“ROARING ABYSS”— A Musical Journey Across Ethiopia


A Musical Journey Across Ethiopia

Amos Lassen

“Roaring Abyss” is a feel-good film that takes us on a musical journey across Ethiopia, where there are “Ninety million people in the second most populated African country” who in eighty different languages. on both sides of the Rift Valley.”

Quino Piñero directed this beautiful film in which musicians celebrate their lives through music, and Piñero celebrates that too, along with celebrating their talent, passion, and dedication to preserving traditional music. From the terrific opening song we can guess what sort of journey awaits us. There is a pattern— first we see film of everyday life in a section of Ethiopia while we hear music, then we see the musicians. We understand that every one of these songs, no matter where it was recorded, is a performance because they have been recorded in front of microphones for posterity. After the performance we get more of the same, with that pattern occasionally interrupted by interviews with some of the performers.

“A song is for many things, not just dancing.” Songs remind us of those we love and they bring back memories of those who are far away or gone. We are reminded of what we have experienced. Memories happen to music.

Piñero used four camera operators, three sound recorders, and five translators to capture traditional music before it begins to disappear, and as he does so we also see everyday life in Ethiopia’s streets, markets, farms, forests, and isolated villages.

There is no voiceover to spoil the experience, no musicologists or anthropologists to contextualize what we’re seeing. Our director trusts the people and the music. Aside from the musician interviews, which are presented with subtitles in English, we see indigenous tribes living as they live, talking in one of those 80 languages, and no context seems necessary. Piñero creates a visceral experience that makes us feel as if you’ve just experienced the film, rather than just watching it.

I was reminded of television travelogue shows, where the purpose was to expose peripatetic audiences to distant lands and different cultures—all designed to broaden their knowledge of the world and cultivate an appreciation for how diverse our world is, and how our own culture compares.

Piñero combines unobtrusive, fly-on-the-wall documentary-style filming with art-house shots of the landscape and life as it’s lived in Ethiopia. We not only get a feel for the importance of music in everyday life, we also learn about the music itself.

The sound and picture quality are excellent and the whole experience of the film makes us feel that the world became larger, older and wiser and how lucky we are to be a part of it. This is because of the musicians we meet here:

  • Hagerignya Band
  • Awassa Sidamo Ibahal Aderash Band
  • Mezjeng Tribe
  • Weldie Almaw
  • Dorze Music Group
  • Yem Tribe
  • Tigray Police March Band
  • Harar Policemarch Band
  • Kaffa Band
  • Maekel Bahil Tigray
  • Yohannis Tadesse
  • Awrus Traditional Band
  • Mebtu Adugna
  • Azmari Bet Band
  • Hidase Habru Traditional Band
  • Damot Azmaribet Band
  • Wello Bahil Amba Band
  • Gashe Chane
  • Gashe Assefa
  • Yayneabeba Nigus
  • Hadiya Bahil Band
  • Hammer tribe band
  • Hadiya tribe band
  • Wetayita tribe band
  • Basketo tribe band
  • Bena tribe band
  • Marako tribe band
  • Gurage band
  • Mursi tribe band
  • Surma tribe band
  • Konso band
  • Sambe Gore Band
  • Ato Mengesha Abera
  • The Three Azmari Kids
  • Harar Adagar Band
  • Anyuak tribe/Nuer tribe
  • Shenen Gibe Band
  • Selam Band
  • Tigray Arts College Band
  • Jazzmaris

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