Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur (song)

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The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur have a long history in Ethiopia although their origins are not clear. It is estimated that the introduction of Christianity took place in Ethiopia around 300 A.D.

Despite it’s the Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur old history and undiscovered information this topic is given a little focus and is kept inaccessible to the vast majority except for those who are part of the church community.

Other than the religious and spiritual views of the religion it also greatly influenced the educational system and the transfer of knowledge like art, music and literature throughout the country till the current days.

Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur and Ethiopia Past

These being said it is very important to understand at least the basics like the introduction of Christianity and how the church got its own modes of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs and traditions.

Ethiopia is one of the first countries that accepted Christianity in the earlier times. Even before this it is said that Ethiopia believed in Monotheism and the existence of one God for a long period of time.

This can be seen by the times of Queen of Sheba where she went to King Solomon of Israel and, it is said that she accepted Judaism as the official religion.

Right after the introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia, it soon captivated the souls of many, and it dominated people’s way of life in both religious and secular life.

The church school system is the major one which originated in 4th century by the time of Aksumite kingdom. But before that the Ethiopian churches were highly influenced by the Egyptian culture since the bishops come from there.

After the spread of Christianity to the southern region of the country in the 6th century the church school system dominated the whole country under churches and monasteries.

The church school culture and its teaching systems reached its peak level by the 13th century and stayed in that way until the end of the 16th century. But in the 17th century, there were multiple attacks on the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and the society as a whole by foreign external forces like Yodit Gudit from Egypt, Gragn Ahmed and so on. During this time the widespread of church school were prohibited and was forced to retract back to the hidden monasteries and churches.

The school teaches different things one of them being the spiritual songs. Also known for St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs the styles and techniques are said to be unlike any other in the world. It has its own unique ways of melody, tunes and notations. Starting from there St. Yared’s songs have been practiced and established in people’s way of life.

St. Yared- The Father of Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur

But all this being said, who is St. Yared? And how do his songs come to existence? St. Yared was born from his father Yisak and his mother Kristina on April 5, 501 A.D in Aksum descending from a family whose bloodline is in the church scholars.

At the age of six a priest was assigned to him as a teacher to guide him with his traditional education. But St. Yared was not that much clever on his education and was poor on accepting new knowledge. So, he was sent back home to his parents.

During this time St.Yared’s father  Mr. Yisak passed away and his mother was forced to raise him on her own. So, she asked help from her brother Aba Gedeon who was a well-known priest by the time in the church of Aksum Zion. Aba Gedeon adapted St.Yared and takes care of his with his educations as promised to his mother. He taught the bible both the old testament as well as the New Testament.

Though unlike the other students it took St. Yared a lot of time to learn. Especially in the book of David, it took him a lot that he couldn’t even finish with the other students.

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Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur, Yared Inspirations

Due to this, the other students used to make fun of him. Feeling that he was not successful with his education, St. Yared left school and went to Medebay, a nearby town where his other uncle lived in.

But on his way to there a heavy rainfalls and St. Yared was forced to take a rest and hide in the shades of a big tree. But while he was there a big thing happened that changed his life forever.

He saw an ant trying to climb up the tree. But the ant could not make it and fall back for several times. However, after the seventh trail the ant make it and reached to its final destination.

Seeing this St. Yared thought that he should not give up and try again and again until he reaches for what he was aiming. So, changing his thoughts he decided to go back to his school and continue with his education.

It is also claimed that he was taken to the Heavens and supernaturally taught about the mysteries of the arts of music by three Holy Spirits. This was how it is known that Ge’ez, Ezl and Araray.

These three are said to be the three categories in which all other musical notes lye under.

St. Yared used to sing in front of a big audience including the king and the queen. Impressed by his voice and performance as he sang with drums and sistra, Emperor Gebre Meskel asked St. Yared what he wanted that he can do for him.

Guaranteeing that the king would not refuse his request St. Yared asked the king that he wanted to live in sacred place alone and dedicate his life to the spiritual world and to the love of music. Then after he left Aksum, his own village and went to live in the Semen Mountains where it is believed that he lived there until his disappears.

Aside from the music life, St. Yared also contributed to the educational and literature system of the country. He states that in the educational system people must not only be taught but also be departed from idleness and the system must maintain the pace of a young individual.

Where as in the literature part his writings of Mezgebe Degua holds the oldest written literatures in Geez. Additionally, St. Yared is also called the founder of Qine by the Geez scholars which are a highly elaborative and multilayered form of Geez poetry.

