Dawit Alemayehu is an Ethiopian pop artist. He has been on the Ethiopian music scene over the last five years. In 2011 he participated on the Ethiopian talent show Ethiopian Idol. His latest release is the single ‘Mizanish Tezaba’ released in August 2016.
Ethiopia is a musically traditional country. Of course, popular music is played, recorded and listened to, but most musicians also sing traditional songs, and most audiences choose to listen to both popular and traditional styles. A long-standing popular musical tradition in Ethiopia was that of brass bands, imported from Jerusalem in the form of forty Armenianorphans (Arba Lijoch) during the reign of Haile Selassie. This band, which arrived in Addis Ababa on September 6, 1924, became the first official orchestra of Ethiopia. By the end of World War II, large orchestras accompanied singers; the most prominent orchestras were the Army Band, Police Band, and Imperial Bodyguard Band.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Ethiopian popular musicians included woyesa tilahun, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Bekele, Ali Birra, Ayalew Mesfin, Kiros Alemayehu, Muluken Melesse and Tilahun Gessesse, while popular folk musicians included Alemu Aga, Kassa Tessema, Ketema Makonnen, Asnaketch Worku, and Mary Armede. Perhaps the most influential musician of the period, however, was Ethio-jazz innovator Mulatu Astatke. Amha Records, Kaifa Records, and Philips-Ethiopia were prominent Ethiopian record labels during this era. Since 1997, Buda Musique’s Éthiopiques series has compiled many of these singles and albums on compact disc.
During the 1980s, the Derg controlled Ethiopia, and emigration became almost impossible. Musicians during this period included Ethio Stars, Wallias Band and Roha Band, though the singer Neway Debebe was most popular. He helped to popularize the use of seminna-werq (wax and gold, a poetic form of double entendre) in music (previously only used in qiné, or poetry) that often enabled singers to criticize the government without upsetting the censors.
One of the biggest new trends, however, has been the rise of bolel, a sort of blues-like music, played by sarcastic azmari playing in parts of Addis Ababa, especially Yohannès Sefer and Kazentchis. Bolel musicians include Tigist Assefa, Tedje and Admassou Abate.
Currently the most prominent Ethiopian singer internationally is Gigi. Through her performing with prominent jazz musicians such as Bill Laswell (who is also her husband) and Herbie Hancock, Gigi has brought Ethiopian music to popular attention, especially in the United States, where she now lives.
Another noteworthy singer is Neway Debebe, who was very popular among the youth of the 1980s and early 1990s with such songs as “Yetekemt Abeba,” “Metekatun Ateye,” “Safsaf,” and “Gedam” – among others. Abatte Barihun has exemplified all four main qenets on his 2005 album Ras Deshen.
Éthiopiques producer Francis Falceto criticizes contemporary Ethiopian music for eschewing traditional instruments and ensemble playing in favor of one-man bands using synthesizers. Harvard University professor Kay Kaufman Shelemay, on the other hand, maintains that there is genuine creativity in the contemporary music scene. She further points out that Ethiopian music is not alone in shifting to electronically produced music, a point that Falceto acknowledges.
New genres of music, popular in western countries, such as rock and hip hop have been introduced in recent years. Musical acts like Jano Band play a new style of music dubbed “Ethio-rock”, a mix of Ethiopian music and rock music. Hip hop music started influencing Ethiopian music in the early to mid 2000s and culminated with the creation of Ethiopian hip hop, rhymed in the native Amharic language. The Earliest and most influential rappers of Ethiopian hip hop were Teddy Yo and Lij Michael, with the latter being more commercially successful. The success of both Jano Band and Lij Michael led to their inclusion in the 2017 edition of Coke Studio Africa.