Music of Eritrea

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Eritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa. Its music is distinguished by its unique rhythm.[ how? ][ citation needed ]

Eritrea country in the Horn of Africa

Eritrea, officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa, with its capital at Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The northeastern and eastern parts of Eritrea have an extensive coastline along the Red Sea. The nation has a total area of approximately 117,600 km2 (45,406 sq mi), and includes the Dahlak Archipelago and several of the Hanish Islands. Its toponym Eritrea is based on the Greek name for the Red Sea, which was first adopted for Italian Eritrea in 1890.

Horn of Africa peninsula in Northeast Africa

The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in Northeast Africa. It extends hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. The area is the easternmost projection of the African continent. Referred to in ancient and medieval times as the land of the Barbara and Habesha, the Horn of Africa denotes the region containing the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.


Notable Eritrean musicians

Notable Eritrean musicians include Edris wad Amir, Ibrahim wad goret, Edris M.Ali, Zainab Bashir,Fatima Ibrahim, Engineer Asgedom Woldemichael, Wad Asheikh, Yemane Baria, Osman Abderrehim, Alamin Abdeletif and Atowe Birhan Segid, some of whose music was banned by the Ethiopian government in the 1970s.[ citation needed ] Also of note is Bereket Mengistab, who has had a lengthy career, and 1960s musicians Haile Ghebru and Tewolde Redda. The latter was one of the first electric guitar players in the Horn region, a singer, and reportedly a writer of the famous Eritrean independence song "Shigey habuni", with an allegedly coded political love theme.[ citation needed ]

Modern popular stars include Wad Asheikh, Saeed salih,Fatima Ibrahim, Teklé Tesfa-Ezighe Tekle Kifle Mariam (Wedi Tukul), Tesfai Mehari (Fihira), Osman Abderrehim, Abrar Osman, Abraham Afwerki, Yemane Ghebremichael, Idris Mohamed Ali, Alamin Abdeletif, Tsehaytu Beraki, and Atewebrhan Segid.[ citation needed ]

Yemane Ghebremichael was a well-known Eritrean songwriter, composer and singer. He became one of the most renowned Eritrean artists(a Tigrinya singer). Not confined to musical pursuits, he was also heavily involved in Eritrean politics. He died of natural causes in 1997.

Tsehaytu Beraki was an Eritrean musician, poet and political activist, known for her singing and playing of the krar.

Folk music

Traditional instruments include the stringed kraar, kebero, lyre, kobar and the wata, a rudimentary distant cousin of the violin.[ citation needed ]


A kebero is a double-headed, conical hand drum used in the traditional music of Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. A piece of animal hide is stretched over each end of the instrument, thus forming a membranophone. A large version of the kebero is also used in Ethiopian Orthodox Christian liturgical music, while smaller versions are used in secular celebrations. The Kebero is primarily used in funeral rituals and other ceremonies. It was created in the Norther Highlands of Ethiopia. The instrument is made from the hollowed out section of a tree trunk and then hard particles are inserted into it. The shell is then covered with two cow leather membranes, so that one can be tuned higher than the other. A kebero is also used in a worship called wereb. It is mostly done in Ethiopia.

Lyre string instrument from Greek classical antiquity

The lyre is a string instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later periods. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp but with distinct differences. In organology, lyres are defined as "yoke lutes", being lutes in which the strings are attached to a yoke that lies in the same plane as the sound-table and consists of two arms and a cross-bar.

Modern Eritrean popular music can be traced back to the late 1960s, when the MaHber Theatre Asmara began to produce stars like Osman Abderrehim, Alamin Abdeletif, Yemane Ghebremichael (commonly known as Yemane Baria), Jabber, Ateweberhan Seghid, Yonus Ibrahim, Tsehaytu Beraki, Tewolde Redda, Teberh Tesfahiwet and Tukabo Weldemariam. [1]

Since then, some musicians, like kraar-player Dawit Shilan, Yohannes Tikabo(also known as Wedi Tukabo), Dehab Faytinga (commonly known as Faytinga), the Asmara All Stars and Temesgen Gebreselassie (also known as Taniqo) have helped to incorporate the core indigenous Eritrean musical elements in popular music. Imported styles of music from Europe, North America, and elsewhere in the Horn region, are also very popular in urban areas of Eritrea.[ citation needed ]

Yohannes Tiquabo is an Eritrean singer-songwriter. Once an advocate of the national government, Yohannes emigrated from Eritrea in October, 2013, while on a tour in the United States sponsored by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, Eritrea's ruling party. A song he subsequently released on YouTube, "Hadnetna" denouncing the ruling party has since gone viral.

Dehab Faytinga Eritrean musicians

Faytinga is a singer and musician from Eritrea. She was born Dahab Faid Tinga in 1964, and is also commonly known as Dehab Faytinga. She belongs to the Nilotic Kunama ethnic group. It is one of the nation's recognized ethnic groups, where women and men have equal rights.

