Ethiopian Polyphonies

Guillaume Terver
Samson Giorgis
56 minutes


A beautiful documentary about vocal musical practices in Ethiopia.

In the South-West and Eastern part of Ethiopia the Doko and Harari communitites put into practise their polyphonic singing. They use it as a media for information, culture, art and memory.

While traditional Ethiopian music is normally associated with the northern Asmaris (a caste of traditional singers) or the orthodox liturgical songs used in religious celebrations, the south of the country sees a rich musical culture still practically unknown to the public and the media. Despite of their huge linguistic, religious and social diversity, the southern population of 22 million people perform polyphonic songs in a strikingly similar way.

This film follows two groups, first a few Harari women with high-pitched voices. Contrary to the general assumption, in this muslim society of south-eastern Ethiopia, women are the equals of men. The film escorts them through the hustle and bustle of the old town of Harar, along the stalls of the city markets, the countless arts and crafts shops, and inside their family circles. Their songs speak of absence and memory, of their children who went far away. Their voices answer each other and interweave on intervals of seconds or thirds in a seemingly endless sequence.

We then meet a Doko family of farmers, with their daily toil; they take us into another realm of songs. Once fearsome warriors, the Dokos now cultivate the ensete (false banana tree) and weave cotton chamas edged with beautiful multicoloured geometrical figures. In Doko land, every moment of life is punctuated by singing, to every daily gesture or event corresponds a song. Performed in a choir, any time of the day, polyphony lies at the core of these people's culture. The Dokos' music evokes mythical heroes, warriors who emancipated them from their neighbours' control, but also ancestors and elders.

Producer / Production company: 
Bel Air Media
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