The Making of Modern Music in Ethiopia

By Seble Teweldebirhan


Nhatty ManAddis Ababa, June 7, 2012 ( - One of the most contemporary sounds in Ethiopian music is made by Nhatnael Ayalew, also known as Nhatty Man by his stage name. The young musician is modern in every way. From his style to his approach and presentation on stage, Nhatty represents the current musical generation. His music mostly relate to a contemporary western beat, greatly influenced by foreign musicians like Shaggy.  He released his first album last year titled “Man”. Several songs from that album were a hit and he enjoyed a great success as a new artist to the music industry.


I met Nhatnael in Adika Records office, preparing for his first tour in North America. The tour organized by Adika includes another new raga sensation Haile Roots. The two Musicians are set to fly to North America at the end of June and present there modern music’s in ten states in the USA and Canada.


I asked Nhatty about his view on modern Ethiopian music and the criticism revolving around it. “I do believe music in Ethiopia has grown a lot,” he said. “Our music is getting attention from outside Ethiopia. This is an indication that there is a considerable positive change on our music”


For those who argue that Ethiopian music already saw its glory days in the 70s and 80s, Nhatty says it is far from the truth. “I understand everyone loves music of his or her own generation. It is also true we had great voices and musicians during those times. However, the present day music has changed a lot for the better. Especially when you see it as a professional, the arrangement is more standardized and in line with the rest of the world. The musicians are identifying their genre, and they understand where their talent lies. This is a significant step forward for the music industry”


Nhatty, in addition to his modern music, plays old Ethiopian music usually by legendary musicians like Mohammud Ahmed and Alemayehu Tadessa. He says that though he became a musician inspired by foreign music, he adores Mohammud Ahmed the most. “He is my idol,” he said.


The accusation on the contemporary music that says, it is a copy of the western sound and it is losing creativity and originality does not convince Nhatty. “It is true that we hear some music that seems a copy of some other sounds. However, it is my opinion that we cannot completely reject those beats. The young are more drawn to them. What we can do is to try to find a middle ground between originality and pleasing the needs of the new generation,” he said. “If we don’t step in and produce music that satisfies the young, it will go on and listen to foreign music. Today, we are doing the same beats with local languages. However, I do oppose a direct copy, and there needs to be some originality and creativity added to it.” 


Nhatty also says, though the beats are familiar to foreign and Diaspora listeners, the fact that the lyrics are in Amharic promotes the country. The upcoming tour also plays a role in promoting the country and its language in a manner people would understand, Nhatty says. “Promoting the language and music is promoting the country. For the upcoming tour to North America, me and Haile Roots have prepared both contemporary and oldies music. In addition to my own music, I am planning to play songs from Ethiopian music legends. We believe the audience will enjoy them very much.” 


For Nhatty, the old days when musicians ran out of the country the minute they got popular are long gone. “The music industry has improved a lot and musicians can make whatever they like to achieve as long as they work harder. In addition, in my opinion, you cannot win a problem by running away. We have to stick and fight in order to see a real change. I believe everyone has their own reason for leaving but if the reason is the market and problems related to copyright, there is noticeable improvement. We have reached a point where the fittest survives.”


On the poor culture of music tours in the country, Nhatty comments that it needs a serious consideration among Ethiopia musicians. “My last tour with Zeritu Kebede and Mehari Brothers is still considered the only organized music tour in the country. We have toured ten cities, and it was relatively successful. I am not saying it was easy. There were many inconveniences including the bad roads. However, we were happy to do it and it showed us the potential of music tour in the country. I think that kind of culture has to develop.”


Nhatty previously toured outside Ethiopia to several countries including South Africa, Dubai, and Kenya. However, the upcoming tour to North America is his first journey to that area. He says, with Haile Roots, they have been rehearsing to bring the best show possible. “I believe the audience will enjoy our performance very much,” he said with a big smile.



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