A Glance At Ethiopia’s Musical Culture

Ethiopian music has its own unique styles and flow as much of the African countries such as Mali from the Western Africa has a blues-like theme. According to many renowned scholar’s work on this subject such as Sylvia Pankhurst’s (1955) volume Ethiopia: A Cultural History and Donald Levine’s (1965) Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture both entail Ethiopian music has played a superficial role in the continent’s music history.

Much of the musical style fall under the four categories namely Ambassel, Anchihoye, Tizita , and Bati. These musical styles are called Qignit (Amharic loose translation for style or mode). Surprisingly enough those four genres got their root from the northern part of Ethiopia but they are the cornerstone even for the so called modern Ethiopian music.

Native Musical Instruments that will leave you speechless According to an article published by the Independent entitled “The golden age of Ethiopian music”, Francis Falceto who is a well-known contemporary French music promoter and producer stated that when he had come first to Ethiopia the people in
general could not imagine their music could attract foreigners .

However, with the power of their musical instruments slowly the Western and other parts of the world were aware of how exhilarating is the music to one’s ear. Some of the well-known instruments are as follow:-


A typical pentatonic plucked lyre which is a 5 or 6 string lyre in the shape of a bowl. Many Ethiopian musicians make use of this amazing instrument such as Gash Abera Mola (Silesshi Demissie), Mary Armeede, and Asnakech Worku.


A single-stringed instrument played by rubbing the bow against the fiddles from side to side. It is held vertically and played only by men according to tradition.Typically it has 64.7 cm of height and 22.5 cm of width. Its practiced among the Amhara, Tigray and Oromiya ethnics. It is popular in both religious and secular music.


A conical hand drum that is found not only in Ethiopia but also in Eritreaand Sudan. It is used for various occasions but most of the time it is predominantly used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in a ritual. Besides during worship it can be used during funerals.


A notable string instrument containing ten strings with a height of 1 to 1.5 meters and is kind of a harp that is practiced mainly in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It is made from wood and the strings are taken out from the intestines of a sheep. There are a lot of begena players but Alemu Aga is the most notable among Ethiopians.


An end-blown wooden flute with four holes for manipulating with fingers is not based on strings which makes it unique from the other instruments. This pentatonic instrument is typical among herdsmen while they are on field working in the rural areas of Amhara region in Ethiopia. It can be prepared using wood or bamboo.

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