Characterstics of song types:
A) Ingurguro is sung mostly in high falsetto vocal style by female singers and deep vocal range for male singers. Aster AwoQe´s
character of music and Kassa Tessema´s Kirrar music are some examples. We see a combination of musical styles in
Aster´s music (Ingurguro character + Zefen rhythm) that makes the singer stylist of the modern Ethiopian music but Kassa´s music is a very traditional style of Ingurguro.
B) Mezmur is sung in a full voice - woreb songs and songs that are used after sport games, etc, are of this sort.
C) Zefen is sung in a relaxed manner accompanied by a dance, dram, Iskista, Regeda etc.
Qualities of singers: Ethiopian singers are considered to be good if they have a melismatic and loud voice, but if one shouts without wavering tones in the style of Ingurguro and Zefen music - he is called `Chuahi or Gagano´(vociferous).
If one sings in a deep or low growling voice in Zefen style, he won't deserve the name of Tiru Zefagne or Zemari. The one who is considered to be good or even the best singer is the one who knows a variety of song texts and the singing characteristics of all the musical styles.
Ethiopian music is primarily based on a five tone scale system. This is known as a pentatonic scale (‘penta’ means five, and ‘tonic’ means note). While most of the music uses a pentatonic scale, some melodies may be based on scales with as few as two or three notes. This is common in Ethiopian folk music, as well as children’s songs. On the other hand, some music in Ethiopia may even be diatonic. Diatonic scales contain 7 notes.
The Ethiopian word for “scale” is “kiñit”. The word “kiñit” describes both the scale being used, and sometimes the tuning of the instrument. This is because some instruments have strings with no frets, so the strings need to be tuned to the scale. These instruments include the krar, begena, and masekno.
There are four main kiñits that are used in Ethiopian music. These are the Tizita, Batti, Ambassel, and Anchihoye kiñits. Some of these have different versions or other modifications. There are some other kiñits that are also used besides these main four, and we will cover those as well.
For the sake of clarity, and for ease of comparison between kiñits, we will use C as the tonic (root note) for all of the kiñits.
We have included not only the notes in the scales, but the intervals between the notes as well. This is because of the nature of traditional Ethiopian instruments. No two instruments were exactly alike. Instrument makers had no standard size or length to go by when making instruments. The goal was to make an instrument that could produce sound. Therefore, it is difficult to use solmization (do, re, mi, fa, so etc) to describe exact pitches in Ethiopian music. It is much easier to describe the intervals (major 2nd, minor 3rd etc). However, this is when dealing with traditional Ethiopian instruments. When other non-traditional instruments are used, such as a piano, the notes are tempered, and the pitches are exact. Only then is it convenient to use modern musical notation (C, Db, G#, etc).
Tizita is a very commonly used kiñit. It has a major as well has a minor version. The major Tizita kiñit is known as Full Tizita, and the minor Tizita kiñit is known as Half Tizita. It is interesting to note that Full Tizita is the same exact scale known around the world as the major pentatonic scale. Please note that, although Tizita major is the same as the major pentatonic scale, Tizita minor is not the same as the minor pentatonic scale.
Full Tizita: C - D - E - G - A. This is a major 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 2nd, and a minor 3rd.
Half Tizita: C - D - Eb - G - Ab. This is a major 2nd, minor 2nd, major 3rd, minor 2nd, and a major 3rd.
To get to Half Tizita from Full Tizita, you need to flatten the 3rd and 5th. Therefore, Half Tizita is 1, 2, b3, 4, b5.
Batti also has a major and a minor version.
Batti major: C - E - F - G - B. This is a major 3rd, minor 2nd, major 2nd, major 3rd, and minor 2nd.
Batti minor: C - Eb - F - G - Bb. This is a major 3rd, major 2nd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, and major 2nd.
To get to Batti minor from Batti major, you need to flatten the 2nd and 5th. Therefore, Batti minor is 1, b2, 3, 4, b5.
The minor version of Batti is known to the rest of the world as the minor pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale is a mode of the major pentatonic scale. We associate them with each other. It is interesting that Ethiopian musicians do not associate the Tizita major and Batti minor kiñit together. It is also interesting to note that Tizita minor is not a mode of Tizita major, and that Batti minor is not a mode of Batti major. This is evident when you look at the intervals that the kiñits contain. Batti major and Tizita minor both have minor 2nd’s in them, while Batti minor and Tizita major do not have minor 2nd’s.
