Back from the field

This is my first post after my return from the field. I have been in Ethiopia for two months, of which I spent a little more than six weeks in Baskeet. The time in the field was arduous but also very rewarding. I visited almost all Baskeet-speaking k’äbäles* in look for people who could tell me about Baskeet songs and who would be ready to be recorded. Often by accident, I found people with unexpected talents. With beautiful voices. Great repertoires of songs. With songs that told fascinating stories and contained interesting vocabulary. Once the word had spread that I was documenting Baskeet songs, more and more people were ready to share their knowledge with me. Regarding genres, I concentrated on praise songs, wedding songs, mourning songs, work songs and fairy tales in verses. Regarding instruments, I focussed on the recording of lyre music (see the instrument on the photo below) and unaccompanied vocal music – but I also got some flute and trumpet songs. Altogether I recorded about 300 songs.*

Baskeet lyre

Kaat Kantso Kammo showing his lyre

I hope to introduce some of the Baskeet musicians, song types and instruments to you in this year’s posts.

It was so incredibly sad to see how the rapidly spreading Protestant fundamentalism continues to eradicate the Baskeet song traditions which have so many stories to tell. So for the first time during a fieldtrip I had the feeling that I was doing something really useful. It is probably not exaggerated to say that no genuine Baskeet songs will be left in about 10 years. The musicians that I worked with feel under great pressure by the growing number of Protestants** who oppose all kinds of Baskeet music and who only consider Protestant pop music worshipping the Christian god as permitted. The musicians I recorded were so happy to see that their music was appreciated and documented and I am hopeful that the mp3-files of the recordings that are left behind will find their way (via Bluetooth) from mobile to mobile. (This year there was almost continuous mobile reception in Laska.)

*These are, of course, 300 tokens, not 300 types.
**In these days, the majority of the Baskeet population are members of Pentecostalist churches and the numbers are increasing like almost everywhere in South Ethiopia.
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9 Responses to Back from the field

  1. Welcome back. I just got back from Ethiopia too but not from the southern region. Looks like you’re doing really interesting work there. I will keep up with your blog and look forward to hearing about your findings.

  2. Pingback: Beginnings of my Baskeet fieldwork | Basket to Ethiopia

  3. Pingback: Musical instruments: Nookka | Basket to Ethiopia

  4. Dirk Kievit says:

    I share your disappointment that this rich aspect of the local Baskeet culture is disappearing. I don’t think keyboards (or whatever instruments may be introduced) are any more appropriate for worship than a lyre. (In fact, lyres are actually mentioned in the Old Testament whereas keyboards are a pretty modern invention.) Just know that there are other Protestants (“Protestant fundamentalists” if you like) who do appreciate local expressions of music. Here’s an article you might find interesting:

    • It is sad that the local instruments are no longer played. However, it is even sadder that the songs (be they wedding, funeral, work or shepherd songs) are disappearing or being made to disappear. I don’t want to contest that there are Protestants in the world who appreciate local musical traditions. But fact is that Fundamentalist Protestants in Ethiopia (including those churches SIL cooperates with!) oppose all kinds of non-Protestant music. The radical consequence is that everybody who converts has to give up the local song traditions, which are replaced by Protestant songs (I have seen this happening in Baskeet and also in Kambaata). Thus Protestantisation destroys a rich cultural heritage irrevocably.
      My project tries to make a small contribution for this endangered heritage to be documented, at least in parts.

      • Dirk Kievit says:

        No doubt you have a good point and I am glad that you are documenting this aspect of Basketo heritage. On the other hand, music may have all kinds of associations in the local culture. Why do these churches disapprove of the local instruments and music? Are they perhaps associated with certain religious or cultural traditions? I’m speaking from my experience in Eritrea. It applies to other situations as well such as the saints’ holidays. As a foreigner I might not have any compunction about accepting an invitation for (what they call in Tigrinya) nɨgdät but local believers may feel this is something that violates their conscience. Perhaps some of your Basketo readers can shed some light on this issue. I hope I haven’t stirred up a hornets’ nest.

  5. Dirk Kievit says:

    Further to our conversation about music and local expressions of worship, I came across this blog from a fellow Wycliffe member who works in the field of ethnomusicology that I think your readers may be interested in:

  6. Pingback: Goat skin | Basket to Ethiopia

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