As we go down deep to his ways of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs and musical techniques it comprises of different compositions that are spiritually uplifting and gives the sense of Holiness. Moreover, he separately defines the types of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs that are sung for different events as well as in the different times of the day and seasons.

Dagua in Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

Its name translating to the books of music it comprises of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs for praise and sorrow. It is divided into three parts of Yohannis, Astemiro, and Fasika. Tsome Dagua which is for fasting seasons now having its own division after the time of Abba Georgis used to be one part of Astemiro.

Miiraf Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

This comprises of two types of chants one being sung on a regular bases and the other for the time of fastings like the fasting of Wednesday and Friday. Unlike the Dagua the Miiraf are studied by heart.

Zimare Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

Well known and is use for the time of communal worshiping. It holds the Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs of praises and prayers within it.

Mewasiit Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

Consist of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs that are sung on special occasions by mass. These special occasions can be those relating to the Lord, St. Mariam, saints and so on.

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Liturgical music in Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur

Of the fourteen compositions of Anaphora St. Yared gave us twelve of them are the basic ones that are used regularly. The Anaphora’s are namely our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lady Mary, St. John Chrysostom, St. DIoscorus, St. John the evangelist, St. Gregory the Armenian, the 318 Orthodox, St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Epiphanius, St. Cyril and James Sarug.

These are all written by St. Yared but some others which are slightly different from these ones but almost the same as Degua were written by Abba Gorgorios of Gastch who was the spiritual son of St. Yared. These were called “seatat” which are hourly Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs that have a slightly different musical form.

Aquaquam in Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

It is a musical performance which is conducted with the assistance of staff, sistra and drums. Also known for “mahlet” these are historical and graphical presentations that show these performances were practiced in a way to praise God.

Qine Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

As mentioned earlier above Qine is a powerful way of literature with the words or sentences having multilayered meanings. St. Yared also used this in his Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs to praise God.

Though St.Yared found qine various poets like Iskindir, Dekik Estifanos Twenty, Hawira, and Menkera mastered it in different ways. Its poetic, mystery, and linguistic excellences making it famous many Ethiopians learned qine including Emperor Haile Selassie I.

Sources of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

The holy bible, book of monks and scholars as well as literary works are said to be the sources of St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs. Especially in the bible psalm 150 which read as

“Praise God in his sanctuary

Praise him with the sound of trumpets

Praise him with psaltery

Praise him with tumbrel with stringed instrument and organs

Praise him up on the loud cymbals

Praise him up on the high-sounding cymbal”

Is said to be the major biblical source. This shows the lyrics is composed in a way that is comfortable to the music while the basic meaning and message are being unchanged.

Characteristics of Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

Generally talking St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs comprises of smooth sounds, gentle movement of the body from side to side front and back, rhythmic and slow march of dancing, and minimalistic percussion.

The setting of the St. Yared’s Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs performance represents that of the quinemahlet or canticarum which is the outermost part of the church, mekdes, or sanctuary which is the innermost part of the church and the tabot or adobe which is the sacred part of the church.

The performance goes throughout the show as a smooth flowing current of the ocean. With the movement of the front and back as well as side to side. It is performed by two groups of people standing in front of each other holding sistrum in their hands that will enhance their movement and gives it a rhythmic movement with a beat.

These two groups of people are dressed in graceful cultural clothes which are both elegant and colorful. They also have a white turban around their head giving them more grace.

Doing this they stand in front of each other forming a y shape creating a space for the one who is playing the drum in the middle. The drummers beat the drum in various beats standing, seating, jumping or circling around adding a beauty to the play of the musical performance.

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This being accompanied by the movement of the other group one standing while the other seating or one going front as the other moving backward gives the performance flowing like the ocean as I mentioned above.

Other than the musical performance St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs have three basic melodies. The first one is Geez. It is the simplest and plain type that is used on a regular base on a day to day activities. The second one is the Ezel. It is a slow and glorifying heavy sounding style usually associated with fasting seasons or funerals.

Last but not least is the Araray. It is the most complex type of melody with a free and higher spirit mode. These melodies are used for special festivals and ceremonies. The symbolism being the heart of the Orthodox religion as well as St. Yared’s music the three melodies also have a meaning. The Geez symbolizes the father, Ezl symbolizing the son while the Araray is for the holy spirit.

Instruments in Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur

St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs basically contains three different musical instruments. The first one is the “Tsinatsil”. It is a type of sistrum made out of three or four metal rods which are horizontally attached to a u-shaped frame or a bow while they are still moveable.

The bow can be made out of wood, pottery of porcelain which is now a days being substituted be the ones made out of metal. So as the bow is jiggled and tilted from side to side the metal rods makes a noise. And when this is done under a constant time frame interval it gives a rhythmic beat that cherishes the songs.

