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International Music Resources by Country: Ethiopia

International Music Resources offers an array of online and physical resources both freely available and/or offered by the George F. DeVine Music Library. The information included in these guides may serve as a starting point for the study and research of

Ethiopia valley and mountains

Citation (1)

Map of Ethiopia

Ethiopian Map

Citation (2)

Music of Ethiopia

Éthiopiques, Vol. 23: Orchestra Ethiopia Album Art

Éthiopiques, Vol. 10: Tezeta - Ethiopian Blues & Ballads Album Art

Liturgies Juives D'Éthiopie Album Art

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music-Berber Music of Ethiopia

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Vol I: Africa

Facts in Brief

Ethiopian flag


Capital: Addis Ababa

Official Language: Afan Oromo, Afar, Somali, Tigrinya, English

Location: The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a landlocked country in eastern Africa; it has a long frontier with Somalia in the Somali peninsula portion of the Horn of Africa.

Area: 1,133,380 sq km (437,600 sq miles).

Current Population: 100,829,000

Climate: Ethiopia lies within the tropics but the wide range of altitude produces considerable variations in temperature conditions, which are reflected in the traditional zones of the dega (the temperate plateaux), the kolla (hot lowlands) and the intermediate frost-free zone of the woina dega. A main rainy season covers most of the country during June–August, when moist equatorial air is drawn in from the south and west.

Money: Ethiopian birr

Main Religion: The Ethiopian Orthodox (Tewahido) Church. 

Citation (3)

Mulatu Astatke

Ethiopian Musician Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke

b. 1943

Ethiopian musician and composer Mulatu Astatke (born 1943) is regarded as the founder of Ethiopian jazz, sometimes known as Ethio-jazz. He studied jazz in top colleges in England and the United States, then exported these influences back to Africa. He became a major figure in the musical nightlife culture of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, during the 1960s and 1970s, and following a period of suppression Marxist suppression, enjoyed a second period of international popularity in the 1990s and 2000s.

A figure of paramount importance in modern Ethiopian music, Mulatu Astatke was musically trained in the United States and England, then returned to Africa, where he devised ways of combining Western jazz styles with traditional Ethiopian instruments, melodies, and rhythms. 

 Astatke discovered ways of combining jazz with the music of his own Ethiopian heritage. Graduating from Berklee in the early 1960s, he headed for New York City, then the undisputed mecca for experimental and forward-looking jazz. Within the scene that became known as “swinging Addis,” Astatke soon stood among its leading figures as his innovations took hold and his instruments were adopted by other musicians. “I changed the whole Ethiopian music,” he explained to Ben Sisario for the New York Times, by “combining jazz and fusion with the Ethiopian five-tone scales. Since then my name has been on the very, very top of the Ethiopian musical scene.”

Citation: "Astatke, Mulatu." Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by Lisa Kumar, 2nd ed., vol. 37, Gale, 2017, pp. 22-24. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 14 July 2021.

Ethiopian Music

Traditional Music

Music has played an important role in Ethiopian life, in a variety of locales and social contexts, past and present. Since music is so often embedded in distinctive rituals and life cycle events, ethnic boundaries reinforce and emphasize the emergence of regional musical styles. The hierarchical nature of historical Ethiopian society had a powerful impact on the social organization of music, particularly in the highlands, where patronage played a critical role in perpetuating most musical traditions, sacred or secular.

The dabtarā

The dabtarā is a non-ordained church musician who trains in church schools for 15–20 years. Each dabtarā masters the zēmā sacred musical system and learns the melekket system of church musical notation while performing the liturgy as an oral tradition. Most dabtarā specialize, one becoming an authority on singing the music of the deggwā (hymnary), another being an expert in aqqwāqwām (liturgical dance).

The  azmāri

The azmāri is usually a male professional musician who sings and accompanies himself on a masēnqo (one-string lute) at the behest of patrons, whether in the historical court, in ṭej bēts (local taverns), at weddings and festivals associated with the church calendar, in contemporary urban hotels or on the radio. In the past, the azmāri played an important role as a social critic, improvising sophisticated texts of praise or criticism. The azmāri is closely associated with the rousing shillēlā song genre. The subcategories of shillēlā are described by Kebede (1971): the fukerā praises the achievements of a great warrior while denigrating enemies; the kerera inspires a warrior in battle; and the fanno memorializes a dead hero. 

The lālibēlā

The lālibēlā are a hereditary caste of singers who carry the stigma of leprosy. Lālibēlā improvise songs of praise in exchange for food and alms outside the homes of wealthy urban Ethiopians during early morning hours.  The lālibēlā are associated with several types of song, including strophic songs performed at weddings (māsse and awello). Some lālibēlā also compose and perform songs sung at tazkār, a memorial service.

Citation (4)


(1): "Ethiopian Highlands" by "D. Brandsma


(3): Country Profile (Ethiopia), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 08 July 2021 from

(4): Shelemay, K., & Kimberlin, C.  Ethiopia, Federal Democratic Republic of. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 12 Jul. 2021, from