Ethiopia Arts and Culture

By | January 27, 2021

Arts and Culture

Aderihaus in Harar

Aderihaus in Harar

According to areacodesexplorer, Ethiopia is a country located in Eastern Africa. Ethiopia, which is considered the cradle of mankind and the origin of coffee, can look back on traditions that are thousands of years old. Above all, Christian traditions and the country’s historical isolation shape its unique culture. Of course, it also reflects the ethnic and religious diversity of the Ethiopians.

There is often a strong sense of tradition within the individual ethnic groups. Legends, songs and dances are still passed on from one generation to the next. Some of the over 80 ethnic groups, their traditions and customs, have so far been little explored. The Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University has been trying to collate and analyze knowledge about the various cultural identities since 1963. Publications are currently only available in printed form.

A large number of universities in Germany, Great Britain and the USA deal with selected questions about the cultural identities of Ethiopia.


Ethiopian music is very different from that of the rest of Africa. The traditional music is played in five-tone scales. Similar to the minstrels of the European Middle Ages, singer-poets (Azmari) move through the country with their ballads, tell old stories or comment on current events. Their price and abuse songs are usually accompanied by the krar, a lyre, or the masinko, a box lute. Playing the flute (on the Waschint) is also common. The beganna, a large lyre, is used for religious celebrations.

From the 1950’s, Ethiopian popular music developed alongside traditional forms of music, especially in Addis Ababa. She combines different western styles and instruments with the local melodies. Not only traditional chants were combined with western influences, but also military music.

In the 1960’s, elements from rhythm and blues and soul as well as jazz and Latin American music were increasingly integrated. The best-known representative of the resulting Ethiojazz is Mulatu Astatke, who has achieved international fame at least since the soundtrack for the Hollywood film “Broken Flowers”. Another great Ethiopian musician is Tilahun Gessesse. The singer who died in 2009 and is known as “the voice of Ethiopia” became famous in the 1960’s for his collaboration with the Orchestra of the Imperial Bodyguard, then one of the leading bands.

With the fall of Haile Selassie and the takeover of power by the military, Ethiopian popular music plunged into a crisis. Most of the famous artists fled from the dictatorship. Ethiopia’s most internationally known musician, Aster Aweke, also emigrated to the USA in 1981 due to the political situation. Other important representatives of these so-called “Golden Years of Ethiopian Music” are Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Bekele and Muluken Melesse.

In Europe and the USA, classical pop music from Ethiopia became known primarily through the series Ethiopiques, which has been published regularly by the French label Buda Musique since 1994. It now includes more than 20 CDs.

In the current music scene, too, Ethiopian (and Ethiopian-born) musicians have made themselves heard internationally.


Traditionally, Ethiopian literature was of Christian Orthodox origin. Most were theological treatises that were written in Ge’ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church. The early writings were mainly translations of these treatises from Greek or Arabic. The heyday of the Ethiopian literature written in Ge’ez began with the rule of the Solomon dynasty. The Kebra Negest (the Book of Kings) is a highlight from this period. Its central theme is the founding of the Solomon dynasty by Menelik I, the son of King Salamon and Queen of Sheba.

In the 16th century, Amharic, which had long since become the spoken lingua franca of the empire, increasingly became the new literary language. Even in royal chronicles traditionally written only in Ge’ez, Amharic terms increasingly appeared. The subjects of literature, however, remained predominantly religious in nature. Only after the end of the Italian occupation in 1941 did the authors turn to secular issues: In line with the political optimism after the victory over the colonizers, patriotism and morality dominated.

To date, a lively modern literary scene has developed. Internationally, Ethiopian writers (among the better known are e.g. Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and Hama Tuma) and their works are so little known because, unlike many other African works, they are not in a European, internationally used language (especially the colonial languages French and English) and therefore knowledge of the Ethiopian languages would be necessary to understand them.

Visual arts

Painting has a long tradition in Ethiopia. The characteristic form of painting and the production of fine handicrafts have their roots in the old North African-Near Eastern cultural area. Painting was closely associated with the Orthodox Church well into the 20th century. Only then did artists begin to artistically develop other areas of life. Despite this diversification, religion often plays a role in contemporary painting as well.

A lively art scene has established itself particularly in the capital, with more and more galleries and exhibitions.

Other art forms include carving, sculpting, and other forms of making sculptures and other art objects. The headrests, which are mainly used in the south of the country, are traded as works of art and souvenirs, but are still normal everyday objects in their region of origin.

Performing arts and film

The emergence of modern theater in Ethiopia in the 20th century goes back to Bejrond Teklehawariat Teklemariam, who was trained in France. The content and forms of the theater always reflected the respective religious, political and economic conditions in the country. Under Haile Selassie I. the main themes were morality and manners. The military dictatorship mainly used the theater for propaganda.

Although there are more and more cinemas in the big cities, the theater is still very popular with the Ethiopians. The auditoriums of the major theaters in Addis Ababa, such as the National Theater, are fully occupied every Sunday. Mostly pieces are played that reflect everyday life in Ethiopia. Comedies are particularly popular.

There is a growing film industry in Ethiopia. While the Ethiopian state television shows mostly series and comedy programs in addition to news programs and music, dramas and action films have also established themselves in the cinema.

The Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima, who lives and works in the USA, enjoys international fame. He is known, among other things, for his partly autobiographical film Teza.


Children playing soccer in Adama

Children playing soccer in Adama

A lot of sport is played in Ethiopia. Football is very popular and you can ‘kick’ almost anything that looks like a ball. The Ethiopian national soccer team is not very successful. She experienced a high point in 2013 when she qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 30 years.

Ethiopia has many internationally very successful runners. And above all, Ethiopia produced the African runner of all runners, Abebe Bikila, the role model for a subsequent generation of runners who were very successful in many respects. Today, for example, Haile Gebreselassie enjoys the status of a national hero because of his personal, exemplary integrity. There are now regular running events, e.g. the Great Ethiopian Run with several thousand participants.

Trend sports such as skateboarding have also gained a foothold in Ethiopia.

Stadium in Addis Ababa

Stadium in Addis Ababa