Monday, September 22, 2008

The Music of Ethiopia, part one: Power Ballads

As you know, I was recently in Ethiopia. I know what you like – you would like if I wrote about my own time there in a style similar to the one used when recounting Irene's adventures. Well, you're not getting that, or at least not yet. What you are getting now is some commentary on musical stuff I came across in that country.

First of all, I must mention the music my driver would play as he drove me around and between Bahir Dar and Gondar. He did play some Ethiopian music, including one or two tracks that sounded like they might be Éthiopiques-era tunes (with Alèmayèhyu Eshèté or one of his sound-a-likes getting a look in). This was not really where his heart lay, however, and whenever he put on any of this type of stuff he would usually take it off after a couple of tunes. The replacement would be R. Kelly style music – not Trapped In The Closet, but the kind of thing where the power ballad meet the lamer end of hip hop. Now, for me this is the very nadir of popular music, the kind of thing that rehabilitates rockist ideas, but the driver really loved it, and I have the vague idea that this kind of thing has a lot of purchase in the global south. In D-----'s case, I think the endless beseeching and yearning you get in this music suited his mood, as he had been away from his family in Addis Ababa for ages while he drove whitey around the tourist trail.

Power Pandas

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