tape recorders, and asked them to bring examples of Ethiopian music from home.” (1) Gronich explains how the Ethiopian music was nothing like original African music he had heard, but rather centered on a “Pentatonic five-note scale.” Unlike typical Jewish music, the lyrics are sung in a very high pitched tone going as fast as possible while sticking to the beat. This difference is what drew Gronich to start the choir for the young children and helped produce great collaborations of the two sounds including “The Stork.” This song tells the story of a stork’s immigration throughout Europe, a drastic resemblance to what happened to the Ethiopian Jews.
Another famous Israeli musician to combine sounds with the Ethiopian culture is the younger, more pop-driven Idan Raichel . Idan is a musician who originally got his break as a keyboarder before branching off on his own to form the Idan Raichel Project, a mixture of Hebrew texts combined with the beat and culture of Ethiopian music. A few of Idan’s song even incorporate an Ethiopian instrument known as the Masengo, which is a one-stringed version of a Violin. Idan’s young infusion of the music is a more recent example of how Ethiopian music is putting its unique mark on historically Israeli Jewish music.
Although is it not rare to see Ethiopian music throughout the world, the high concentration of people and culture infused into Israel is something to worth taking note of. Hopefully these peaceful collaborations of music and culture will continue to bring happiness and peace to an area striving for it.
1 Hershenson, Sarah “Music to the ears” 1 Sept, 2000. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Israel%20beyond%20the%20conflict/Music%20to%20the%20ears