Filed under: Ethiopia
♬ Damtew Ayele • Wofe Yillala
♬ Samuel Belay • Keresh Endewaza
If one were to pick a specific point that marked the birth of the distinctive Ethiopian soul music, one could do worse than choose the late Emperor Haile Sellassie’s visit to Jerusalem in 1923. During his stay he heard European brass instruments, which made such an impression on him that he hired a group of Armenian players to become official musicians of the empire. One of these players, Kevork Nalbandian, even composed the current Ethiopian National Anthem in 1926 (Although, according to Wikipedia, it was Solomon Lulu Mitiku).
Thus a distinctly European flavour of brass band music was brought into a country whose traditional music bore heavy influence from Muslim forms, and its own modal pentatonic scale. Additionally, because it was actually impossible to buy saxophones, drums or other musical instruments under the Selassie regime, only the marching bands had access to them, giving the subsequently played music a foreboding, militaristic ambience.
Meanwhile in Europe, a new generation became that baby boomers started the cultural revolution of rock ’n’ roll, R ’n’ B and pop music in the 1960s. The same generation in Ethiopia, in their 20s during the early 60s, wanted to change the country and get connected with the world. But where Ethiopia was different was that they had about 6,000 Peace Corps from America. President Kennedy invented this civil service for youngsters in order to work in third world countries, so these people brought with them a lot of American flavours: long hair, bell-bottom trousers and plenty of vinyl records.
Thanks to the newly acquired influences from the West, the sound emanating from the clubs Addis Ababa was a heady stew of deep, hypnotic rhythms, distinctly Western guitar licks and soulful eastern melodies and vocals. The sound bore the unmistakable badge of American records (Stax and Motown artists in particular) plus something distinctly African and new.
Soon labels such as Amha Records and Kaifa Records sprung up around the city to capture the sounds produced by the more popular singers and performers. Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke, Alèmayehu Eshété, Tlahoun Gèssèssè, as well as others all brought their soulful sound to the clubs and cut records. But they disappeared from public view after Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military coup against Selassie in 1974. Under Mariam’s Derg, or ruling council, Addis Ababa’s nightlife died off.
Amha Ashèté, creator of the Amha Records label, was the driving force behind this brief creative burst and one of the main founders of the modernist movement which swept the Ethiopian scene during the end of the rule of the Emperor Haile Sellassie. The company released 103 singles and 12 albums between 1969 and 1975.
The song “Qeresh Endewaza” (which apparently translates to “You Are No More “) by Samuel Belay was featured on Budda Musique’s “Ethiopiques, Vol. 8: Swinging Addis”.. I am not sure if this is the same recording. As for Damtew Ayele, the only information I have been able to find says that he was “a traditional Ethiopian male singer. Ethiopian traditional songs include musical instruments such as the kebro, a percussion instrument, kirar and masinqo, both string instruments.” Which you can tell from this recording is incorrect.
Catalog number AE 710 on Amha Records of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All other information in Amharic, no release date given. This record (as well as many of Amha Records releases) was pressed on swirly green and purple vinyl, which unfortuanately does not sound all that great.