The second musical instrument is the “Mekuamia”. It is a long stick that supplements the movement of the hand. It is swung front, back then side to side symbolizing the four different corners of the world and spreading the message that the praise to the Lord shall be heard from all corners of the world. Thirdly there is the drum.

It is also known as “kebero”. It is a large cylindrical drum with two heads on both ends of the drum. It is made out of a hollowed out wooden logs that are covered with animal hides on the open parts. It has a handle that is used to hung the drum on the players shoulder which riches the height of the waist.

With the varying head sizes, the one with the larger size is kept to the right-hand side while playing the drum whereas the small one is kept to the left-hand side. The drum is always played with a bare hand.

Other than the St. Yared techniques the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs are well known for the use of “Begena”. It is a very big string-based musical instrument that is played while it is standing on the floor.

The players play it with their fingers by striking the strings and forming a vibration that created the sound. The sounds are very loud and deep which touches the heart when played giving the feeling that there is a connection with the upper holiness.

Ensemble and Dance in Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur

The St. Yared’s musical performance is presented by the debteras which form two groups each having their own leaders named the “qegngeta” meaning leader of the right and “grageta” meaning leader of the left. And the whole group is led by the master named “merigeta” meaning leader of the choir.

St. Yared Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs have five distinct chants and modes of performances. First is Qum zema. This chant is performed by the human voice alone which in modern-day is also known as acapella. Second there is the Zemame.

It is accompanying the Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur song with the swinging of the staff players and swaying of the body. Third is Tsinatsil. It has its own three subcategories. Merged being the first it is a slow and even rhythmic, Neus-mereged meaning minor with a faster beat and Aby-merged the major with the fastest beat.

The latter is even accompanied by rhythmic clapping. Then came “Tsfat Chebchebo”. Like the major merged it is involved with a faster beating of the drum while jumping and circling around. Lastly, there is “Wereb”. It involves a slow forward and backward movement with a perfect beat.

I explained this much about St. Yared and his Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs because almost all or the majority Orthodox songs follow his footsteps and it is considered as the basic guideline of the music culture. Other than this some songs follow the traditional Ethiopian way of songs.

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Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur instruments

These traditional ways of songs are namely “Bati, Ambasel, Anchihoye, and Tizita”. Unlike European or other styles of musical practice, it has only five tones. This is why it is also called pentatonic. The tones included in the Ethiopian traditional music are Do, Re, Mi, Sol, and La.

This gives it its own unique character that makes us able to recognize it as we heard it. So basically, this is all the fundamentals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur music.

Ethiopia maintains extraordinary social legacy and assorted music history in whole African mainland. The customary music legacy of Ethiopia has been universally perceived with its particular music culture and emblematic indication.

The conventional tunes and music of the nation spins around center harmony of their life and culture. The cutting-edge music of Ethiopia has been mixed with mix of components from customary Ethiopian music and western music which has made another pattern in the music world.

The music custom of the nation keeps up the social way of life as well as keeps up social attachment through social articulation at various social events and opposes social changes imbued through globalization.

The globalization has brought a progression of change and changes in the realm of Ethiopian music through commercialization, commodification and digitalization of social articulations separated from capturing the social privileges of conventional performers.

The more youthful ages have been pulled in towards western music undermining the stylish and social estimation of music convention of the nation. The worldwide institutions identifying with security and shielding of social privileges of individuals are yet to be properly converted into the real world.

The development of culture ventures and amusement houses has presented genuine dangers to neighborhood culture and prompted vanishing of nearby customs, melodic legacy, and their substitution by famous worldwide music. The social homogeneity and commodification have supplanted the assortment of societies right now.

Saying this all about my topic I would like to finalize my essay by mentioning some good and well known Ethiopian Orthodox Mezmur songs and some of the famous singers. Starting with the well-known Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur songs we can list out “Aman beaman”, “Meaza senay”, “meaza afua”, “tefetseme mahilete tsige”, “ begol sekebe” and all the melodies composed by the well-known Ethiopian St. Yared in his books diguwa, tsome diguwa, miraf and so on.

And for the well-known singers, we can mention Yilma, Kinetibeb, Tewodros, Engidawork, Marta and so on. And these are the basics mentioned when talking about the Ethiopia Orthodox Mezmur. Personally, I recommend everyone to hear the songs even if it is not from the religious point of view and is sure that no one can pass by hearing the songs and admiring about the art involved in it.

Cover: “Ethiopian Monk” by Mark Fischer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

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