Much of modern Eritrean music incorporates electric keyboards and autotuned vocals.[ citation needed ]


Traditional Eritrean Tigrinya dancing involves two main styles of dance. In the first which is called 'quda', the dancers form a circle and slowly circumambulator or move around in an endless circular motion to the rhythm of the music. Then, they cease the circular musical flow/motion and dance in pairs or 3's facing each other for a short while before resuming the circular motion in a file again. During this time, they shuffle their feet to the beat of the music and bob their shoulders in a rhythmic fashion. Female dancers usually move their shoulders more than the male dancers. Towards the end, the musical tempo increases and the drum beat quickens to signal this musical crescendo. The dancers round off their dancing by facing each other in twos and threes and moving their shoulders faster. This can also involve jumping and bending one's knees, as well as going down to the floor to sit in a squatting position while bobbing those shoulders and moving the head sideways to the strong drum beats.

In the second style of dance, two groups (often a group of men and a group of women) line up and face each other. The dance features a skipping step to the music. Periodically, the two groups will change places, dancing across the floor and passing each other in the process.

Traditional dances practiced by Eritrea's other Afro-Asiatic communities include those by the Saho, which involve jumping on each leg in rhythm with the beat. The related Afar, Tigre, Bilen and Hidareb have similar moves. Additionally, the Rashaida also have their own unique dances.

Dancing by the Nilo-Saharan Kunama involves raising bead-strung legs in sync with the rhythm of the music. The related Nara have similar traditions.

Live music: piano bars

The music scene in the Eritrean capital of Asmara has traditionally been known for setting the standard of Tigrinya music for listeners in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The relatively recent 'piano bar' phenomenon has been largely exclusive to Asmara because almost all contemporary musicians and singers live in the capital city.

The piano bar culture became popular around 2004, when leading singers such as Dawit Shilan [2] played at the Ha.Ko.Se.E cafe. At the time - live music in bars being a new experience in the city - the cafe was overcrowded over weekends and many customers had to be turned away.

One of the intrinsic characteristics of the piano bars is that the artists remix a range of classic hits, instead of sticking to performing only their own songs. For example, Dawit Shilan playing Atewebrhan Segid’s 1970s jazz not only brought these classic song back to life, but showed his mastery of performance skills, particularly on the krar.

Piano bars have thus provided a platform for jazz and blues artists - and to a lesser extent the local dance music known as Guayla. They have become sites for musicians to show their artistry, as they are not bound by the typical demands for upbeat music for dancing.

After the success of gigs at the Ha.Ko.Se.E piano bar, other hotels and cafes were quick to catch on the business. Hotels such as Sunshine, Savana, Bologna cub and Ayele family have been hosting contemporary favourites such as Yohannes Tikabo, [3] Tesfay Mengesha and Kahsai Haile regularly.

In 2013, the Berhe Aiba Hotel started a new type of live performance by giving prominence to musicians rather than singers. Jazz classics were played, with singers such as Yohannes Tikabo only featuring on certain songs. Some of the best talents in Eritrean music - like Shonqie, Fanjai, Chobie and Gidewon - were brought together as a band to provide a unique experience. The place became a hangout for many musicians, who would get often on stage and jam.

The success of piano bars in Asmara could also be connected with the Gaeda genre, which is played in Swa houses in Aba Shawel, a district of Asmara that has traditionally been home to many notable artists across generations. Gaeda is a communal music experience where a singer plays songs accompanied by friends beating drums, clapping and singing along. Many of these songs are exclusively played in Gaeda settings and are never recorded or released on albums. Songs are often modified by whoever sings them, adding thought-provoking social and political messages. [4]


In 1994, a year after Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition, a group of musicians were brought together under the direction of Kahsay Gebrehewet as part of Eritrea’s nation building efforts. [5] The musicians, who had previously performed in various revolutionary music groups, were brought together as the national music and dance troupe, Sibrit, which means "heritage". [6] Sibrit perform music and dance from all nine of Eritrea's main ethnic groups (Afar, Bilen, Hedareb, Saho, Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Tigre and Tigrinya), they feature regularly on Eritrean radio and television shows and perform as representatives of Eritrean culture around the world. [5] Their instrumentation includes the amplified krar, bass krar and percussion. [5]

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In musical terminology, tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece. In classical music, tempo is typically indicated with an instruction at the start of a piece and is usually measured in beats per minute. In modern classical compositions, a "metronome mark" in beats per minute may supplement or replace the normal tempo marking, while in modern genres like electronic dance music, tempo will typically simply be stated in bpm.

