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Getish Mamo | WezWez Addis | DJ Kingston

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 Getish Mamo | WezWez Addis | DJ Kingston

Ethiopia has a long and at times tormented history. With that it has an equally long and fascinating history of arts and culture. To write about Ethiopia’s traditional music in one article such as this may not do justice to everyone nor reveal the complete and true picture of the situation. This text should thus simply serve as a launch pad for further study for anyone who would like to venture deeper into the country’s traditional music.

Let's compare two snapshots of recent Ethiopian history. The first is from 1968, when Emperor Haile Selassie I ruled over the proudest and most eccentric nation in Africa, with its Christian Coptic church (that was already well established when the British still worshipped pagan gods), its feudal menagerie of princes, barons and serfs, its vast and verdant central plateau, and its pulsating capital city Addis Ababa, which was then one of the pre-eminent cultural, social and diplomatic hot-spots of independent Africa.

At this time, down in the Wube Bereha, the red-light district of central Addis, royalty rubbed its haughty shoulders with generals and gigolos, bar-room philosophers and peace-corps workers, diplomats and prostitutes, in an intoxicatingly illicit celebration of youth and freedom. Plush hotels resounded to patent-leather-clad feet dancing to the sounds of resident "soul" combos like the Ras Band, All Star Band, Zula Band, Venus Band, Wabe Shebele Band, Roha Band and Dahlak Band. The old guard fumed against youthful decadence and the unwelcome "foreign" influences that seemed to be invading the nation's cerebral cortex. The old order was dying, and those who could either afford or blag their way into the party were dancing like tomorrow would never come.

Fast-forward a mere 17 years to 1985 and the headlines were monotonously brutal: famine, corruption, Eritrean separatists, Live Aid, Bob Geldof, Stalinism African-style, starving children and flies crawling across the face of a desperate nation. Francis Falceto, a young music promoter from Poitiers in France, stepped nervously off an Aeroflot flight from Moscow and into the dark, empty streets of Ethiopia's capital, which had been cleared of all joy and nightlife by the midnight curfew imposed in the wake of the revolution of 1974.

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