The aim of my recent fieldtrip to Ethiopia was to document the endangered traditional Baskeet songs. As a linguist, I am, of course, predominately interested in the lyrics of the songs, i.e. the vocabulary, the metaphors, the grammar. However, I also learned a lot about the Baskeet musical instruments. With this post I start the series “Musical instruments” in which I intend to introduce the different instruments to you. Today’s post is concerned with the bamboo trumpets, called zaya in the Baskeet language.
The Baskeet bamboo trumpets are played in a group of three men. The players are professional musicians who earn (part of) their living by playing the trumpet . The musicians are usually members of the potter clans (mani). The musicians of the trumpet trio I recorded were Biittso Its’into, Malkato Geebiro and Worada Geebiro (seen from left to right on the picture below):
The photo shows that the trumpets that the players hold in their hands are of different lengths. The songs are led by the player with the shortest trumpet and each player plays a different voice. It is the interplay of the three voices that makes a coherent trumpet song.
The instruments themselves are made from an eclectic mix of materials:
- wood (for the lower interior part)
- bamboo (for the cover)
- old glass bottles (for the embouchure) (see my earlier post on multifunctionality) and
- small ropes and rings from old torches to tie the bamboo stripes together and fix them around the wooden interior:
The trumpets are predominantly played during (non-Protestant) mourning ceremonies and at (non-Protestant) weddings. Apart from these occasions, the trumpets can be heard in the streets on important orthodox holidays (esp. Timket) and during cultural festivities organised by the local or federal administration.
According to various musicians I interviewed, 12 different songs are played on the bamboo trumpet: 7 songs for the different stages of the mourning ceremonies and 5 songs for the different stages of a wedding. The wedding songs can also be played on holidays. The trumpets songs are purely instrumental and not accompanied by singing.
The following sound file (Aattsa) gives you a small impression of the sound of the bamboo trumpet. The file is an excerpt from a song (called aattsa ‘unground grains of maize in the beer’) by which the musicians demand their share of the funeral beer after having accompanied the mourning ceremonies for many hours.
More on other Baskeet instruments in a later post.
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