Music

For music lovers, a plethora of unique homegrown sounds - both traditional and contemporary, ecclesiastic and secular - provide a consistently enjoyable backdrop to travel in Ethiopia.

  • The beautiful hymns and liturgies associated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church employ a unique chant and notation system developed in the 6th century AD by the Aksumite musical scholar Saint Yared, who also composed many religious songs and hymns still in use today.
  • Of many secular musical traditions associated with Ethiopia, the best known is the azmari, a bard-like singer-songwriter who usually performs solo, singing semi-improvised lyrics accompanied by a type of one-stringed fiddle called a masenko, or on a lyre-like krar. Accomplished azmaris can still be seen performing live in small drinking holes known as tej bets in the likes of Addis Ababa, Gondar, Lalibela and Dessie.
  • More elaborate and euphoric pan-Ethiopian performances of traditional music and dance - embracing everything from the Tigraian shoulder-shudder to the Wolayta hip-shake - can be enjoyed at half a dozen different cultural restaurants dotted around Addis Ababa. Though these restaurants attract a predominantly Ethiopian clientele, they are also very used to catering to tourists, and provide an excellent opportunity to sample a wide selection of local foods.
  • A wide variety of contemporary Ethiopian pop and jazz, distinguished by its three-four signature and Arabic-sounding pentatonic melodies, can be heard in restaurants, bars and cafes throughout the country. Among the more popular established artists, most of whom recorded in the 1970s, are Mahmoud Ahmed, Hirut Bekele, Alemayehu Eshete and Getachew Kassa.
  • You’re unlikely to spend longer than a day in Ethiopia without being introduced to the regal voice of the country’s most perennially popular songstress, Gondar-born Aster Aweke, who still releases new material regularly from her base in the USA. Other more contemporary artists include the US-based singer Gigi, the controversial Teddy Afro, reggae artist Jonny Ragga, and the so-called ‘Ethiopian Beyonce’ Helen Berhe.
  • Live Ethiopian jazz and pop music can be seen in many clubs dotted around Addis Ababa. The most reliable and tourist friendly option at the moments is Mama’s Kitchen on Bole Road, which host a different live performer every night of the week. Outside of the capital, great venues hosting live music every night include the Amsal Mitike & Family Club in Bahir Dar and Camelot House in Gondar.