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Honky-tonk type of bar that provides musical entertainment

A honky-tonk is both a bar that provides country music for the entertainment of its patrons and the style of music played in such establishments. Bars of this kind are common in the South and Southwest United States. Many eminent country music artists, such as Jimmie Rodgers, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Horton and Merle Haggard, began their careers as amateur musicians in honky-tonks. The modern-day, honky-tonk atmosphere has continued, with the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Turnpike Troubadours, and Mike and the Moonpies.

Salsa (dance) dance form

Salsa is a popular form of social dance originating from Caribbean folk dances. The movements of Salsa are a combination of the Afro-Cuban dances Son, cha-cha-cha, Mambo, Rumba, bomba and the Danzón. The dance, along with salsa music, saw major development in the mid-1970s in New York. Different regions of Latin America and the United States have distinct salsa styles of their own, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Cali Colombia, L.A. and New York styles. Salsa dance socials are commonly held in night clubs, bars, ballrooms, restaurants, and outside, especially when part of an outdoor festival.

In music, an ostinato[ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997), and April Ivy's "Be Ok" (1997).

Sudan has a rich and unique musical culture that has been through chronic instability and repression during the modern history of Sudan.

Music of Pakistan

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Lounge music is a type of easy listening music popular in the 1950s and 1960s. It may be meant to evoke in the listeners the feeling of being in a place, usually with a tranquil theme, such as a jungle, an island paradise or outer space. The range of lounge music encompasses beautiful music–influenced instrumentals, modern electronica, while remaining thematically focused on its retro-space-age cultural elements. The earliest type of lounge music appeared during the 1920s and 1930s, and was known as light music. In the 21st century, the term lounge music may also be used to describe the types of music played in hotels, casinos, supermarkets, several restaurants, and piano bars.

Saint Louis Blues (song) song

"Saint Louis Blues" is a popular American song composed by W. C. Handy in the blues style and published in September 1914. It was one of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song and remains a fundamental part of jazz musicians' repertoire. Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, and the Boston Pops Orchestra are among the artists who have recorded it. The song has been called "the jazzman's Hamlet."

Piano Man (song) 1973 single by Billy Joel

"Piano Man" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Billy Joel. His first single in North America, it was included on Joel's 1973 album of the same name and later released as a single on November 2, 1973. The song is sung from Joel's point-of-view working as a piano player at a bar, reminiscing on his experiences working there and the people that he encountered. "Piano Man" is based on Joel's real-life experiences working as a lounge musician in Los Angeles from 1972-73, in an effort to escape his contracted New York-based record company at the time, Family Productions, following the poor commercial performance of the album Cold Spring Harbor. Joel describes various characters, including a bartender named John and a "real-estate novelist" named Paul, all based on real-life individuals.

Culture of Ethiopia

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Halling (dance)

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Tigrayan people are Tigrinya-speaking people in Eritrea and in present-day Tigray region. They mainly inhabit the highlands of Eritrea and the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia, with diaspora communities in many countries. In Eritrea they comprise about 55% of the population, i.e. above three million people, and in Ethiopia there are about 4.5 million Tigrayans, according to the 2007 census, most of them in the Tigray Region. Over 90% of Tigrayans are Christians. The great majority are Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian, but there are minorities of Muslims, Beta Israel, and since the 19th century, Protestants in Eritrea and Catholics mainly in Akele Guzay and Agame. Most Tigrayans are traditionally agriculturalists, practicing plough agriculture and also keeping cattle, sheep and goats, and in many areas bees. Some Tigrayan groups have a strong local identity and used to have their own traditional, quite autonomous self-organization, sometimes dominated by egalitarian assemblies of elders, sometimes by leading families or local feudal dynasties. In some areas the meritorious complex played a considerable role in achieving a social status, which led to the creation of local honorary titles and social institutions, and, historically, to an active involvement in the warfare of Christian Ethiopia; through this, even the sons of simple peasants could rise considerably in the state of hierarchy.

Abatte Barihun Israeli composer and musician

Abatte Barihun is an Israeli jazz saxophonist and composer. His sound is reminiscent of John Coltrane's, who has highly influenced Barihun.

Bereket Mengisteab is a well-known Eritrean songwriter, composer and singer.

Quatit, Eritrea Town in Debub, Eritrea

Also known as Qua'atit, Quatit is a town located in the Debub region of Eritrea. It sits about 16 kilometers (10 mi) west of Adi Keyih.


  2. "Eritrean artist Shilan slams use of backing tracks". Music In Africa. 13 October 2015.
  3. "Yohannes Tikabo". Music In Africa. 2 September 2015.
  4. "The live music scene in Eritrea". Music In Africa. 5 April 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 Lavoie, Matthew (25 August 2009). "Eritrea's Guayla King, Bereket Mengisteab". Voice of America News.
  6. Efrem, Samrawit (11 November 2009). "Sibrit Cultural Troupe Celebrating Eritrean culture diversity". Retrieved 2 October 2014.