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Ethiopiques Series: Nubian Sunrise

Ethiopiques: Police Band & EPB
Frew Haylu & IBG

How did the music of Ethiopia, one of the cradles of civilization, remain under the shadow of its fellow African nations Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mali and South Africa, who have had musicians achieve worldwide renown? For starters, Ethiopia is a nation almost twice the size of Texas that, save for brief occupation by Italy in the run-up to World War II, has enjoyed over 3,000 years of sovereignty. With that level of autonomy naturally comes a degree of chauvinism and even xenophobia, and Ethiopian culture and music in particular developed almost exclusively under the iron hand of Imperial censorship and proscription-which also helped cause severe famines, political turmoil and a debilitating border war with its former eastern province of Eritrea.

A military coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mengistu Haile-Mariam gained control of Ethiopia and turned it into a military state in 1974. Most of Ethiopia’s industries were nationalized, a one-party-state was established and agriculture collectivized. The dark age ushered in by Haile-Mariam, which was to last some 18 miserable years, also had tremendous deleterious effects on another local industry: recorded music.

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