Electrified lyres. Auto-tuned vocal acrobatics. Undulating digital synths. Extremely funky dance moves, all happening above the shoulders. Those are just a few of the awesome things to expect when you go to see an Ethiopian pop music concert in 2013.
African pop music is steadily gaining exposure abroad as Nigerian afrobeats take over Europe, azonto goes viral and South African rappers get big record deals. Yet up in the Northeast corner of Africa, nothing of the sort is happening. The modern music of Ethiopia is very little known outside the country and its diaspora. That’s a shame, because Ethiopian music is amazing and sounds like nothing else on the continent — or in the rest of the world, for that matter.
If Ethiopia sounds different from the rest of Africa, that’s because the country is pretty different. It was the center of some of Africa’s most powerful historical empires, home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, and the only African territory (other than Liberia) to stay independent through the colonial era. Ethiopian languages are written in their own cool-looking alphabet. Culturally, it’s long been influenced by the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian Ocean as well as the rest of Africa. Chances are you’ve tried that spongy injera bread once or twice.