Film

Roaring Abyss: A Documentary Chronicling The Diverse And Ancient Sounds Of Ethiopia

This film presents sounds you may not have heard before in Ethiopia.

Yayne Abeba singing a Tizita. Photo by Gonzalo Guajardo.


Ethiopia’s music scene is known for it’s distinctive genre of Ethio-Jazz, a blend of western musical sounds, Armenian introduced brass instruments, and Ethiopia’s traditional folk and religious music. Most focus on Ethiopian music highlights the country's modern musical output, music that utilizes keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines.

Roaring Abyss, a documentary and “audiovisual poem” directed by Quino Piñero, endeavored to bring to light the dizzyingly diverse array of music being sung and played throughout a country where approximately 80 languages are spoken and 90 million people call home. From the country's highlands to grasslands, Roaring Abyss sought and found traditional Ethiopian music, passed down for generations, being kept alive.

The Roaring Abyss team traveled Ethiopia for two years. The team, employing an audiophile approach, documented and recorded musicians from across the country and their stories. The beautiful music that is captured in the film is deeply moving and spiritual. The music’s ancient past reverberates and bounces off the traditional instruments played, such as the Krar (a five or six stringed lyre), Washint (type of flute), Masenqo (single stringed bowed lute) and Kebero (double headed drum with animal skin stretched over making it a membranophone).

Roaring Abyss is Piñero’s directorial debut. In addition to filmmaking, Piñero, who is Spanish, is a sound engineer and music producer. Piñero also started SolySombra Recordings, a record company.

The documentary made its premiere this past October in Budapest at Womex15. It has also been screened at the Athens Ethnofest 2015, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2016, Film Fest DC 2016, the Somerville Theatre in Boston and others.

Catch Roaring Abyss today, April 18, at the Film Fest DC in Washington, D.C. Get your tickets here.

Peep these two trailers for Roaring Abyss and be on the lookout for news about upcoming screenings near you.

 

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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