Musical instruments in Baskeet: Naassa

In Baskeet, a variety of instruments are exclusively used during mourning ceremonies but never played at weddings or other happy occasions. In an earlier post, I have already described the moyza-trumpet to you, the most emblematic Baskeet mourning instrument. Today, I’d like to introduce you to the naassa-trumpets, which some people consider a sub-type of the moyza.

Like the moyza, the naassa-trumpets are carved from wood and are clad in cow skin. However, the naassa-trumpets are significantly longer than the moyza-trumpet and measure about 2m in length. Unlike the moyza, the naassa-trumpets are played in pairs, which was demonstrated to me by Mekonen Bisip and his son Getinet Mekonen on one of my visits to the Dookka-C’ari-Subba neighbourhood.

Here you can see Getinet “watering” his instrument to make it more easily playable and sound better.*

Getinet Mekonen (Dookka-C'ari-Subba neighourhood) preparing his naassa-trumpet

Getinet Mekonen (Dookka-C’ari-Subba neighourhood) preparing his naassa-trumpet

The following picture shows Mekonen and Getinet playing together:

A naassa-duo: Mekonen Bisip and his son Getinet Mekonen

A naassa-duo: Mekonen Bisip and his son Getinet Mekonen

The two trumpets of the pair have a length difference of about 20cm. Like the moyza-trumpet, the naassa-trumpets have no tone holes. There is no mouthpiece, but a mouth hole is placed sideways towards the top end of the instrument.

Getinet Mekonen playing a naassa-trumpet

Getinet Mekonen playing a naassa-trumpet

A short sample recording can be accessed here: The sound of two naassa-trumpets. It seems that the pitch of the instruments is not altered – the trumpets plays only one tone each – but that variations in the rhythm are possible. Like other “mourning instruments”, the naassa is played by men during the processions (called korz in Baskeet) that lead up to the house of the deceased’s family on the day after the deceased’s burial. The sound of the naassa contributes to the creation of the soundscape of a mourning event.

The naassa-trumpets have become rare, as people give up the traditional Baskeet instruments when they convert to Protestantism. When Mekonen Bisip’s trumpet partner converted, Mekonen taught his adolescent son Getinet how to play the instrument. But as the traditional Baskeet mourning ceremonies are on rapid decline, too, the actual (un-staged) use of the naassa-trumpet has become almost impossible to witness. A pair of naassa-trumpets is exhibited in the Baskeet Museum in Laska.

© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved

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Notes: *Not only the naassa is “watered” before playing; the same is true for most other Baskeet wind instruments. When speaking Baskeet, you use the causative verb usshide ‘make drink’ to express ‘make (an instrument) wet’.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Mekonen Bisip and Getinet Mekonen from the Dookka-C’ari-Subba neighbourhood for sharing their knowledge with me.
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