Ethiopia rocks to electronic music despite political storms.

Author:Jeffrey, James

Electronic dance music has taken root in Addis Ababa. Is the arrival of its caustic, manic rhythms a sign of the turbulent times? James Jeffrey captures a slice of everyday life, and music, in Addis while larger events unfold across the nation.

A throbbing beat was emanating out of the darkness on a Saturday night high up in the Entoto hills surrounding Addis Ababa. In an abandoned restaurant, the crowd put their arms in the air as the DJ at the decks kept up the relentless pace of the electronic dance music blasting from speakers. EDM, a style of electronic dance music popularised by US festival and rave culture, had come to the Ethiopian capital.

Addis Ababa's music scene is typically famed for its traditional, shoulder-shaking iskista dancing, its mesinko-playing minstrels singing political satire masked in witty innuendos, and its live bands playing the hypnotic melodies of Ethio-Jazz.

The city has rightly never let go of a vibrant and eclectic musical heritage. But the timing and arrival of a thumping dose of very 21st-century EDM coincides with dramatic shifts in Ethiopia's political landscape that have liberalised the country and generated great hope, while also releasing darker forces fomenting ethnic conflict.

"Younger Ethiopians have grown up with their entire experience of this sort of music being through their smartphones, watching EDM festivals like Ultra in Miami," says Chuchu, a 33-year-old Ethiopian who began organising EDM nights three years ago. "So we have brought it home to them--we're the rebels, a handful of people who took a leap of faith three years ago to see if it could work in Addis."

Foreign--and especially American--influence in Ethiopia goes well beyond the local music scene being affected by distant images of decadent festivals and gorgeous millennials having the time of their lives. The US-based Ethiopian diaspora lobbies Congress and runs highly influential media beaming into the motherland, fuelling the ongoing political upheaval, for both good and ill.

"The problem now is that so many individuals are mixing up the roles of activist and media when they shouldn't go together--media is meant to have its own ethics and rules," says Abel Wabella, managing editor of the Addis Ababa-based newspaper Addis Zebye. "You have people running media who are calling for protests--it's totally absurd."

Musical volatility

Ethiopia has a long history of musical trends ebbing and flowing in tune to the latest political...

To continue reading