What Are the Characteristics of Ethiopian Music?


Quick Answer

Ethiopian music features single vocalists or small groups singing in a hocket style; instruments in Ethiopian songs may include lyres, harps or flutes made of reed. Rhythmically, Ethiopian music is distinguished by vertical fifths and octaves, and may include other rhythms such as hand clapping, drums and rattles. Although unique, Ethiopian music is influenced by musical sounds from many other places, including the Middle East, Orthodox Church and other African nations.

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Full Answer

Like other types of music, vocalization is a key part of Ethiopian songs. Songs may feature a single vocalist or a small group. In group songs, singers often sing individual notes; together, these sounds create a melody or harmony, and are referred to as the hocket technique. In song, this harmony sounds much like yodeling.

In addition to voice, Ethiopian music features distinct instruments. Drums and rattles may keep a beat, while lutes, harps and lyres may create melodies and rhythm. Other instruments may accompany these traditional forms, such as rattles, which were added to Ethiopian music from the Orthodox Church.

Ethiopian music bears resemblance to that of Eritrea and Northern Sudan. These nations draw influence from Islamic music, which is inspired heavily by religion. Lyrically, Ethiopian music reflects on cultural, historical and economic events, such as sheep herding, weddings and the triumphs of great military leaders and emperors. Unlike other African nations, however, Ethiopian music never centers around festivals or annual events, as its residents historically have a nomadic lifestyle.

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