There are some other versions of Batti as well, which involve raising various notes, such as the 3rd, 4th or 5th.
There are two main types of ambassel. The first one is the most widely used, while the second one is not as common.
Ambassel: C - Db - F - G - Ab. This is a minor 2nd, major 3rd, major 2nd, minor 2nd, and major 3rd.
Ambassel type 2: C - D - F - G - A. This is a major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 2nd, major 2nd, and minor 3rd. This scale is known to the rest of the world as the Mixolydian pentatonic scale, which is the 4th mode of the major pentatonic scale.
There are several types of anchihoye kiñits used. However, there is one that is the most commonly used.
Anchihoye: C - Db - F - Gb - A. This is a minor 2nd, major 3rd, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, and a minor 3rd.
There are also a few other ancihoye kiñits used. The main other three are all modes of the major pentatonic scale.
Mixolydian pentatonic: C - D - F - G - A. This is the scale in the Ambassel section above (Ambassel type 2). Some musicians associate it with Ambassel, while others associate it with Anchihoye.
Yematebela Wofe: C - D - F - G - Bb. This is a major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, and a major 2nd. This scale is the same scale that we know of as the Dorian pentatonic scale.
Shegaye: C - Eb - F - Ab - Bb. This is a minor 3rd, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 2nd, and a major 2nd. This scale is the same scale that we know of as the Phrygian pentatonic scale.
Different kiñits are used in different regions in Ethiopia. There is considerable overlap between some of these regions.
The north and central areas cover a huge amount of land. This includes the Amharas, Tigryanas, Oromos, Azmaris, and others. The four main kiñits are widely used here.
The Tigryanas primarily use Full Tizita and the Dorian pentatonic scale.
The Amharas use Full and Half Tizita, the Dorian, Mixolydian, and Phrygian pentatonic scales, Ambassel, and Batti (and a few of its variations).
The Oromos use Tizita, Batti, and Anchihoye kiñits, the Dorian and Phrygian pentatonic scales, and even a few 3-tone scales. A popular 3-tone scale here is C, Eb, and F#, which is a minor 3rd, minor 3rd, and a minor 5th.
The Gurages use the Tizita, Batti, and Anchihoye kiñits, as well as the Dorian and Phrygian pentatonic scales.
Eastern Ethiopia includes the Harers, Aderes, Somalis, and Kotus. The eastern part of Ethiopia is very close to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, so there has been a lot of arabic influence in this region. Due to this, there is considerable use minor scales (Meqam) in these areas, and especially with the Aderes. Pentatonic kiñits are common in Eastern Ethiopia as well.
The Hareris use Full Tizita, Batti minor, the diatonic major scale, and others.
A very common scale of the Hareris is: C - Db - Eb - E - F - Bb. This is a minor 2nd, major 2nd, minor 2nd, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, and a major 2nd.
The Hareris also use the C minor harmonic scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - B. This is a major 2nd, minor 2nd, major 2nd, major 2nd, minor 2nd, major 2nd, and a minor 2nd.
The Somalis and Aderes use Full Tizita and the Dorian pentatonic scale a lot.
Southern Ethiopia includes the Gambellas, Kullos, and Dorzes. Somalis and Aderes
The most common kiñits in these areas are Full Tizita, Batti minor, the major diatonic scale, and the natural minor scale.
Major Diatonic scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C. This is the commonly known as the major scale.
Natural Minor scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C. This is commonly known as the minor scale. It is the relative minor of the major diatonic scale.
Musicians in the southern parts of Ethiopia make great use of pentatonic and diatonic scales.
Abate, Ezra. Ethiopian Kiñit: Analysis of the Formation and Structure of the Ethiopian Scale System
Retrieved from: http://portal.svt.ntnu.no/sites/ices16/Proceedings/Volume%204/Ezra%20Abate%20-%20Ethiopian%20Kiñit.pdf
Astatke, Mulatu. Red Bull Music Academy interview
Retrieved from: http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/video-archive/transcript/mulatu_astatke__ethiopian_knight/transcript
Bekele, Zenebe. A Preview of Ethiopian Music
Retrieved from: http://www.ethiopians.com/eth_musika.htm
Mekonnon, Danny A. Ethio-groove on the World Stage: Music, Mobility, Mediation
Retrieved from: Callaloo, Volume 33, Number 1, Winter 2010