Ethiopia MUSIC

Ethiopia Arts and Music


Up to the 20th century. the artistic development of Ethiopia presents a common path with that of Eritrea. In the preaksumite period (from the 5th century BC to about the 1st AD) there are architectural and sculptural products of South Arabian belonging, probably due to South Arabs settled in Ethiopia; subsequently a properly Ethiopian art emerged, during the period marked by the predominance of the city of Aksum (1st -10th century), characterized both by South Arabian elements and by Egyptian influences, from the Mediterranean and Byzantine cultures; the introduction of Christianity (4th century) marked the moment of a new development, characterized by Christian-Eastern influences. The architectural remains present peculiar constructive solutions, in palaces, temples and Christian churches; the tombs and the characteristic stelae, high granite monoliths which in the relief decoration represent perhaps an idealization of royal residences, testify to the importance of the cult of the dead. The major centers were Aksum, Matarà, the Cohaito region, Adulis, all in today’s Eritrea (Adulis was the port of Aksum on the Red Sea).

In the remains of the first churches we can see the influence of art from Syria and Palestine, as well as from Christian Egypt. Ceramic production appears to be original, both for technical-material and formal aspects. Among the buildings of the Christian period are some important monuments, such as the churches of the monastery of Debra Dammò (6th -10th century), a model for other churches in Eritrea and Ethiopia southern. From the 10th to the 15th century. and beyond were built churches carved into the rock, or carved out of the rock, common in the Tigrai and Lasta (Lalibela, monolithic churches of Bet Giyorgis, Bet Golgotha ​​etc., 12th-14th century). Harar is characterized by the influence of the Arab-Islamic culture, an example of which is the important mosque of al-Jami (16th century). The sculpture has left testimony in decorative parts, in wood or stone, with geometric motifs, stylized plants, animal or human figures (in the Lasta), in which the influence of Coptic art is found. The first pictorial, religious, parietal documents, on wood or on parchment, show influences from Syria, Armenia, Coptic Egypt.

Around the 15th-16th century. painting is influenced by Europe. Of particular importance, for the iconographic aspect, are the illustrations connected with the book of the Miracles of Mary, which spread in the 15th century. Especially from the 17th century. the architecture is radically transformed, demonstrating Portuguese, Indian influences, alongside Ethiopian elements. The new development occurs in the region of Gondar and Lake Tana. In churches, a circular plan structure spreads, often consisting of two concentric circular spaces enclosing a quadrangular compartment; the external shape of the round church repeats that of the indigenous house with a conical roof. The buildings of wood and mortar made of mud and straw took over between the 16th and 18th centuries. buildings in stone and lime with a complex plan, with several floors and often domed roofs, intended for religious or civil use. Indian influence is important in painting, alongside European religious iconographic models, in wall paintings, tables and manuscripts, which from the 19th century.

Addis Ababa is rich in traditional and modern architecture; until the beginning of the 20th century. in the architecture there are mainly Arab and Indian influences, in both religious and secular buildings. Since 1910, historical and eclectic styles have been introduced by European architects; in the churches the inspiration from Renaissance and Baroque forms prevails (S. Giorgio, 1906; Menelik’s mausoleum, 1930; the Trinity, 1941). Also worthy of mention are the classical palaces of Ḫāyla Sellāsyē (1935) and the National Palace (1955) and the déco Parliament building (1934). Since the 1950s there has been a widespread reference to functionalism with an international matrix (Town Hall, 1961-64).

After the academicism of the 1930s, art is aligned with European production. Among the artists we remember G. Krestos Dastā (1932-1981), trained in Germany, then turned to abstractionism; A. Boghossian, known as Skunder, who moved to the USA in 1969. After the conventional realism spread from the mid-1970s, we are witnessing the development of a popular type of painting; the School of Fine Arts (founded in 1969) assumes great importance in the training of artists. In the sculpture we remember the monumental works of A. Taklē (equestrian statue of Ras Makonnen, 1968) or the references to the traditional wooden sculpture of B. Abebe.


Christianity generated a liturgical music whose history is difficult to reconstruct due to the invasions, especially Islamic, suffered over the centuries, as a result of which most of the codes that documented the Ethiopian liturgical chant disappeared. Its development, according to the most recent studies, can be outlined in three phases: the first, from Christianization to the arrival of the musician Yared in the 4th century; the second, defined as ‘the period of Yared’, who is considered the founder of Ethiopian music; the third, from Yared to the present day. According to the Ethiopian tradition, Yared was not only the author of all the liturgical books and melodies of sacred chant, but also the inventor of the notation system based on signs, called meleket, placed in the margin or between the lines of sacred texts. For Ethiopia 2004, please check

The Ethiopian chant can be a cappella or accompanied by some instruments that are used exclusively to mark the time: the maqwamiya (stick with the upper metal tip in the shape of a Greek tau), the kabaro (large drum) and the senasel (small sistrum of bronze).

Ethiopia MUSIC